Braun verdict helps Brewers breathe easier
Ruling takes weight off franchise coming off triumphant year
Everybody on the side of the Milwaukee Brewers -- from the front office, to the coaching staff, to the players, to every Miller Park employee, to each and every baseball fan from Kenosha County to the shores of Lake Superior -- can now exhale.
Ryan Braun has been found not guilty on a charge of violating baseball's drug policy.
There is some disagreement about the verdict in this case, but by a 2-1 vote, the special panel considering Braun's case has ruled in his favor. He becomes the first known player under baseball's current drug testing program to appeal a positive test and win.
The alternative for the Brewers, frankly, was unthinkable. Had Braun's appeal been denied, the very face of the Milwaukee franchise would have been tarnished, maybe for keeps. The damage would have been done, not only to Braun, but to the franchise.
Wasn't it bad enough that the Brewers had lost one-half of perhaps the most productive 3-4 combination in the game? Prince Fielder had hit the road -- something for which the Brewers had braced themselves. Fielder finally took an offer from the Tigers -- an offer as massive as Prince himself -- for $214 million over nine years.
But Braun was the guy who had signed on for the long term in Milwaukee, and had done so for money that can now be seen as well under market value. Braun is signed with Milwaukee through 2020. If he had lost this appeal, if he had officially been found to have violated the league's drug policy, the damage to Braun's career would have been long-lasting, and the damage to his reputation could have been lethal. This is an elite player, the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player. There was a lot of reputation to lose.
But the entire Milwaukee franchise would have suffered for it as well. There would have been Braun's 50-game suspension, which, added to the departure of Fielder, would have left an unfulfilled feeling in the middle of the Brewers' lineup. And that first division championship in 29 years, that first postseason series victory in 29 years? Well, one of your two best players wasn't clean. Fairly or not, a guilty verdict for Braun would also have been a minus for the Milwaukee organization, as far as the general perspective on its recent successes.
But now, happy days are here again. Braun, of course, had insisted on his innocence from the time his positive test had been leaked in a December report by ESPN's "Outside the Lines."
In a statement on Thursday, Braun called his victory in the appeal the "first step in restoring my good name and reputation."
"We were able to get through this," Braun said, "because I am innocent and the truth is on our side."
This is not a universally held belief, as the 2-1 result of the special panel's deliberation indicates. The panel consisted of arbitrator Shyam Das, MLB executive vice president for labor relations Rob Manfred and executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association Michael Weiner.
In his own statement, Manfred said: "Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das."
"It has always been Major League Baseball's position," Manfred said, "that no matter who tests positive, we will exhaust all avenues in pursuit of the appropriate discipline. We have been true to that position in every instance, because baseball fans deserve nothing less."
Major League Baseball, better late than never, formulated the strictest drug policy in North American professional sports. In a way, the fact that the NL MVP had tested positive could have been seen as a tribute to the fact that the testing was administered without fear of favor. MVP? Tough break.
But that is not how it looks for the Milwaukee Brewers. For them, this verdict is manna from heaven. It is a gift that will keep on giving. In this case, it has given them, free of a 50-game suspension, one of baseball's premier No. 3 hitters. And it has given Braun's reputation something close to a clean bill of health.
It is possible that the details of how Braun won this precedent-shattering victory in an appeal of a positive drug test will, like the results of the test itself, eventually be leaked and become public. And then we will all be able to chew endlessly on the details -- or not, depending on your point of view.
In the meantime, the 2-1 difference of opinion in favor of Braun's innocence is terrific news, not only for Braun, but for the health, well-being and general happiness of the Milwaukee National League franchise.
Mike Bauman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.