Ryan Braun – FedEx Poster Boy

by on February 24, 2012 · 2 comments

Ryan Braun just beat MLB’s system for preventing the use of performance enhancing drugs, and he does not lack for help in building his soapbox.  From that soapbox, Braun’s supporters are launching public relations attacks directed at everyone who is not #TeamBraun.  You either stand with them, or you obviously hate due process, apple pie, and pizza buffets.

Look no further than the latest work by Ken Rosenthal who begins his column by claiming to be able to read other people’s minds.  Creepy.  As with most good PR campaigns, there exists a grain of truth in nearly every thing that gets blurted, blathered, or tweeted.

  • Rosenthal mentions that an independent arbitrator (appointed with the approval of both MLB and the player’s union) ruled that Braun be “cleared on at least one technicality and maybe more”.  Really?  Last time I checked, the arbitrator, Shyam Das, has not submitted his written ruling.  Where does the “maybe more” bit come from?  Sounds like a bit of politicking to me.  Perfect foreshadowing for laying the groundwork for a convenient excuse to be presented later.
  • Braun deserved this victory, because the independent arbitrator believed that MLB did not prove that the sample in question was properly obtained.  Okay, this means that the arbitrator believes that the sample was not obtained properly.  Oddly enough, the lab responsible for testing approved the sample and verified that it was suitable.  Of course, the two parties are looking at the same issue from different angles and each is applying a different set of rules or standard.  Das is theoretically following the established guidelines which the player’s union and MLB agreed upon.  The laboratory is basing the judgment on the sample condition and what they know based on the paperwork accompanying the sample.

This where the wheels come off of Rosenthal’s argument.  He calls this all “due process”, and that due process is what it is, because the rules were established via collective bargaining.  Also, he reminds readers that MLB and the player’s union agreed upon the independent arbitrator.  That’s like 2 different people looking at a car in January and agreeing that the car looks nice and reliable enough for driving across the state.  At that point in time, the two sides agreed on something that eventually became part of a legal, binding agreement.  Nothing about this scenario implies that the car still looks nice and is proven reliable at a later point in time.  If indeed questions have arisen about the integrity or ability of Das to perform his duty, then those questions may or may not matter to the members of #TeamBraun.

Consider the 3 parts to Rosenthal’s defense of #TeamBraun.

  1. There was a chain-of-custody issue involving a 2 day delay between the sample collection and the delivery of the sample to FedEx for shipment.  The nearest FedEx office was still open on the Saturday that the sample was collected, but the office was no longer shipping anything according to some unidentified source.
  2. Das may have also had doubts about the validity of the test, because the test results were “peculiar”.  According to another anonymous source, the testosterone level detected in Braun’s sample was 3x higher than anything detected in any previous player’s urine.
  3. Finally, Braun has passed at least 25 tests in his career including 3 in the past year.  He never failed one until this one which just so happens to have spent 2 days at the home of the “Collector” over the weekend in question.

Before we get into the mind-numbing technical jargon, let’s begin by looking at the first thing the MLB “Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program” rules state about chain-of-custody.

Chain of Custody Procedure

Apparently, it is very important for the “Collector” to maintain possession and control of both the urine specimen and the custody document.  I take that to mean that the “Collector” probably has a reasonably good idea how to handle both items, and he or she may even be trained or at least well-informed about the importance of keeping the integrity of both items intact.  Then again, the “Collector” may actually be some person who just happened to stay at a Holiday Inn Express on some Friday night and needed to make some extra cash the next day.

Here is where the two sides disagreed with great vigor.

E and F

So, the “Collector” must keep the chain of custody intact and store the samples properly.  The specimens must be taken in the appropriate packaging to a FedEx Customer Service Center for shipment.  Maybe I’m being obtuse, but this seems a little vague and possibly incomplete.

According to this agreement:  “Absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the Laboratory on the same day they are collected.”

What happens if it is not possible to send the specimens via FedEx that same day?  Does the fact that a FedEx office is open but not shipping qualify as “unusual circumstances”?  If the “Collector” knows that the FedEx office is not going to ship the specimens that same day, is it a violation of the mandate to keep the chain of custody intact and store the samples properly to allow FedEx to enter the samples into the shipping system?  After all, it would seem like FedEx may or may not be fully prepared to store the samples in a manner that fully meets the required standards.  Then again, there really isn’t a definition regarding those standards, either.  Personally, I’m fine with a styrofoam cooler full of $1 per bag ice, but some people may demand that the cooler be molded plastic and filled with ice chips with each chip weighing no more than 3.14 ounces.

Did Das (or anybody else) have reasonable evidence to suggest that the test results were not valid?  So what if Braun’s test score just happened to be really high?  The highwater mark for testosterone levels cannot possibly stay the same forever.  Maybe the laboratory just needed an NL MVP to set the bar just a little higher.

Does anybody dare suggest that the “Collector” acted with impropriety?  Tampering with urine samples isn’t exactly like opening a Christmas present and re-wrapping it without tearing the paper or leaving tape marks.  Were both samples then tampered with in an identical manner?  That would seem even less likely and even more difficult.

Is it worth even considering the argument that Braun had passed 25 similar tests with flying colors already?  After all, everybody passes until they fail.  I may not speed down a particular stretch of road for 2 years during which I cross that stretch hundreds of times.  Maybe I lose track and get busted for 45 in a 40 on that stretch one morning when I haven’t had my coffee.  It does not matter one bit that I’ve gone over that road hundreds of times without getting caught for speeding.  What matters is that one time that I get pulled over for going 5 mpg above the posted limit.

Basically, Ryan Braun was tested for banned substances.  The person responsible for collecting the urine specimens from Braun was stuck someplace where the nearest FedEx office was no longer shipping on that Saturday, and it did not ship at all on Sundays.  The “Collector” took the samples home and stored them.  When the samples made it to the laboratory that did the testing, the samples were deemed valid, and really high levels of testosterone were detected in the samples.  #TeamBraun would have you believe that the “Collector” acted improperly in at least 1 way, shape, or form.  Why?  Well, Braun and his attorneys need a scapegoat, and they have found one.

People like Rosenthal want you to put yourself in Braun’s situation.  Wouldn’t you want the benefit of the full due process promised to you?  Of course you would.  The only problem with the “due process” argument is that the system worked just fine.  Unless new facts come to light, there was no real issue with the chain of custody, except that FedEx shipping people apparently work banker’s hours.  If anything, the agreement needs more sections to cover all the possible scenarios that defense attorneys could potentially use as loopholes.  Do you really think that the player’s union will be in a hurry to approve such changes?

One other issue with “due process”.  The procedure itself may be working just fine, but it still relies on rationale, unbiased people to make rationale decisions based on the evidence presented.  Unless #TeamBraun presented the arbitration panel with a flaky refrigerator and really advanced chemical set from the Collector’s residence, it seems like presumption has been replaced by assumption.

Don’t even ask me what I would do, if the player in question was a member of the Cardinals.  Do not go there.  I want to see players who violate the drug policy punished.  Severely.  Perhaps the need for equal justice for all is even more important, if a Cardinal player is involved.  I’d rather explain to my son about how cheaters get punished than how MLB’s testing regime may or may not work as advertised.

Follow gr33nazn on Twitter, and maybe I’ll explain the “specific gravity” section of the agreement!


Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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Phil February 26, 2012

If I’m Ryan Braun I’m thanking my lucky stars (or well paid lawyers) right about now because Braun is one very lucky boy. I wonder how many others will now use “the collector” messed up defense when they get caught juicing….sigh


Dennis February 27, 2012

The lawyers helped, but the real problem is a combination of crappy guidelines and the way the arbitration panel is constituted. On any questionable issues or gray areas, I believe that we’ll see a 2-1 vote with the independent arbitrator voting for the player every time. That means that cases brought up for a hearing will need to be without any perception of a procedural flaw. That’s fine, but I still don’t know how someone is supposed to ship something using a specific shipping method, when that method is not available.

Fortunately, I don’t expect the collectors to make any mistakes, because they will have been briefed about this until they have the whole procedure as a series of tattoos.

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