When it comes time for the ballots to be cast for the 2012 National League Most Valuable Player Award, Ryan Braun should receive exactly the same level of consideration as any other candidate.
What shouldn't happen is a hangover effect from a 2011 positive test for a performance-enhancing substance. And here is why:
Braun's 2012 performance speaks forcefully against the notion that he was on a PED last year. The 2011 season was an impressive campaign, as Braun led the Milwaukee Brewers to their first division title in 29 years and he was named the NL MVP. But this season he has been even better in some regards, and there have been no reports of failed drug tests in the process.
Braun has a career-high 40 home runs through Monday and leads the league in that category. He also leads the NL in slugging percentage and OPS and is tied for the lead in RBIs. He is performing above his career norms in most offensive categories. This is not the record of a man who had an MVP season while on PEDs and then tailed off markedly in the subsequent year.
On the issue of guilt vs. innocence, there has been an almost willful refusal in some quarters to acknowledge that the appeal process following the positive test exonerated Braun.
It is often stated by Braun's detractors that he "got off on a technicality." No. His test sample was ruled invalid because of serious irregularities in its handling. This was not a technicality. By a 2-1 vote, the panel hearing Braun's appeal voted that this test sample could not be considered valid, and therefore, Braun could not be considered guilty and could not be suspended for 50 games.
There have been other journalistic analyses of this case that have tried to make a mountain out of a semantic molehill by focusing on the difference between not guilty and innocent. Again, not quite. Braun won the case. He prevailed. He was the first player known to have successfully appealed a positive test. The arbitrator agreed with his position. The positive test was ruled invalid. And if you looked at the chain of custody for the evidence in this case, a different outcome would have been difficult to imagine.
Even beyond this, nobody outside the testing program should have known that there was a positive test in the first place. The entire process is supposed to be confidential. The positive test in Braun's case was not supposed to be public knowledge, but it was leaked to the media. Had this not happened, nobody would have known about the appeal hearing, either. And, in the absence of a finding upholding the positive test, nobody outside the process should have known about any portion of this case. The only time that any of this is supposed to become public is at the very end of the process, when the guilty party is named and the penalty is imposed. Since Ryan Braun was never found guilty, he and his reputation should have been spared this entire ordeal.
I'm not making an argument about the relative merits of the National League MVP candidates, other than to note that Braun obviously should be regarded as a legitimate, untainted candidate. If a long, objective, dispassionate look at the candidates convinces a majority of the voters that, for instance, Buster Posey of the Giants is the 2012 MVP, then so be it.
But the candidacy of Braun shouldn't be preempted because of a drug test that went through the duly appointed process and was found to be invalid. This is assuming guilt on the part of Braun that the process clearly failed to establish.
The process found that on the issue of this test you can regard Braun in one of two ways: innocent or, if you absolutely insist, not guilty. Either way, this episode is not one that can be fairly held against him.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.