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Ryan Braun Found Not Guilty: Early Reactions

The Brewers haven’t even had a full-squad workout yet, but they already have one major win in the books. As reported by Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel (behind paywall), outfielder Ryan Braun’s appeal of a positive drug test was successful, and he will not be suspended 50 games. The MLB panel in charge of the appeal reportedly voted 2-1 in favor of Braun, with union representative Michael Weiner and independent arbitrator Shyam Das on his side, and MLB VP Rob Manfred ruling in favor of the suspension. According to the initial reports, Braun built his case on flaws in the MLB testing process, including the fact that the chain of custody of his sample was broken for two days, leaving the sample unprotected during that time.

This whole thing has been a roller-coaster for everyone involved, from the leaking of the positive test to the constant rumors to the delay surrounding the decision, and finally from the actual ruling to the already-crazy aftermath. The past five weeks have been insanely nerve-wracking, the last three hours have been even more so, and you have to figure that more information is going to come out in the next few days. With that in mind, I think it’s best to withhold our final opinions at least until Braun has gotten a chance to speak and we can be sure nothing new will come out. So, here are my initial observations:

On the field, the Brewers completely and totally dodged a bullet. From a purely statistical standpoint, being without Braun for 50 games was going to cost them at least one, maybe two wins in the standings, even if Braun is back at 100% of his usual self on game 51. That deficit is erased. Perhaps even better, the change in atmosphere and the surge in confidence among the Brewers was visible just by looking at players’ tweets. These things matter too, even if we can’t quantify them, and it looks as if things are looking up for the club already.

– There is one loser in all of this, and it’s Major League Baseball. The only reason we know about Braun’s positive test is because someone leaked the test result to ESPN: The only people who knew of the result were Braun and his people, and the folks at the commissioner’s office, and there’s absolutely no reason for anyone affiliated with Braun to tell anyone about the results. Later, Braun won his appeal of the test, at least partially due to the testing company hired by MLB screwing up the chain of custody. By that, we mean that one of the guys at the company kept Braun’s sample in his refrigerator at home for a day instead of sending it to the lab for analysis because he thought the local FedEx was closed. Once the ruling of the appeal came down, MLB’s reaction was to release this statement:

“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. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.”

In short, MLB managed to hire a drug-testing company that stored Ryan Braun’s urine in some dude’s fridge for a day, ripped into the independent arbitrator who decided against them on these grounds, all of which we now know because someone who was probably with MLB leaked it to the press. Oh, and one of the best players in the game just took what very well may be a permanent hit to his reputation. Yeah.

– Braun’s presence does have some playing-time ramifications for a few other Brewers, but it’s nothing major. As a result of Braun not being suspended (I’m saying that as many times as I can), Norichika Aoki slides down into a fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter role instead of playing left field for the first third of the season, which is probably a good thing, giving him an opportunity to adjust to MLB and the United States without the additional burden of taking over for one of the game’s biggest stars. The news isn’t quite as good for Caleb Gindl and Brooks Conrad, who were, up to today, pretty good candidates to make the team. With Braun on the roster, their chances just took a sizeable hit, not that we should be upset about that.

– It’s perfectly understandable to feel sorry for Braun having to go through this, but that doesn’t mean you need to buy his t-shirts or his energy drink. However, I do expect someone to go to his one of his restaurants in the next week or so and ask if they have any vials of “tainted samples” in their refrigerators. (We’re kidding, of course. Please don’t do that.)

To wrap things up, Tom Haudricourt had a great day, Ryan Braun had what was probably a great day, and the people at MLB made fools of themselves. Looking into the future, Braun is going to have to deal with a very undeserved scarlet “S”, the commissioner’s office will take a well-deserved reputation hit, and life as we know it in Brewer Nation will go on as we thought it would before this all went down. We’ll all wear our Braun shirseys to work tomorrow, he will deliver his take on what happened, and maybe some more information will come out. After that, let’s put this mess behind us once and for all.