We need to get something out of the way right up front. If you’re a person who doesn’t even want to consider the possibility that Ryan Braun could have knowingly taken something on the banned substances list, then this piece isn’t going to be for you. That’s perfectly OK. There is plenty of evidence to support the notion that Braun didn’t escape punishment on what the media is calling a “technicality” or a “loophole.” I, for one, would love to find out more about these things, and I think it’s the height of irresponsibility for media members to simply say “Braun did it, but got lucky that the collector didn’t follow procedure, invalidating what would have otherwise been a positive test.” There simply isn’t close to enough information made public at this point to draw that sort of iron clad conclusion in the case.
That being said, I don’t think we can completely dismiss the possibility that Braun did do something against the rules. It’s not a particularly popular stance to take in Brewer fandom these days, but again, I don’t think we have enough evidence to completely rule out the notion. As a fan, I hope that day does come, and as soon as possible. Since we’re not there yet, though, it seems worth looking at the possibility that he used something and try to figure out just what that would mean.
From the beginning of this whole saga, there were things about it that simply didn’t add up about Braun’s supposed guilt. Namely, why did he test positive when he did? We know that Braun, like other players, has been tested repeatedly. In the press conference, he said at least 25 times in his career and 3 times this year he was tested, and came through cleanly. There is no reason to doubt this, as MLB never contradicted it, while arguing with many other points. Thus, it seems, we’re left with basically a continuum of possibilities that explain this outcome, again, assuming he’s guilty. On one end, we have to suppose for argument’s sake that Braun is a habitual user of whatever caused the elevated testosterone levels to be present in his body, but has been able to avoid detection one way or another for years. On the other end of the spectrum, this was an isolated incident, he took something once and just happened to get caught. There are, of course, many points along that line from “almost all the time” to “almost never” but if he used, the truth is on that line somewhere.
If the truth is closer to “isolated incident” then, it would seem, trying to figure out just why this happened when it did would be key to understanding the situation. Why would a player who has a long term contract, a large personal fan base that elected him to start the last four all star games and an otherwise clean reputation risk having all of that tarnished in the eyes of the public? Could it have been an effort to recover from the calf injury that plagued him mid season? Would taking what he tested positive for even help that effort? What else could it have been that would cause an otherwise clean player to risk his whole reputation for some sort of brief extra edge? Would this reason make the rest of the baseball world look at Braun differently than if he was using all the time? This avenue really raises more questions that answers.
Moving to the darker side of the street, we have the possibility that Braun habitually used whatever it was that caused this positive test but has avoided detection until this incident. As unlikely as that possibility seems, we at least have to entertain it for the purposes of this exercise. If it’s the case, then obviously a lot of people were fooled for a long time by Braun. He put on a show for people, while keeping this secret buried. As many questions as this would raise about Braun personally, it would raise even more about the whole testing system. Is it possible this one rouge player found the secret to evading a positive test for years while others all either followed the rules or were caught for stepping out of line? That seems almost impossible to believe. Rather, if Braun was a habitual user, it would seem to indicate that the whole testing system is “fatally flawed” and there are likely many other players guilty of similar indiscretions as well. We know the incentive to cheat is there and we know players in the past took things in an effort to improve. If it was so easy to do without getting caught, it’s hard to fathom Braun was alone in his use. Thus, the more Braun supposedly used while avoiding detection for so long, the more likely it becomes others have been doing the same.
As I said up front, this all presupposes guilt of actually doing something against the rules, and I don’t think that we’re anywhere close to actually knowing that is the case. If it is true, though, it seems clear that the more isolated Braun’s use was, the more likely it is that the testing system itself is working and rampant cheating is dead. In this hypothesis, Braun would have taken something for some specific reasons, gotten unlucky and ultimately, caught. That would make him not a habitual cheater, but rather guilty of some sort of lapse in judgement. The more one thinks he potentially used, moving down the the other end the spectrum, then the more flawed the testing system essentially must be, and thus the easier it would be to do. The easier it is to do, the more likely it is that other players were and continue to do the same. That sort of situation would cast a shadow over the whole game, not just Braun. Just don’t try telling this to any fan of another team this summer as they lustily boo, hold up signs and otherwise look down their nose at Braun and the fans that cheer for him. They’re not going to want to entertain the possibility one of their best players might have used than Brewers fans have.