(Image: AP/Jeffrey Phelps)
Ever since Ryan Braun’s drug test failure in 2011, it has become a common turn of phrase to say his original 50-game suspension was overturned on a “technicality.” Just today, in a post about the origins of Braun’s relationship with Biogenesis, Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt includes the obligatory wording, “He had that drug test overturned on appeal on a chain-of-custody issue that MLB considered a technicality.”
I don’t mean to be obvious, but “technicality” is almost always a bullshit word in any context (especially in discussions of criminal justice issues). Another way to say “technicality” in this case would be to say Braun’s suspension was overturned “based on the rules that everyone agreed to and thought were fair ahead of time.” When a ground ball rolls to the right side of the first base bag, no one says it’s a foul ball on a technicality. It’s just a foul ball. Braun failed a PED test two years ago and the arbiter overturned it. The process worked exactly how it was designed. Ain’t no technicality about it.
That Braun’s tainted urine sample was handled improperly in 2011 is beyond dispute. You can make a compelling argument Braun should not have offered unsolicited comments that impugned test-sample collector Dino Laurenzi. You can’t argue that Laurenzi followed the proper procedure. In fact, last year MLB and the players union changed the rules about the chain of custody of specimens to be tested for PEDs. That’s not a technicality. It’s a new policy.
If we’re going to use the term technicality for a decision that is capricious and maybe even unwarranted, Braun’s current 65-game suspension seems to meet the definition. In an earlier post, Haudricourt reported there was no significance to the length of Braun’s suspension, other than that it was for the remainder of this season: “It just happened to be 65 games left. If [Braun] had gotten back to [MLB] a day later, it would have been 64 games.”
As far as I’m aware (and Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon are aware), the penalty for failing a first PED test is 50 games. The penalty for a second failure is 100 games, and a third failure results in a lifetime ban. Braun’s 65-game suspension appears to have been made up recently, and not the result of negotiations between the league and the players union.
Yet I doubt baseball pundits or fans will say Braun was suspended for the second half of the 2013 season on a technicality. Funny how language works.