PHOENIX — Addressing the media one day after he became the first Major Leaguer to successfully appeal a suspected violation of MLB’s Drug Treatment and Prevention Program, Brewers star outfielder Ryan Braun said the ordeal has been the greatest challenge of his life.
Upon reporting to camp on Friday, Braun first thanked MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner, Brewers chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio and fans who withheld judgment throughout the process. He also emphasized that the positive test was not the result of a personal medical issue or sexually transmitted disease.
“I’ve tried to respect this process,” Braun said. “I’ve tried to handle the entire situation with honor, with integrity, with class, dignity and professionalism, because that’s who I am.
“If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I would’ve been the first to step up and say, ‘I did it.’
“I’ve always taken responsibility for my actions. … I know in my heart this substance never entered my body. Part of the reason I’ve kept quiet … is to put the best interest of the game ahead of the best interest of myself.
“At the end of the day, I know the truth.
“I’ve always stood up for what is right. … The system, in the way it was applied to me in this case, was fatally flawed.”
A special panel ruled, 2-1, in favor of Braun, erasing a suspension of up to 50 games and allowing Braun to begin the defense of his 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Award on April 6, when the Brewers will open the regular season at home against the reigning World Series champion Cardinals.
It is not a decision that Major League Baseball agreed with.
“As a part of our drug testing program, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute,” read part of a statement from MLB executive vice president for labor relations Rob Manfred. “While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.”
Das cast the deciding vote on a panel that also included MLB executive vice president for labor relations Rob Manfred and Weiner. Braun called into question the chain of custody of the sample because it wasn’t immediately sent in via Fed Ex, as required by the testing policy.
Braun reiterated throughout his speech that the flaws of the testing program and its “guilty until proven innocent” mantra must be addressed.
“With what’s at stake — this is my livelihood, this is my integrity, this is my character, this is everything I’ve ever worked for in my life being called into question — we need to make sure that we get it right,” Braun said. “If you’re going to be in a position where you’re 100 percent guilty until proven innocent, you can’t mess up. And today’s about making sure that this never happens to anyone else who plays this game.”
It would have been far more difficult, experts say, for Braun to fight the result based on supposedly inadvertently taking a supplement or medication that included a banned substance, even if it truly had been prescribed for a purpose not related to performance enhancement. So a challenge based on improper protocol stands to reason as Braun’s best chance to have gotten the appeal honored.
“I don’t know anything about it, other than my job and responsibility as a general manager is to put the best team on the field, and the decision allows me to do that a little bit better,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said on Thursday.
Attanasio released a statement on Thursday night on behalf of the Brewers.
“Since joining our organization in 2005, Ryan Braun has been a model citizen and a person of character and integrity,” the statement read. “Knowing Ryan as I do, I always believed he would succeed in his appeal.
“I also want to reiterate my support for Major League Baseball’s strict substance testing program. It is unfortunate that the confidentiality of the program was compromised, and we thank our fans and everyone who supported Ryan and did not rush to judgment.
“The team is looking forward to seeing Ryan in camp [Friday]. With this now behind us, we return our focus to the ballpark and defending our NL Central Division title.”
While Braun said that it is not his place to determine what changes, if any, need to be made to the program, he made it clear that everybody involved in the process needs to be held to the same accountability as the players. For now, though, Braun said the system ultimately worked in exonerating him, and his focus has now shifted to his team defending its division crown.
“Ultimately, as I sit here today, the system worked, because I am innocent and I was able to prove my innocence,” Braun said. “After today, I look forward to returning my focus to the game of baseball, being able to get back with my teammates, allowing my life to return to some sense of normalcy and focusing on helping our team get back to the postseason.”