Saying "my name has been dragged through the mud," NL MVP Ryan Braun reported to spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday and declared he had been vindicated, a day after his 50-game suspension for a positive drug test was overturned by an arbitrator.
Braun's teammates sat in the stands, in uniform, as he held a news conference on the field at the team's training complex. Braun said that, since what was supposed to be a confidential appeal was played out in public, "I've lived this nightmare every day for the last four months."
Braun detailed how the urine sample he provided on Oct. 1, the day the Brewers opened the playoffs, was not delivered to Federal Express until Oct. 3. Baseball's drug agreement calls for samples to be delivered to FedEx on the same day they are collected.
WADA has different opinion
The head of the World Anti-Doping Agency says the protocol breach that helped NL MVP Ryan Braun win his doping case would not have yielded the same result in a case that adhered to WADA rules. Braun's positive drug test was overturned by an arbitrator who ruled that a two-day delay in delivering his urine sample was a violation of baseball's drug agreement.
David Howman, the director general of WADA, said in a statement Friday that in a case following WADA code, "the athlete would have to show that the departure from the rule caused the adverse finding. That is not the situation in this case."
He said the "very experienced" director of the anti-doping lab in Montreal gave evidence that Braun's sample had not been compromised or tampered with.
"At the end of the day the truth prevailed," he said. "I'm a victim of a process that completely broke down and failed in the way that it was applied to me in the case. As players, we're held to a standard of 100 per cent perfection regarding the program, and everybody else associated with that program should be held to the same standard. We're a part of a process where you're 100 per cent guilty until proven innocent. It's the opposite of the American judicial system.
Braun said, because of the delay sending his sample to a lab, the testing was "fatally flawed."
"I don't honestly know what happened to it in that 44-hour period," he said.
Braun learned Oct. 19 his sample was positive for elevated testosterone, which he said was at a ratio that was the highest ever recorded in baseball's testing program. The positive test, had it stood up, would have caused him to be suspended for the first 50 games of the season.
ESPN reported the positive test in December.
"I tried to handle the entire situation with honour, with integrity, with class, with dignity and with professionalism because that's who I am and that's how I've always lived my life," he said. "If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I'd be the first one to step up and I say I did it. By no means am I perfect, but if I've ever made any mistakes in my life, I've taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart and I would bet my life that the substance never entered my body at any point."
He criticized the media for leaking the positive test, saying there had been "many inaccurate, erroneous, incomplete and fabricated stories regarding this issue."
"My name has been dragged through the mud as everything I've ever worked for in my life has been called into question," he said.
Braun arrived at Milwaukee's facility at about 9:40 a.m. walking through the complex's front doors to avoid reporters and camera crews waiting in back at the clubhouse entrance. Braun kissed his girlfriend before joining his teammates.
Braun first met with manager Ron Roenicke, who suggested that the star outfielder also meet privately with Milwaukee's players.
"He's been talking to me all winter, so we know what's going on," Roenicke said. "But they needed to hear it. With the outcome of it, I don't think he needed to explain anything, but I think he wanted to and the players probably appreciated it, so I thought it was great."
Braun, who hit .332 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs last year, is the first Major League Baseball player to have his suspension lifted by an arbitrator for a drug-related penalty.
His suspension hung over the NL Central champion Brewers all winter, and Roenicke was relieved to know he'll have Braun in his lineup from Day One. Milwaukee lost slugger Prince Fielder to free agency and couldn't be afford to be without their other big bat for too long.
"We're a lot better," Roenicke. "Really, that's what it comes down to. This is not just a great player but he's a guy who we need in our clubhouse and we need him in the locker room. His presence means a lot. All of us have been waiting to hear one way or the other what was going to happen. We were certainly hoping this was the outcome."
Roenicke is confident Braun will be able to handle any criticism from fans who believe he may have been cleared on a technicality.
"He's happy and he's happy to have it over with," Roenicke said. "He'll be fine. He gets it. He understands what it's going to be like. His character was in question this winter and I don't think his character will be in question again."
Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez is pleased Braun was cleared and doesn't think his teammate needs to apologize.
"I don't think he owes anything to anybody," he said. "I believe, it's not like I'm taking his side, but the people that have to explain what exactly happened is the ones in charge about the test result.
"Once again, he proved he didn't take anything illegal."
Arbitrator Shyam Das threw out Braun's ban on Thursday. Das, who has been baseball's independent arbitrator since 2000, informed the sides of his decision but did not give them a written opinion. He has 30 days to do so.
MLB executive vice-president Rob Manfred said management "vehemently disagrees" with Das' decision.
Players defend program
Baseball and its players' union are defending their drug testing program in the wake of criticism by anti-doping agencies after an arbitrator overturned Ryan Braun's 50-game suspension.
The NL MVP's failed drug test last fall was thrown out Thursday.
Several people connected with the case say a collector failed to send a urine sample from Braun to an accredited lab on the day it was taken, which is part of the baseball's testing agreement with its players.
The union and MLB say they will now tighten up their collection procedures. But each side expressed confidence in the drug testing process overall.