The baseball world reacted to the curious case of Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun on Friday, igniting a wide-ranging discussion on the league's drug testing and appellate procedures.
Braun, the National League's reigning Most Valuable Player, was originally with a possible 50-game suspension because of a drug test that revealed elevated levels of testosterone, but he appealed the finding and was exonerated Thursday, when arbitrator Shyam Das cast the deciding vote in a 2-1 ruling in Braun's favor and wiped out the suspension.
Braun met the media to make a statement and answer questions on Friday morning in Phoenix, and players from around the league -- some with a personal connection to Braun and some without -- sounded off on the topic from their respective Spring Training camps around the country.
"If there was guilt, he'd be guilty," said Miami Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez, a college teammate of Braun's at the University of Miami. "We've been best friends for 10 years now. It's a lot different when you're talking about those situations, knowing somebody that well, and knowing what kind of person he is, and what kind of personality he is. And knowing, he never had to lie.
"From the very beginning, he told me, 'I didn't do anything.' So you kind of pull for him."
Braun also received a message of support from Kansas City manager Ned Yost, who previously served as his manager in Milwaukee. Yost said that he wasn't surprised to see Braun vindicated by the arbitration process, and he also voluntarily provided witness to the player's character.
"I knew when this came up that they had to have some type of extenuating circumstances, because this Ryan Braun would never take performance-enhancing drugs to further his career," said Yost of his former charge. "He's too talented. He knows that. It shocked me when it came out. I knew there had to be something behind it, and the result showed yesterday that there was."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who was Braun's hitting coach in Milwaukee, was relieved for Braun, but didn't want to comment beyond that.
"Am I relieved? Yeah, sure, I'm relieved. To tell you the truth, I'm not going to elaborate on it anymore than that because it's obviously a very touchy situation right now with MLB. To tell you the truth, I think I'm going to stay away from that question right now."
Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker -- whose team could be affected by Braun's full participation in the regular-season schedule -- wasn't quite as certain how the finding would affect the game. Baker said that it was good for Braun, unquestionably, if also problematic for other players.
"It doesn't matter what I think. I'll say it's interesting," said Baker of the arbitrator's decision. "I like Ryan Braun. I'm glad things worked out for him. But I imagine there could be some guys that did go down that are wondering why his was reversed and theirs wasn't. ... It definitely opens future doors, and it might open some past doors. What good it does, I don't know."
Several players shared Baker's ambivalence, and many took issue with the reason for the overturned appeal. Braun raised issue with the chain of custody involved with his sample, and a few players -- Chicago reliever Matt Thornton among them -- likened that defense to a hole in the system.
Thornton made sure to say that he didn't know the entire story, and he was hoping to get more details from the Major League Baseball Players Association. But from the early returns of what he knows about the story, the left-hander said that he's concerned it could have a ripple effect.
"The drug testing has gotten very strict and very tough and it has been run well," said Thornton. "If you cheat, you get caught. Especially with HGH testing, there's really no question anymore. It's one of those things that kind of puts a bad mark on the drug testing in a way. If you can find a loophole like that, all it takes is a good lawyer and you can find your way out of cheating honestly.
"That's the way I look at it. A good lawyer can get you out of anything right now, whatever you want to do. So, I think they are going to have to clean things up a little bit and change the situation. He opened up a pretty bad can of worms right now with what just happened."
Toronto reliever Carlos Villanueva, who played with Braun while progressing through Milwaukee's farm system, took one thing from the story. Villanueva said that the league's drug-testing policy is a work in progress, and that it will improve over time, but he took issue with the way the information was leaked to the public. Braun, in Villanueva's mind, should've been innocent until proven guilty.
"He's definitely feeling relieved, I imagine," said Villanueva. "We've cleaned up our sport a lot from the steroid era to now. Only a handful of players are now testing positive. But I read one of his statements yesterday, and he said it was now time for him to clean up his good name, and he can say that, because obviously the decision was made that he isn't guilty."
Veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who played with Braun in Milwaukee last year, agreed with Villanueva. Hawkins, now playing with the Los Angeles Angels, said the most important thing to take out of this issue is that the news of a positive test should be guarded more carefully.
"It had to be tough," he said of Braun. "But you know what? To me, personally, you have to find the leak, because it shouldn't have come out. It's not part of the agreement. Find the leak. Find the leak. There's nothing you can do about it now. The perception is already there, and in our society, you're already guilty before being proven innocent. That's just the way it is, in all walks of life."
Hawkins went on to say that Braun had an incredible season last year and that all the furor around the positive test and subsequent appeal helped to minimize what he had done. And he also testified to the player's work ethic, saying that he had seen Braun put the time in to deliver the kind of results that won him an MVP Award.
Baker, whose team will compete in the NL Central against Braun's Brewers, said that he couldn't use the player's reinstatement as any form of rallying cry.
"There was no guarantee because he was possibly going to miss some games," he said of the impact on the standings. "You certainly can't be a rotten-hearted person and be glad about that, either. There's going to be a tremendous amount of discussion and dialogue. That's created a big story inside of baseball for tweeters and bloggers, TV and radio stations. You've got an instant story."
Major League Baseball contested the arbitrator's decision, and released a statement from Rob Manfred, vice president for labor relations, that included the following coda.
"Our program is not 'fatally flawed,'" it said. "Changes will be made promptly to clarify the instructions provided to collectors regarding when samples should be delivered to FedEx based on the arbitrator's decision. Neither Mr. Braun nor the MLBPA contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering."
Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, released a statement that said the appeals process had worked in this case.
"Our Joint Drug Program stands as strong, as accurate and as reliable as any in sport, both before and after the Braun decision," he said. "The breach of confidentiality associated with this matter is unfortunate but, after investigation, we are confident that it was not caused by the Commissioner's Office, the MLBPA or anyone associated in any way with the Program."
Perhaps the most eloquent of all voices came from Cardinals veteran Lance Berkman, who was happy for Braun if also cognizant of the bottom line. People make mistakes, he said, and there's a system in place to make sure that the game on the field is as fair as possible.
"My stance on the whole issue is that Major League Baseball needs to do everything it can to eliminate the performance enhancing drug piece of the puzzle," said Berkman. "I think the testing that we have in place now is very stringent. I think it's a good system. Beyond that, I'm glad there's testing in place. I'm glad that if Ryan was indeed falsely accused that he's been exonerated.
"There's a process in place for a reason. As with any sort of human endeavor, it's subject to error, and there are going to be mistakes made. But I think all in all that it's a pretty good system."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.