This is the second portion of my conversation with Yahoo! Sports columnist Jeff Passan, who has written extensively about Ryan Braun's 2011 appeal and the recent Biogenesis documents. You can read part I here, in which we discuss the Lohse signing, instant replay, and Passan's upcoming Hall of Fame vote.
Braun's 2011 Appeal
NP: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you some questions about Ryan Braun. You've written that Braun's test was "overturned because of alleged mishandling of evidence," that Braun "never contested the findings of the test," and his lawyers "never bothered arguing whether or not Braun had taken the synthetic testosterone that showed up in his urine during the 2011 playoffs." Isn't it true that, under the Joint Drug Agreement, that's not a valid defense? You're not going to win if you go before the panel and simply profess your innocence.
JP: No, I think you can make that argument as part of a greater argument. Now claiming innocence, in and of itself, and by itself, isn't likely to get something overturned. But in concert with other evidence, that certainly could be a valid defense. But here's the thing: when asked about it publicly, Braun has not denied it, either.
NP: He stood at a podium and said he never took it.
JP: But he's never answered the question of why there was synthetic testosterone in his urine.
NP: That's true. He's made some vague assertions of there being a larger story, which only select people know, that he isn't willing to talk about. I don't think that helps his case.
JP: He's essentially floating a grand conspiracy. I'm up for a good conspiracy story as much as the next person, but if you're going to allude to it, and the perception of your innocence is of the utmost importance to you, you would think there's a good reason to talk about it. But apparently not.
NP: You mentioned professing innocence to the arbitration panel might work as part of a larger defense. Do you know for a fact that Braun did not say that to the panel?
JP: Yes. According to multiple people that were present in the arbitration hearings, yes.
NP: Okay. Because we don't have the arbitration decision. Braun and the MLB jointly refused to release that, so we don't know the exact contours of his defense.
JP: That's because the whole thing, at the end, was just a disaster for all. This has become such a sideshow for Major League Baseball, and for Ryan Braun too. He doesn't want to talk about this. Major League Baseball doesn't want one of the faces of the league being perpetually involved with steroid suspicion.
NP: Well then their most recent actions are certainly peculiar, but we'll get to that. I want to be clear, when we're talking about Braun never contesting the positive result, we're talking about the more sophisticated test; the one that is triggered by an elevated T/E ratio, correct?
JP: Correct. We're talking about the IRMS. When the T/E ratio pops, you then go and do a much more in-depth test that shows the cause of the elevated T/E ratio.
NP: I've read that Braun was able to replicate the heightened T/E ratio based on the sample's storage conditions. Is that right?
JP: That I've never been able to confirm. I don't know where that came from.
NP: I believe Will Carroll has reported that.
JP: I've asked about that, and I was told that was absolutely not the case. I don't know who Will's sources are, and he might know someone in the Brewers organization. But out of all the people I've spoken with, I've never heard that, and I've heard people plugged in on both sides. I don't even know what replicating the T/E ratio would show. Where does that get you?
NP: Well, I think the argument would be that if the storage conditions could have produced an elevated T/E ratio, the more advanced testing should never have been triggered in the first place.
JP: Right, that makes sense. Here's the thing: I've talked with [Christiane Ayotte, head of the Doping Control Laboratory in Quebec] in the past about the particulars. I've asked her whether those storage conditions could have had any adverse effect on the sample. The answer has been, "yes, potentially," but in this case, the sample did not degrade at all.
I get the impression that's why MLB is just so mad about this; the sample was a good sample, and still got thrown out. The MLB's argument was, "if this is a good sample, even if it was not handled according to protocol, why is it getting thrown out?" But MLB lost the case, and rightfully so. If the sample was not handled in the proper fashion, then according to the protocol they agreed to, it should have been thrown out. But that doesn't invalidate the fact that synthetic testosterone showed up in Ryan Braun's urine and that there's no explanation for its presence.
NP: Let's shift to Biogenesis, and I want to start with this premise. Ryan Braun would have to be incredibly stupid to still be actively seeking and using performance-enhancing drugs, right?
JP: No, not at all. The thing that drives these guys doesn't go away. If Ryan Braun was using one time, that doesn't preclude him from using another time. We've seen it with Manny Ramirez and a number of other guys who have been nailed twice. That being said, with the profile Ryan Braun has, it would be remarkably dumb to continue doing that.
But one thing we don't know is the date on these Biogenesis logs. It's conceivable that, when Ryan Braun's name was in there, it could have been tied back to his 2011 season as opposed to any time in 2012.
NP: The documents contain a sophisticated doping regime for Alex Rodriguez. As far as we know, that isn't true for Braun, right?
JP: At this point, we don't know that. I haven't been led to believe there's anything like that for Braun. Honestly, there are so many documents I haven't been privy to, I can't say for sure. I think it would be presumptuous to assume that, just because there are so many names allegedly included in these documents that still aren't out there. We don't know the breadth of those documents.
NP: But based on what we've seen, there's nothing like that.
JP: No, there's nothing even tying him to PEDs. It just ties him to money at this point.
NP: Which is interesting. The Miami New Times refused to include Braun's name in their report for that specific reason. You and Tim Brown went ahead with your Yahoo! story, though. Why?
JP: Our rationale was this: once the Miami New Times story came out, Biogenesis, and any ties to Biogenesis, became newsworthy. Before the New Times, Biogenesis was just a nebulous corporation down in Florida. But once Biogenesis became this flashpoint for steroid use, if your name was in the Biogenesis logs, there was certainly newsworthiness, whether your name was Ryan Braun or Danny Valencia or Frankie Cervelli. We did name a few other players in that story. Braun was obviously the biggest one, and the one that intrigued MLB the most. But our rationale was that Biogenesis was a news story the second the New Times published its report, and the names in that log book became worthy of news. And the same thing applies to all the players named by the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com, and other news outlets.
NP: So once one news outlet reports, that opens the door for any other outlet to pounce on matters that were deemed not sufficiently trustworthy for reporting by the original outlet?
JP: It's a matter of news judgment. That differs from journalist to journalist. What's newsworthy to me is not going to be newsworthy to Tim Elfrink [author of the Miami New Times report]. And I spoke with Tim about this before we ran our story, because I called the New Times trying to confirm that our documents were the same documents that they had. They didn't want to say anything, but the impression that I got was very simple: If they were going to be accusing baseball players of using the Biogenesis lab, they wanted to go with the absolute strongest evidence they had, because they're an alternative weekly down in Miami, Florida. Because many people haven't heard of the Miami New Times, and it doesn't carry the cachet of a Yahoo! Sports or an ESPN, organizations that regularly break news stories. They wanted to go with stuff that they felt was absolutely the strongest stuff. And because Ryan Braun's name was not tied to any particular drug, I think that's why they held off on him and some other players.
Now, maybe there was documentation in there that they weren't able to decipher; Anthony Bosch's codes and handwriting left a lot to be desired. But if I'm the Miami New Times, I completely understand why they did what they did. But I don't think because one organization didn't include Braun's name, that means other ones have the same protocol. I'm very comfortable with our choice to do what we did. I feel like we made the right judgment and our news stance was on point.
NP: Is the government still investigating Biogenesis?
JP: It's the Florida Department of Health, a state organization as opposed to federal. We're not talking about the FBI or the DEA, so the breadth of the investigation is not going to be quite as big.
NP: Which explains why MLB felt the need to file a lawsuit against the clinic.
JP: Exactly. They're trying to get the documents and interview people, get discovery. It's risky. At this point, MLB is towing the line between overzealous and reasonably zealous. When Bob Nightengale broke the story about Braun being public enemy number one, I thought that was a little bit over the top. But because of Braun and Alex Rodriguez's history, they are going to be the likelier targets.
From MLB's point of view, I can sort of understand it. That is, once before, both Braun and Rodriguez were given an opportunity to tell the truth. We feel like they have not told the truth, thus we are going to seek the truth about them and from them. Now, if that means going and giving immunity to other people to get that information, that's potentially a really bad look for baseball, but baseball tries to rationalize it by saying, "We've done this once before." Allegedly using is one thing, but then lying to baseball, it's like the cover up is worth than the crime.
NP: So there's no doubt Braun has a target on his head. MLB is moving forward by pursuing immunity deals and suspending minor league players deemed "uncooperative," who have no representation or leverage. Doesn't MLB's response seem a little bit draconian?
JP: Yes. There's definitely a line that MLB is very close to crossing at this point. I equate this to the NCAA's sanctions against the University of Miami, coincidentally enough. The NCAA went way too far, and because of that there's a chance Miami is not going to be touched at this point. I don't think MLB has gone too far yet, but they are running a risk, in both the public eye, and in the eye of an arbiter, of ruining a case because of overzealousness. If I'm MLB, I want to be very, very careful about this. If the league believes that Ryan Braun was using PEDs, and I think it's pretty obvious that's what the league does believe, it can't let its perception and assumptions get in the way of the facts that it needs to go after Ryan Braun for a suspension. Ultimately, what anybody at MLB feels about Ryan Braun is completely immaterial. Suspensions are based on facts. Suspensions are based on truths. If it can't find those facts and prove those truths, then their case is worthless.
NP: My next question will be of interest to both Brewers fans and fantasy baseball players. The powers that be at Yahoo! would like me to remind our readers that Yahoo! leagues are still open. I have a few upcoming drafts and already own some Ryan Braun shares, so I'm curious to whether you're taking the over or under on Ryan Braun playing 120 games.
JP: Give me the over. Although someone asked me the other day whether I'd draft him and I said, "Probably not." I'm a very risk-averse person. MLB is going to go after him with a great number of resources. They want to suspend him. But wanting to suspend, and having the evidence to suspend, are two wildly different things. We've seen that sometimes not even a positive test can get you a suspension. The rules are stacked against MLB in some cases. For all we say about the infallibility of the testing, Ryan Braun had a positive test and got it overturned. In that way, the system is absolutely working.
NP: Thanks, Jeff, for your time and insight. It's been a pleasure.
You can read Jeff's writing here and follow him on Twitter at @JeffPassan.