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Braun wins drug suspension appeal

Brewers leftfielder and reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun won his appeal to overturn a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test, becoming the first major-leaguer to win an appeal of a positive test.

"It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation," Braun said in a statement. "We were able to get through this because I am innocent."

Braun will hold a press conference at Brewers camp in Arizona upon reporting to spring training on Friday.

According to sources with knowledge of the two-day arbitration hearing in January, at least part of Braun's defense hinged on his sample having been collected on a Saturday afternoon -- Oct. 1, after the Brewers beat the Diamondbacks in Game 1 of the NLDS -- but not in time for the doping control officer to get it to FedEx that day. The sample was not delivered to FedEx for shipping to a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab in Montreal until the following Monday afternoon. The Joint Drug Agreement between the league and players' association specifies, "Absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the Laboratory on the same day they are collected."

It is not uncommon for doping control officers in a wide array of sports to hold onto a sample -- often in a refrigerator -- if shipping is not immediately available, and while details of the chain of custody of Braun's sample were not immediately available, a source with knowledge of the sample said that the seals on the sample were unbroken when it arrived at the lab, and that standard lab tests on the sample showed that it had not degraded. In December, SI.com confirmed that Braun's sample was found to have an elevated level of testosterone, and that it tested positive for synthetic testosterone.

A source familiar with the situation said the evidence in defense of Braun highlighted several unusual circumstances: that the sample was not taken to FedEx for shipping until two days after it was collected; that his testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio was three times higher than any result in the history of baseball's program; that Braun showed no physical side effects of use; and that, in the time this news was public, no one came forward to offer evidence or raise any further speculation of Braun's alleged use.

A separate source familiar with Braun's sample said that his elevated testosterone ratio was not unusual when compared to athletes from other sports who have failed drug tests and served suspensions.

"Around the world, on Sundays or holidays, couriers don't pick up and they don't deliver," said Travis Tygart, the CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which drug tests American athletes in Olympic sports. "Some of the labs around the world are closed over the weekend, so they can't even accept samples. And, importantly, they don't need to because synthetic drugs don't magically appear in urine because it took 48 hours versus 20 minutes to get to the laboratory."

The independent arbitrator's decision was announced Thursday afternoon by Major League Baseball and by the Player's Association, which took the unusual step of announcing what is intended to be a confidential process because of a media leak that made public the result of the test before the appeal had been heard.

"We always felt he was innocent," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said in a telephone interview, "and I have to believe him and I have to trust him."

Major League Baseball, however, offered a strong dissent to the ruling in a statement from executive vice president Rob Manfred, saying that the league "vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das."

Major League Baseball voted to go forward with a suspension for Braun, while the Player's Association voted against a suspension, with Das casting the deciding vote. Das has 30 days to complete a written decision.

"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," Manfred said. "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."

Too much is at stake -- millions of dollars in player salaries and the competitive integrity of games watched by millions of fans -- for anything to be left to chance, which is why the JDA explains the collection process in extensive detail.

"If you don't have the process, then there's no validity to the test," the source with knowledge of the hearing said.

Yahoo! reported that the collector found the FedEx office closed and so he "stored the sample, which had been sealed, bagged and boxed and carried Braun's signature, in his Milwaukee-area home, per usual protocol."

A third source familiar with the arbitration confirmed that the sample arrived two days after it was taken.

More will be known if Das's forthcoming written decision is released or leaks publicly. Whether one agrees with the end result or not, Braun received his due process and the ruling was administered by an independent arbitrator who has been working on such cases since 2000.

"I support the drug program," Melvin said. "The commissioner's office has worked hard. They've taken a lot of hits in putting the drug program together with the union. I support the program, and I would say Ryan Braun supports the program. Most players support the program. That's why it's out there."

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