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"The Braun Advantage"

How one ambiguous phrase has cast new doubt on Ryan Braun's story

Marc Serota

A resurrection of the controversy surrounding Ryan Braun's failed 2011 drug test was probably the last thing Brewers fans expected or wanted this offseason.

And yet, just weeks before spring training, here we are. After a relatively quiet offseason, the Brewers' premiere slugger faces fresh questions about PED use.

Three references to Braun were found among the private files of Tony Bosch, founder of the anti-aging clinic Biogenesis. We now know that Biogenesis's main business was supplying banned substances to athletes, apparently including many MLB players (Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, and Melky Cabrera, among others).

I have a closer look at all three Braun references here, but suffice it to say that the first two comport with Braun's explanation. That explanation, released almost as soon as the news broke, was that one of his attorneys briefly hired Bosch as a consultant during Braun's 2011 drug suspension appeal.

The attorney was apparently Chris Lyons, whose name appears multiple times in the Biogenesis records. Lyons once represented banned tennis player Wayne Odesnik-also listed as a Biogenesis client in the records. (h/t @enrico_palazzo_) Another of Braun's attorneys, David Cornwell, acknowledged they used Bosch during the appeal, but found his value "negligible." According to Braun's statement, a dispute then arose about compensation, which is why Braun's name appears next to dollar amounts and on a "money owed" list.

By far the most damning piece of evidence, though, is the third reference, to "the Braun advantage." This appears in a letter from Bosch, likely to Juan Nunez, an associate of Melky Cabrera. The letter congratulates "Juan" (Cabrera) on winning the MVP award (most likely from the All-Star game), then goes on to state, "This smells like the 'Braun' advantage."

Some have taken this reference as proof that Braun used performance enhancers. That is a reasonable interpretation, but one that really only makes sense if (A) Bosch himself supplied PEDs to Braun; or (B) Bosch knew what drugs Braun had supposedly taken.

(A) is unlikely because, unlike Alex Rodriguez, the Biogenesis documents do not contain detailed doping regimes for Braun. What's more, unless you believe Braun's attorneys were participating in a cover-up or insane, it's not likely they would hire the very man who supplied Braun with PEDs as a consultant on his drug appeal.

(B) is more plausible, but to my knowledge it isn't common for doping clinics to regularly share even the identities of their clients with one another, let alone specific drug regimes.

So what could "the Braun advantage" possibly mean?

My best guess? A sales pitch.

Based on the original Miami New Times report, we know Bosch, just as Victor Conte once did at BALCO, liked to talk up other athletes in order to make sales. Juan Garcia,* for example, told the Times that when he visited Biogenesis, Bosch sold him on a pill, adding, "This is the stuff Lance Armstrong takes." I am not aware of any links between Armstrong and Biogenesis; it's anyone's guess whether Bosch had any clue what Armstrong was using. Bosch appears to have just thrown him out there as a sort of celebrity endorsement.

It is entirely possible Bosch did the same thing when he allegedly sold PEDs to Melky Cabrera. Braun's positive drug test was (unfortunately) public knowledge. Bosch would have known, either through media reports or because of his consultant role with the Braun camp, that the slugger was tied to synthetic testosterone. And really, what better athlete to invoke when selling PEDs to another baseball player? After all, wouldn't you want to be like reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun? Don't you want to hit for a higher average, greater power? Guarantee yourself that big contract as you enter free agency?

I'd imagine it took some reassuring that Cabrera would not be busted like Braun, but we know that the threat of being caught does not currently create a sufficient disincentive to discourage PED use. It looks like plenty of players still dope. And if pressed, Bosch could always point to the fact that Braun won his appeal.

This should not be construed as an attempt to prove Braun's innocence. It's not. Again, it is entirely possible that Braun was doping and caught a lucky break. But a single, obscure reference to "the Braun advantage" isn't enough to damn him either. Much, much more is necessary to prove guilt.

*Juan Garcia is a fictional name. The individual who spoke to the Miami New Times declined to be identified.