PHOENIX -- The verdict is in for National League MVP Ryan Braun: Not guilty.
The Brewers outfielder on Thursday became the first Major Leaguer to successfully appeal a suspected violation of MLB's Drug Treatment and Prevention Program. The 2-1 ruling from a three-member special panel spared Braun a suspension that might have covered as many as 50 games and positions him to man left field when the Brewers begin their defense of the NL Central crown.
Braun called it the "first step in restoring my good name and reputation," and he will report to camp Friday and address the media at an 11 a.m. MT news conference that will air live
on MLB.com, brewers.com and MLB Network. Major League Baseball was swift to respond to the ruling.
"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," read part of a statement from MLB executive vice president for labor relations Rob Manfred. "While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das."
Das cast the deciding vote on a panel that also included Manfred and MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner. According to multiple reports, Braun called into question the chain of custody of the sample when it wasn't immediately sent in via Fed Ex as required by the testing policy.
It would have been far more difficult, experts say, for Braun to fight the result based on supposedly inadvertently taking a supplement or medication that included a banned substance, even if it truly had been prescribed for a purpose not related to performance enhancement. So a challenge based on improper protocol stands to reason as Braun's best chance to have gotten the appeal honored.
"We were able to get through this, because I am innocent and the truth is on our side," Braun said in a statement. "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."
The MLBPA took the unusual step of releasing news of Braun's successful appeal, which under normal circumstances would have remained confidential.
Given the high-profile nature of the case, which leaked in December and became national news, the MLBPA and MLB agreed to announce the result.
"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 in MLB's statement. "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."
Several Brewers teammates said they were elated at the news. Left-hander Chris Narveson, the Brewers' union representative, was playing golf with fellow starting pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum when he got the news.
"It's huge, getting a bat like that back in your lineup," Narveson said. "This is what we thought we were going to get all along."
Narveson declined to address what he knew about the specifics of Braun's defense, but dismissed the idea that Braun's case hinged on a technicality.
"If somebody mishandles a sample, that's not just a technicality, that's an error," Narveson said. "I don't know all of the details, so I don't want to comment too much. But put it this way: This isn't the first time we've had issues with the people [in charge of testing] in Milwaukee. There have been other issues with timing."
General manager Doug Melvin focused on the bottom line: "I don't know anything about it other than my job and responsibility as a general manager is to put the best team on the field, and the decision allows me to do that a little bit better."
Brewers chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio released a statement Thursday night on behalf of the Brewers.
"Since joining our organization in 2005, Ryan Braun has been a model citizen and a person of character and integrity," the statement read. "Knowing Ryan as I do, I always believed he would succeed in his appeal.
"I also want to reiterate my support for Major League Baseball's strict substance testing program. It is unfortunate that the confidentiality of the program was compromised, and we thank our fans and everyone who supported Ryan and did not rush to judgment.
"The team is looking forward to seeing Ryan in camp tomorrow. With this now behind us, we return our focus to the ballpark and defending our NL Central Division title."
This day had been looming since October, when Braun was required to submit a urine test during the playoffs that reportedly contained a very high level of testosterone. Typically, such findings remain secret while a player exhausts his appellate rights, but in Braun's case the result was leaked in a Dec. 10 report by ESPN's "Outside the Lines."
In the meantime, Braun had become the Brewers' first league MVP in 22 years, edging the Dodgers' Matt Kemp and former Brewers teammate Prince Fielder in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Braun batted .332 with 33 home runs, 111 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in a charmed 2011 season. He signed a club-record-shattering contract extension in April that made him Brewers property through at least 2020, was voted an All-Star Game starter for the fourth straight season -- though he was forced to withdraw because of a leg injury -- and led Milwaukee to a club-record 96 regular-season wins and its first division crown in nearly three decades. He then became the Brewers' first league MVP since Robin Yount won the American League award for a second time in 1989, a triumph that seemed to promise a dream winter for Braun, who was sitting on the balcony of his oceanside home in Malibu, Calif., when a BBWAA official called with the news.
What no one other than Braun, his closest advisers and a handful of MLB officials knew at that time was that the specter of a suspension loomed. Two weeks later, the rest of the world knew.
The night the news broke, a Braun spokesperson released a statement citing "highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence and demonstrate there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program." Braun replied in a text to MLB.com that night saying he was eager to state his case, but more than a month would pass before he got his chance.
An appeal began Jan. 19 before Weiner, Manfred and Das. Two days later, with the panel's ruling pending, Braun accepted his NL MVP Award from the BBWAA at a dinner event in New York.
Now he'll get a chance to defend it. Braun will report to camp one day before the team's first full-squad workout on Saturday.
"This is not just about one person, but about all current and future players, and thankfully today the process worked," Braun said in his statement. "Despite the challenges of this adversarial process, I do appreciate the professionalism demonstrated by the panel chair and the Office of the Commissioner. As I said before, I've always loved and had so much respect for the game of baseball. Everything I've done in my career has been with that respect and appreciation in mind.
"I look forward to finally being able to speak to the fans and the media on Friday and then returning the focus to baseball and working with my Brewers teammates on defending our National League Central title."