One year later, we have the sequel: Major League Baseball vs. Ryan Braun, Part II.
Days before the start of spring training, MLB drug sleuths have a fresh opportunity to pursue allegations of performance-enhancing drug use against Braun. That is the biggest takeaway from Tuesday night's Yahoo! Sports report, which said Braun's name appeared in records of the Biogenesis clinic at the center of the recent South Florida steroids scandal.
Braun's successful appeal of a failed test for elevated testosterone from October 2011 represents the most public defeat of the MLB drug program. In the aftermath of the decision by arbitrator Shyam Das last Feb. 23, MLB issued a statement saying it "vehemently" disagreed with Das' ruling. MLB vice president Rob Manfred publicly took issue with Braun's assertion that baseball's testing program was "fatally flawed." Months later, MLB fired Das.
So, it would appear that a number of important people at the commissioner's office believe a guilty man skated through the sport's justice system one year ago. Here is their chance to rectify that. But it won't be easy.
MLB has suspended players without positive tests, provided there is sufficient evidence to convince an arbitrator. If MLB investigators intend to meet that standard with Braun, they will need to produce more information than what was contained in the Yahoo! report; the story specified Braun was "not listed next to any specific PEDs" -- as had been the case for other players named in the initial Miami New Times article about Biogenesis.
In the prior case, Braun's legal team successfully argued a chain-of-custody breach with Braun's urine sample -- despite zero evidence of tampering. On first glance, the present task is easier: produce a suitable rationalization for the connection between Braun and Biogenesis proprietor Anthony Bosch.
Right on cue, Braun offered a preview Tuesday night.
"During the course of preparing for my successful appeal last year, my attorneys, who were previously familiar with Tony Bosch, used him as a consultant," Braun said in a statement. "More specifically, he answered questions about T/E ratio (testosterone to epitestosterone ratio) and possibilities of tampering with samples.
"There was a dispute over compensation for Bosch's work, which is why my lawyer and I are listed under 'moneys owed' and not on any other list. I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch. I will fully cooperate with any inquiry into this matter."
Plausible? I suppose.
Much like Braun's explanation to the media last February -- which was incomplete at times and downright misleading at others -- Tuesday's statement raises as many questions as it answers.
- If Braun's attorneys were "previously familiar" with Bosch, wouldn't they have known to avoid any link with him because of his reputation for selling PEDs to athletes?
- For what reasons would Braun's attorneys have dealt with a steroid supplier, anyway?
- In seeking consultants for Braun's defense, was Bosch really the best option? A brief bio on him, from the New Times report: failed businessman, long debt history, no license to practice medicine in Florida, degree from "Central America Health Sciences University" on the wall. For a man of Braun's means -- he has more than $130 million left on his current contract with the Milwaukee Brewers -- why not hire the entirety of Harvard's medical faculty?
- Bosch is the foremost bogeyman in baseball today, with other players implicated (such as Gio Gonzalez) issuing strongly worded statements denying any dealings with him. Now Braun has acknowledged a connection, however tenuous. That makes it hard for Braun to portray himself as completely separate from baseball's PED culture, doesn't it?
- And as someone who attended Braun's post-exoneration news conference in Phoenix last February, my eyes were drawn to one particular line in Tuesday's statement: I have nothing to hide .
In fact, Braun has behaved over the past year like a man with something to hide.
He has been reluctant to answer the media's PED-related questions since last February's news conference. Even on that day, he stonewalled certain inquiries because of what he said was a desire to maintain his legal options -- presumably against the man who handled his urine sample or those responsible for leaking information about the positive test.
One year later, Braun is not known to have filed suit against anyone. So, was that truly the reason he wasn't more forthcoming?
Most notably, Braun's camp had different alibis depending on the audience. Before the arbitrator, his attorneys argued that the collector -- later revealed as Dino Laurenzi Jr. -- did not follow proper protocols regarding the timeliness of the sample's delivery to FedEx. In public, Braun all but accused Laurenzi of actively tampering with the specimen. If there was evidence Laurenzi acted with malice, why wasn't it brought forth in the hearing?
Yet, Braun won that round. He wasn't suspended. He had a superb year for the Brewers, finishing second in the National League MVP voting. (He may have been even more impressive last season than when he won the award in 2011.) He started in left field and batted third for the NL in the All-Star Game. Outwardly, at least, his career was unaffected. But here we are again, attempting to judge his credibility one year later.
What do we know for certain?
Well, MLB was convinced that Braun's positive test from October 2011 was grounds for a 50-game suspension, only to have their discipline overturned on a technicality. Braun's attorneys are "familiar" with one of the most notorious figures in baseball today. Cesar Carrillo -- Braun's college baseball road roommate, according to Yahoo! -- was named in the New Times report as having received "HGH, MIC, and a testosterone cream" from Bosch. The Biogenesis clinic was located near the University of Miami, where Braun played.
That doesn't make Braun guilty. It does, however, arouse suspicion and provide the basis for motivated MLB investigators to begin their inquiry. Braun's reputation -- and the conclusion to this story -- rests in their hands.