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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

We'll Need Extra Innings for Answers

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“I'm not dumb enough to pretend this is going to go away,” Ryan Braun said after winning his appeal of a positive drug test and avoiding a 50-game suspension. Indeed, Dino Laurenzi Jr., who collected Braun's urine sample, was just as forceful in asserting he did nothing improper. Which leaves public opinion... where exactly?

Frank:
Braun sounded quite credible in his press conference, but Laurenzi's written statement looked just as credible.

Artie:
No surprise there. He said what you'd expect him to say. Did anyone think he'd say, yeah, he and his son had a hypodermic needle and went through the seal on the bottle?

Frank:
Are you saying you don't believe Laurenzi?

Artie:
No, just that what he said was unsurprising. And we're still at first base, with conflicting tales of what went down.

Frank:
But Braun's defense only suggested that something must have happened to his sample to produce an extremely high testosterone ratio.

Artie:
The report by the deciding arbitrator, Shyam Das, had better shed some light on all this.

Frank:
In a technical sense, it should. There had to be something in the handling and shipping that bothered Das enough to rule for Braun. But Das' report won't “crack the case.” That'll happen only if someone finds a scientific error, or someone admits to tampering, or either Braun or Laurenzi recants.

Artie:
It's like there are three possible seals on the truth, ain'a? And by the way, isn't Das' report supposed to be confidential? I think Major League Baseball and the players' union have to agree to make it public.

Frank:
In a drama that began with a news leak, I can't see that report staying under wraps. And at this point we need transparency!

Artie:
I'd guess Braun's side would want it out to support their claim that the process was “fatally flawed.”

Frank:
But I could see Das' ruling being so narrowly focused that it might actually undercut Braun's scenario of either multiple errors or a conspiracy.

Artie:
I wouldn't put it past MLB to try to stifle Das' report to protect its precious testing system.

Frank:
But MLB's statement that it “vehemently” objected to Das' ruling raised the issue of what, in particular, was so outrageous. What's more, MLB said there would be modifications in the instructions to sample collectors, and the changes will surely reflect what Das found objectionable.

Artie:
MLB owes its customers an explanation of how this thing got so screwed up, right from the original news leak.

Frank:
I want more details on the whole system. All players are tested in spring training and during the regular season, but only selected players are tested in the postseason. So who decides which players give samples, and when?

Artie:
We know Braun gave the sample after the playoff opener against Arizona, sometime after 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1.

Frank:
That could be crucial to the debate, because Laurenzi said no FedEx site would ship anything after 5 p.m. that day. My question is whether Laurenzi could have gotten Braun's sample before the game, giving himself time to ship it. For the 1 o'clock game, Braun probably was at Miller Park around 10 a.m.

Artie:
Apparently Laurenzi also couldn't ship to the testing lab in Montreal on a weekend because of Customs rules.

Frank:
Then my question is whether Laurenzi could have gotten Braun's sample the day before, when I'm sure the teams worked out at Miller Park. I know Laurenzi has another, full-time job, and perhaps Saturday afternoon was the only time he could get the samples from Braun and two other Brewers. But that time frame was self-defeating, in terms of getting it shipped immediately.

Artie:
And immediate shipping is what the system calls for, “absent unusual circumstances.”

Frank:
So it may come down to Das deciding the circumstances were not unusual enough to justify Laurenzi's keeping the sample in his home for almost two days.

Artie:
No matter what happens from now on, it's ridiculous that Das was supposedly the deciding vote on a three-person arbitration panel, but in reality he was a one-person panel.

Frank:
Because the other two arbitrators are appointed by MLB and the union.

Artie:
Those votes will always split, so it comes down to one person. Why not get three truly independent people?

Frank:
Well, the system is part of the Basic Agreement, which MLB and the union just renegotiated in November. The labor deal won't come up again until 2016.

Artie:
When it does, I'll bet the union will want some changes because of the Braun mess. I saw a great column by Charles P. Pierce on grantland.com that trashed MLB's system as heavy-handed and weighted against the rights of any accused player.

Frank:
Much as Braun talked about a “guilty until proven innocent” situation.

Artie:
Here's part of what Pierce said about the Braun ruling:

“It can't have surprised anyone who's read the revelations about how the criminal justice system has been perverted by bungling crime labs and incompetent medical examiners. … Ultimately, in any authoritarian solution, the people with the power get lazy, and stupid, and they start making enough mistakes that people get tired of living with them. It's one of the reasons we don't have East Germany anymore. And baseball always has had a sweet tooth for the authoritarian solution.”


Frank:
Strong stuff from Charlie, whom I've known since our days at Marquette in the '70s. Less bombastic and more legalistic was a Journal Sentinel op-ed piece by Mitchell Nathanson, a Villanova law professor. Here's part of that:

“In its zeal to overcompensate for its decades-long ambivalence regarding the issue of performance-enhancing drugs…MLB insisted upon creating an internal appellate system that prioritizes punishment (by blindly praying at the altar of technical compliance with the policy above all else) over justice and reason. … Das should have been amenable to a "harmless error" argument on behalf of MLB. But the system forbids it, much as it forbids players to challenge a positive test with anything other than an outright denial and allegations of tampering…”


Artie:
I say it more simply. Why should we all take as gospel that MLB and the World Anti-Doping Agency lab are infallible? What puts them next to God so that they can't make mistakes? But that's what the system demands we believe.

Frank:
The Das report must become public, no matter whom it angers. But unless and until there's a blockbuster revelation, I doubt any opinions about Braun's innocence or guilt will change.

On to the Madness

Frank: The Marquette and Wisconsin hoopsters ended the regular season in fine shape. MU was 25-6 overall, second in the Big East at 14-4, and with a good shot at its first title in the conference tournament.

Artie:
The Badgers did very nicely, 23-8 and one game behind the Big Ten tri-champions at 12-6. And both teams should get good seedings in the NCAA “dance,” MU especially.

Frank:
For a conference title, each team has to win on three straight days. Is it worth it to go all-out for that and risk being worn down for the NCAAs?

Artie:
Tom Izzo probably doesn't think so. Since 2000 Michigan State hasn't been in a single Big Ten final, but the Spartans have made four Final Fours.

Frank:
NCAA results are what people mostly remember. And both MU and UW have good prospects of repeating in the Sweet Sixteen, at least. But for MU, that first Big East title would be mighty sweet, too.

Artie:
What happens in the conference tourneys won't make a big difference in their seedings. MU looks like a 2 or 3, UW a 3 or 4.

Frank:
So they might as well bust their butts every game. And anyway, Buzz Williams and Bo Ryan wouldn't let them do any less.