The longer and longer this went on, you had a feeling the result might surprise us.
And today, it sure did.
Major League Baseball just announced that Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, whose reputation has taken a serious hit since we learned in December that he had failed a performance-enhancing drug test, has convinced a panel of arbitrators to clear him and overturn a 50-game suspension.
Braun will report to camp in Phoenix today. Even better for Brewers fans, he’ll be in the lineup, batting third presumably, when Milwaukee opens the season at home Friday, April 6, against St. Louis.
The roar following that introduction will be deafening.
Here’s what the MLB Players Association said today in announcing Braun’s pardon, handed down by a three-person panel.
“Today, the arbitration panel announced its decision, by a 2-1 vote, to sustain Ryan Braun’s grievance challenging his 50-game suspension by the Commissioner’s Office.
“Under the Joint Drug Agreement, a player’s successful challenge to a suspension normally would not have been made public. The parties have agreed, given the particulars of this case, that an announcement is appropriate.”
MLB, in turn, sounded off through clenched teeth. The league — led by commissioner Bud Selig, the Milwaukee native who once owned the Brewers and has been a big Braun fan — blasted the decision.
Here’s the statement from Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president for labor relations.
“Major League Baseball considers the obligations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program essential to the integrity of our game, our clubs and all of the players who take the field. It has always been Major League Baseball’s position 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.
“As a part of our drug testing program, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.”
MLB can disagree all it wants. The fact remains, Braun’s spot on the Brewers roster has been restored. No question, it’ll take longer for the same to happen to his once-clean reputation.
Braun is scheduled to speak to the media Friday, but he issued his own statement today.
“I am very pleased and relieved by today’s decision. It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.
“We provided complete cooperation throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances. I have been an open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide. I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year.”
Braun has been under fire since ESPN, citing anonymous sources, reported in mid-December that Braun had failed a PED test during the Brewers’ October playoff run. The news stunned all of baseball, having come less than a month after Braun had edged Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp in the MVP voting.
Today’s announcement ends the hotly-debated topic of whether Braun should be stripped of the award.
Braun was, by far, the biggest name to be linked to a failed drug test since the league began punishing players for PED use in June 2004. There has been no definitive reason given by Braun or his representatives as to why he failed the test, other than to call it “highly unusual.”
Braun has stayed mostly silent as the process has worked itself out. He did appear at the BBWAA awards dinner in New York in January to accept his MVP plaque and he gave a short speech, but didn’t specifically address allegations.
It’ll be interesting to see if he goes into much detail about the failed test when he speaks Friday.
Regardless, today’s decision will have a big impact on two fronts:
* For starters, MLB might no longer be bullet-proof when it comes to being the judge, jury and executioner involving cases of failed PED tests. It’s believed nobody had successfully won a PED appeal until now.
* Meanwhile, this is big-time news for the Brewers. In 2011, they had one of the most dynamic 3-4 combinations in recent baseball history with Braun hitting ahead of big bopper Prince Fielder. And they were facing the very real possibility of having neither back for much of 2012. Fielder left (not surprisingly) and signed with the Tigers (surprisingly), while Braun’s 50-game suspension would’ve put him on the bench until May 30.
Now, Braun is cleared and, just like that, the Brewers look like a serious player again in the NL Central, which they won last year by six games over the Cardinals. They have good front-line starting pitching, a solid back-end of the bullpen and now some real force in the middle of the lineup.
Braun in 2012 will have free-agent pickup Aramis Ramirez to provide protection in the batting order.
Braun, 28, finished second in the NL batting race in 2011, hitting .332 (five points behind Jose Reyes). He also had 33 homers, 111 RBIs, 38 doubles and 33 stolen bases in becoming Milwaukee’s first MVP winner since the Brewers were in the American League (Robin Yount, 1989).
For his five-year major league career, Braun, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2005 draft, is a .312 hitter who’s averaged 32 home runs and 106 RBIs.