As cool and confident as ever in the Arizona heat, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said all the right things about his successful bid to beat a drug rap. Or at least as much as the legal system allowed him.
One day after Braun became the first major leaguer to have a suspension overturned, he painted himself as a victim of a “fatally flawed system” in this instance. He denied that he put the banned substance in his body. He inferred that the highly inflated positive result was the work of a botched procedure or perhaps a devious messenger. He pulled it off with the kind of California smooth that has been a trademark throughout his career.
“The truth was on my side,” Braun told the media.
Yet while Braun made a compelling argument to the public, his case isn't closed yet. Far from it, in fact.
A lot questions remain to be answered in the days ahead, not the least of which his why Major League Baseball “vehemently opposed” the decision to overturn his 50-game punishment. The higher-ups didn't just disagree with the opinion of the three-member board, mind you. They weren't even mildly upset about it. No, they were really, really peeved off because of it.
A short time after Braun stated his case, MLB executive vice president of labor relations and human resources Rob Manfred responded with the other side of the story.
"The extremely experienced collector in Mr. Braun's case acted in a professional and appropriate manner," Manfred said. "He handled Mr. Braun's sample consistent with instructions issued by our jointly retained collection agency. The arbitrator found that those instructions were not consistent with certain language in our program, even though the instructions were identical to those used by many other drug programs -- including the other professional sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
"Our program is not 'fatally flawed.' Changes will be made promptly to clarify the instructions provided to collectors regarding when samples should be delivered to FedEx based on the arbitrator's decision. Neither Mr. Braun nor the MLBPA contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering."
That Braun and the players' union did not contest the result itself still leaves doubts about his elevated testosterone levels and innocence. Of the challenge ahead, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player conceded, “I recognize this won't be easy. It's going to be a challenge.”
For sure, Braun has a lot at stake here. Namely, a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y., years from now.
If Braun were to hit .300 and average 30 home runs and 100 RBI in the next eight seasons—he's at .304, 32 and 106 right now—he would have a .305 batting average, 401 homers and 1,331 RBI at 35 years of age. Currently, every eligible player who achieved those totals is a Hall of Famer. As it stands now, his numbers most closely resemble those of Hall-of-Fame outfielder Chick Hafey at a similar age.
Braun can expect his performance to be scrutinized as much as his controversial urine sample in the years to come. Pressure? If his numbers drop off noticeably in even one significant category, it will be cause for critics to say, Aha! Told ya so! The dude was guilty as sin all along!
Also remember that he also won't have Prince Fielder to ride shotgun in the batting order any more. That means fewer good pitches to hit probably.
Of course, none of that will matter to many of the Hall of Fame voters, though. They haven't been a particularly sympathetic lot lately.
Mark McGwire was never convicted of a drug offense, either. Even so, the consensus remains that performance enhancers contributed to his 583 home runs and .588 slugging percentage. In three years on the Hall of Fame ballot, his approval rate dropped from 23.7 percent to 19.8 percent to 19.5 percent.
Then there's Rafael Palmeiro, who “never (knowingly) took steroids—period,” as he testified in front of Congress several years ago. Despite 3,020 hits and 569 homers, he was named on only 12.6 percent of the ballots in the last Hall of Fame election. That represented a scant 1.6 percent increase from the previous year, when his name first appeared on the ballot.
So, while Braun has taken a major step to clear his name and restore his reputation, it may be awhile before a decision is reached in the field of public opinion.