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Braun vs. the Collector: they could both be right, you know

Feb 29, 2012, 8:08 AM EDT

braun getty wide Getty Images

I was busy fighting crime yesterday afternoon when the sample collector from L’affaire Braun offered his statement. After that a bunch of people emailed me with some variation of “Ah-ha! Braun is a dirty stinkin’ lying cheater and the arbitrator was in the bag for him! Apologize now.”

OK, maybe the emails weren’t quite so extreme, but they were close. And they’re right about one thing: the statement of the collector does call for some response.  Here’s my response: Well, OK.

I say “well, OK,” because I’m not sure what else can be said. On the surface he seems to be offering a pretty sharp rebuke of Braun. And probably a not-underserved one. At the moment — and, as I’ll argue in a second, the moment matters — Braun’s statement the other day was a bit extreme for a guy who won a procedural victory, even if I still maintain that a procedural victory is significant.  He didn’t really need to point the finger so directly at the collector even if mistakes were made in the process.  It’s totally understandable that the guy felt the need to come back with a strong statement of his own.

As for the substance of the statement: look, there are a lot of things about all of this that seem like people calling each other liars, but it seems more like people talking past each other.

Braun’s people say there were a bunch of places open to receive the sample, the collector says that there weren’t any places that could ship the sample. Those things aren’t necessarily in conflict. The collector says that he followed the procedures set down by his employer, the arbitrator ruled that the procedures articulated in the Joint Drug Agreement weren’t followed. Those statements aren’t necessarily in conflict either. Indeed, the crux of it could very well be that the collector did everything he was told and trained to do by his employer but what he was told and trained to do didn’t conform to what the league and the players agreed upon when they set the system up.

Anyone who has worked in a large organization can relate to how that kind of thing happens. Mistakes and lack of adherence to formal protocols get baked into the process and become accepted procedures over time.  Which is fine when they’re just normal workplace rules, but which aren’t fine when they’re rules that were the product of sensitive, complicated and high stakes collective bargaining. If the union doesn’t object to that, they risk waiving what they fought so hard for in negotiations.

And it could be that those ad hoc procedures make sense.  Field experience trumping design, you know. Could very well be that the Joint Drug Agreement now gets amended to actually formalize the procedures that have been used, albeit in an unauthorized fashion, before now.  That doesn’t vindicate that unauthorized past use — rules are rules — but this could all be part of a healthy evolution of the testing system, with Braun’s specific example being but a footnote in the future.

The important thing at present, however, is that we won’t have ultimate resolution of the seeming discrepancies between Braun and the collector until we see the arbitrator’s decision. To see what, exactly, he took issue with in the procedures that were employed and why he found them significant.  Until then, anyone not privy to the decision who either (a) attacks the collector; or (b) belittles Braun’s procedural defense are just guessing.

164 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. randygnyc - Feb 29, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    Now, for those suggesting MLB leaked Braun’s test results, John Heyman said yesterday that he’s been lead to believe it was a law firm, who was initially approached by Braun and his agent after they learned of the results. This particular law firm was passed over for an obviously better choice and thatt he leak originated from the first law firm.

    • phillyphreak - Feb 29, 2012 at 11:49 AM

      Jon Heyman says a lot of things.

      • kopy - Feb 29, 2012 at 11:55 AM

        Heyman does say a lot of things, but this story makes more sense than most others I’ve heard. There’s nobody in MLB, the drug lab, or Braun camps that would really benefit from a leak.

    • nolanwiffle - Feb 29, 2012 at 1:55 PM

      Dewey, Cheatham, & Howe?

    • judahbenhur - Feb 29, 2012 at 2:43 PM

      Jon Heyman is more concerned with being a buddy to the players than he is reporting uncomfortable facts. Why would major league baseball insist the test was accurate and harm their sport and the commissioner’s own team if they had any doubt? The sample’s seal was still intact and the procedure was the one they have always used. Braun got off on a technicality that many are questioning the logic of. This is an absurd ruling.

  2. phillyphreak - Feb 29, 2012 at 12:14 PM

    I have a few opinions to share

    1) Lots of comments over the past few days have centered around testosterone levels, how (if) these levels can change in urine, what the ratios mean etc. Surprisingly (or not) many of these comments have been written like they are the gold standard of information and are 100% irrefutable pieces of information that PROVE Braun is guilty. Hogwash. I say hogwash because there are suddenly so many experts in drug testing on these boards. It takes a pretty long time to become an expert in something, and honestly reading Google and Wikipedia doesn’t make anyone an expert on anything. Even pulling articles from journals has to be examined closely. Are they good journals (what’s the impact factor; who wrote the paper, how was it supported etc)? Hell, I didn’t consider myself an expert in my field (biology) until I was finishing my PhD. And you know what? I really wasn’t an expert then either. So excuse me if it surprises me that so many people are suddenly experts about this stuff. And some of them are kinda jerky comments.

    2a) Speaking of experts- there have been many to talk about these tests and what they mean. It stands to reason that Braun’s camp also had experts to help with the test results and interpretations. If we are to believe Will Carroll’s articles- experts probably helped reproduce the bad test results. If true, then that’s a big deal. But it speaks to a a greater (and a more common in the sciences) point: experts don’t always agree. There are always exceptions.

    2b) It’s also fair to say that the experts have a special interest in these cases. Drug testing experts of course will say that there are no ways this can happen. Because if they don’t then every test can be subjected to the same or similar objections.

    2c) The biases in the experts also exists in sources for media.

    3) I think a common misconception exists on these boards. Skepticism about the test results (via chain of custody or believing Carroll’s pieces) seems to label people as Pro-Braun. It’s important to note that those of us who are questioning these things are not Pro-Braun but rather Pro-Wait-Until-We-Have-All-The-Information-Before-We-Make-Our-Decision-About-Braun (or as I say the WUWHATIBWMODABs).

    3b) I’m not saying he’s innocent, I’m not saying he’s guilty. If he is guilty, to me it’s meh. Wrong to cheat but I’m not naive enough to think that it doesn’t happen. I’m also not naive enough to think that PEDs turn a slap hitter into a 50 HR threat either.

    4) Commence with the thumbs down.

    • gendisarray - Feb 29, 2012 at 12:35 PM

      Big thumbs up on all points. I’m definitely a Braun agnostic.

    • badmamainphilliesjamas - Feb 29, 2012 at 3:03 PM

      Two thumbs up and count me in with the WUWHATIBWMODABs.

      Few on either side seem to remember that the “facts” underlying all of this analysis and debate are still mostly rumor and supposition. They don’t become any more credible just because they are repeated over and over again.

      What makes me squirm (and not just in this case) is the absolute certainty of the marauding moralists and pious pontificators. Yet another argument for due process.

    • stercuilus65 - Mar 3, 2012 at 2:11 AM

      You are committing the logical fallacy of false equivalence i.e. equating one side’s “experts” with the other.
      The vast majority of scientific opinion and indeed practice of world athletics (including MLB Players association) are solid in their belief of the accuracy and reliability of the test.
      Just because the defense team can dig up a few “experts” is meaningless. After all their are experts who believe in creationism, vaccinations cause autism or drinking herbal tea will cure cancer.
      Their is a difference between having an open mind and having such an op[en mind your brain falls out.

      • phillyphreak - Mar 3, 2012 at 9:03 AM

        “Just because the defense team can dig up a few “experts” is meaningless.”

        That’s not really true. We don’t know who the experts that the defense used are (if they used any) so we can’t really say these people are meaningless. For all we know, they could be leaders in their fields. Sure they could be quacks but we can’t just assume that. Essentially this is what you are doing. Also, it’s not like this would be the first time that an athlete used science to prove innocence. As others have provided this link:

        “The vast majority of scientific opinion and indeed practice of world athletics (including MLB Players association) are solid in their belief of the accuracy and reliability of the test……After all their are experts who believe in creationism, vaccinations cause autism or drinking herbal tea will cure cancer”

        Again without knowing who the experts are we can’t really say they are quacks right? After all many scientific discoveries that made it into biology and science textbooks are being refined and in some cases even questioned with sound experimental evidence. It wouldn’t be unheard of for two sound scientific studies to conflict. Go explore primary literature and it’s all over the place. Sound scientific evidence can be sound and still disagree.

        Having an open mind means that there CAN be other possibilities that, as long as they are supported with sound evidence. Having an open mind that your brain falls out is believing things that aren’t based in fact or tested scientifically (in this case).

        We don’t know how true anything we hear is. He could be 100% guilty or he could be 100% innocent. Until we know, we can’t make any decisions and we can’t just equate experts on any side as quacks.

  3. El Bravo - Feb 29, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Ryan Braun is officially a douchenozzle. I haven’t figured out why yet, but he’s on the fucking list. That’s right, I said fucking, not f@cking dagnammit.

  4. judahbenhur - Feb 29, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    When are reporters going to start reporting and stop trying to befriend the players. This is political correctness meets wishful thinking. Only one of two things happened. Either someone set up Braun by sabotaging his sample, or he’s lying. It’s one or the other. Not both. The seal was unbroken when it was delivered, so how did the testosterone levels reach record levels?

  5. stew48 - Feb 29, 2012 at 9:52 PM

    Hey Koufax,

    You use the name of the best pitcher of my 81 year old lifetime, and I certainly resent your childish and horribly biased comments. Since you won’t change your thinking, how about dropping the Koufax from your posts? Thank you for your consideration.

  6. stevejeltzjehricurl - Mar 1, 2012 at 2:25 AM

    A few random thoughts, as I parse through this debate…

    1. I understand why people feel the need to attack Braun’s credibility, or atr the very least find his account less than credible. At the same time, I’m not sure why the collector’s credibility is taken for granted. His resume is nice, but it’s about as relevant to the debate as Braun saying he never failed a test before. Everything else in his statement may well be true, but it was not enough for the one independant party who has heard all the facts to rule against Braun’s appeal. Obviously, we don’t have Das’ final opinion, so we don’t know whom he found credible or the specific reason he believed the process failed.

    2. I understand that people believe Braun is guilty based on the fact that the test was positive, but until Das’ written ruling is made public, that is a conclusion built on quicksand. As I’ve said before, if the process is invalid, then so is the test result. It doesn’t matter if the test revealed that Braun’s DNA was engineered by Dr. Mindbender in an effort to create a new Cobra leader — the result is non-existent. Now, that doesn’t mean squat in the court of public opinion, but we still don’t know what the alleged test result said. So it’s all conjecture based on incomplete information; in other words, it’s approximately as credible as a statement by any politician.

    3. I still submit that a billion-dollar industry needs a better set of protocols for something so many people consider important to the integrity of the game. It is not that difficult to arrange for a truly secure storage facility or a trusted courier when the lab is closed for the weekend or Fed Ex is no longer open. Seriously, you’re storing the guy’s urine in a Rubbermaid container over the weekend in the courier’s basement office (which has presumably not been examined to verify his claim that it is “sufficiently cool” to store the samples), and the defense is, “we’ve always done it this way”? we’re talking about someone’s good name, livelihood, and millions of dollars, and this is the protocol deemed sufficient? I’m assuming the union and MLB didn’t agree on something this moronic in the CBA, instead leaving the specifics to be determined later. The fact that the specifics were seemingly developed with an eye toward practicality is fine, but it leaves open the door to claims that the procedures were insufficient.

    4. I think the leaks, wherever they came from, are reprehensible but to be expected. I don’t know who leaked it, and I’m not sure I care. MLB seems to leak like a sieve on this stuff when the test result involves a big name player, and neither they nor the union have spent time figuring a way to effectively deter leaks. And the name of the collector was almost certain to become public once Braun was cleared on process grounds. That’s not really fair to him, but again, no one seems interested in implementing procedures designed to prevent this.

  7. nolanwiffle - Mar 1, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    How about “we’ve always done it this way”…….and it’s worked just dandy! What would you change in the process as described by the tester in this case?

    Can anyone be found guilty of any wrongdoing in this country anymore and simply own up to it?

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