Photo by Rafael Amado Deras

It’s that time of the year again. Winter’s stronghold has loosened, the grass is green, the sun is out, and now it’s time to “play ball!” There is nothing more American than baseball, except possibly litigation. Unfortunately, over the past decade it seems that both of these American institutions have become intertwined. It has become almost impossible to separate in our minds the crack of the bat and the seventh inning stretch from performance enhancing drugs and perjury hearings. We’ve seen the biggest baseball heroes of our era have their careers end in shame from Barry Bonds, to Mark McGuire, to Rafael Palmeiro, to Roger Clemens. Over and over we’ve had our hearts broken as we watched these players walk off the diamond and into the courtroom.

So, on Thursday, February 23rd when 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun won his appeal of a 50-game suspension for failing a drug test, we collectively sighed in relief. One of our tainted heroes had his name restored, at least for the moment. Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers’ outfielder was scheduled to begin a 50-game suspension at the beginning of the 2012 season after it was announced in December that his testosterone/estrogen ratio was 20/1. A second test conducted under Major League Baseball protocol suggested the presence of foreign testosterone in his body. At an evidentiary hearing held in January both sides argued over the legitimacy of the test results. Braun has maintained throughout the investigation that he never took any performance enhancing drugs. Braun argued that chain of custody of the urine sample and the collection procedure were not in compliance with the mutual agreement of the MLB and MLB Player’s Association. He argued that the sample sat for two days in a cool place at the collector’s home before being shipped to the testing facility. He further argued that that the ph levels of the sample at the time of its collecting and its testing were different.

Finally, after much deliberation, Shyam Das, the appointed baseball arbitrator, decided in favor of Braun and granted his appeal of the suspension. Braun is now free to rejoin his teammates just in time for spring training. However, it seems that the MLB is far from pleased with the results of the arbitration and may consider bringing suit in federal court. This presents an interesting set of legal issues going forward. The first is a policy issue in regards to arbitration as a means of dispute resolution in baseball. Surely, this seems like the best option for players as well as the league, because of how quickly it can be done. In the end we want the correct result, but we want to know the fate of our players as soon as possible. If the MLB were to bring suit however, it would bring into question the effectiveness of the arbitration system, which has been agreed upon. A lawsuit would essentially signal that arbitration is only valid in the eyes of MLB when they emerge victorious. Indeed, Braun’s appeal is the first successful drug related appeal in the history of the league. Second, and perhaps more important is whether the MLB and the MLBPA are concerned with process or the truth. According to representatives of the MLB the merits of Braun’s appeal at most show that the process of collecting the sample was imperfect, but the process had no bearing on the results of the tests which showed an abnormally high level of testosterone from a foreign source. This presents an interesting question, that often applies to the legal system as a whole. Do we care more about the spirit of the law or the letter of the law? If Braun’s sample was legitimate despite the flaws in its collection, should we let him off on what amounts to a technicality? If the MLB proceeds to federal court with this suit, we may find out what the justice system believes to be more important.

– Raymond Rufat

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