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END OF INNOCENCE
TOM VERDUCCI
March 05, 2012
Yes, Ryan Braun had his PED suspension overturned. But in the hazy world of drug testing, going unpunished is not necessarily proof of innocence
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March 05, 2012

End Of Innocence

Yes, Ryan Braun had his PED suspension overturned. But in the hazy world of drug testing, going unpunished is not necessarily proof of innocence

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Laurenzi, whom Manfred described as an "experienced" collector, testified at the appeal hearing that he did not know of an open FedEx location at the time and that under similar circumstances collectors frequently retained temporary custody of specimens, according to a source. In fact, the source said, Laurenzi's employer, California-based Comprehensive Drug Testing, provides instructions for collectors on how to store specimens on such occasions.

The JDA, while stating that specimens "should" be sent on the day of collection, provides collectors with instructions "if the specimen is not immediately" shipped. In that case the collector "shall ensure that it is appropriately safeguarded during temporary storage" by making certain to "keep the chain of custody intact" and to "store the samples in a cool and secure location." Laurenzi drove home with the specimen—still triple-sealed—and placed it on a counter in an office area of his finished basement.

Baseball has been drug-testing major league players since 2003. The science of drug testing has become so specific and reliable that questioning procedures offers a defendant more daylight than challenging the science. When Laurenzi took the samples home, Braun's team had its opening. The science no longer mattered in the appeal. At the lectern in Maryvale, however, Braun expanded his defense. He insinuated, without providing specifics, that his sample was compromised while it was with Laurenzi—who was identified in media reports later in the day—during the "44-hour period" between collection and shipment.

Braun's specimen tested at more than five times the allowable ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, hormones that normally range in near equal amounts. The ratio was noticeably high for baseball, but not so elevated for other sports. Could the storage in Laurenzi's basement have compromised the sample's integrity? "If anything the numbers would have gone lower, not higher," Wadler says. Moreover, Christiane Ayotte, the director of the Montreal lab, testified she saw no signs of tampering when the lab received the specimens, according to a source.

When Braun was asked if he believed the sample was tampered with, the man who spoke with emotion about having his reputation sullied raised ethical questions about Laurenzi, though not by name. "There are a lot of different things that could have possibly happened," Braun said. "There were a lot of things that we heard about the collection process, the collector and some other people involved in the process that have certainly been concerning to us."

Manfred, firing back, said the collector "acted in a professional and appropriate manner" and handled the specimens "consistent with instructions issued by our jointly retained collection agency."

Suddenly an entirely new appeal process had broken out, with both sides fighting for public understanding. Braun played to sentiment, oozing sincerity. Baseball played to science. The net effect was jarring—the winner of an appeal at a loss to explain his positive test, and baseball taking on a heretofore model ballplayer.

At this stage with Bud, it's all about legacy," says one owner, referring to commissioner Bud Selig, who has worked hard to erase the blight of the Steroid Era with a tough and progressive PED policy. While Selig can boast of putting enough teeth in the program to take on an MVP during the postseason—the NHL, for example, doesn't test during the playoffs—that same program allowed Braun to slip through a crack that now will be sealed. Baseball and the players will come up with more specific procedures and language regarding specimen transportation.

The Braun imbroglio wasn't a broadside hit to baseball's drug-testing program so much as a reminder that the JDA is a living document, a script in perpetual rewrite. If you needed more evidence of the serial nature of trying to deal with PEDs in baseball, you need not have looked very far from Maryvale. All around camps in Arizona and Florida, collectors were drawing blood samples from players to test for human growth hormone, making baseball the first North American professional team sport to test for HGH. (Though players are tested upon arrival at spring training and then not at all during the season.) And 15 miles from where Braun stood, two-time drug offender Manny Ramirez reported to the A's camp in Phoenix. Ramirez will serve a 50-game suspension this year, a ban cut from its original 100 games after baseball essentially considered his retirement last season as time served.

Ramirez showed up proclaiming himself to be a new man, having found God and rededicated himself to his family. To mark his rebirth, Ramirez eschewed his familiar uniform number 99 and asked for number 1. "Because everything starts with one," he said.

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