Was there really a violation of chain of custody protocol in Ryan Braun’s PED case?

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Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun had his 50-game performance-enhancing drug suspension overturned Thursday after independent arbitrator Shyam Das ruled that there were legitimate chain of custody issues with the urine sample that eventually tested positive for elevated levels of synthetic testosterone.

After a thorough review of the joint drug agreement between Major League Baseball and its Players Association — a document that is conveniently available in PDF form on MLB.com — I’m not so sure that Das came to the right conclusion.

Braun’s argument during his January appeal in New York City was that the courier who collected his urine made a number of against-protocol moves after leaving the testing area. But were mistakes really made?

  • The courier did not immediately head to a FedEx Office after collecting Braun’s sample following an early-October game because it was late on a Saturday night and he figured the store would be closed. Braun (or, rather, his lawyers) argued in January that the courier’s action was against policy, but the MLB-MLBPA joint drug agreement states that “specimens cannot be placed in a FedEx Drop Box” and the five FedEx Office locations closest to Miller Park are all closed before 9 p.m. on Saturdays. In fact, the location closest to Miller Park — just 3.28 miles away — isn’t open at all on Saturdays.
  • Also, none of the FedEx Office locations in the Milwaukee area ship items out on Sundays. So instead of giving the sealed cup of urine to a FedEx Office employee at some point Sunday and hoping for proper handling, the courier followed the terms of the MLB-MLBPA joint drug agreement (see pages 37-39) by storing Braun’s urine sample in a secure refrigerator at his residence until Monday morning, when FedEx could finally get the shipment to the appropriate testing lab in Montreal.
  • The MLB-MLBPA joint drug agreement fully allows for temporary storage by couriers — people who are trained and paid to handle drug test samples, and do so as a profession — as long as the specimen can be “appropriately safeguarded,” kept in a “cool and secure location,” with “chain of custody intact.” A refrigerator in the private residence of a trained doping officer would seem to fit those guidelines.

So if the courier is allowed to temporarily store samples on his own, and he did so in his own residence, where exactly is the chain of custody issue? And why did Das rule to have the suspension overturned?

Furthermore, consider this series of tweets from Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports:

Passan also notes in his latest column that the courier testified in person at Braun’s January appeal hearing in Manhattan and assured those present that the urine sample was packaged into two tamper-resistant containers with security seals. Both seals were unbroken upon their arrival at the testing lab in Montreal.

Matt Shepard to be the Tigers new full-time play-by-play guy

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Fox Sports Detroit has named Matt Shepard their new full-time play-by-play guy for Tigers games. Shepard will work with analysts Jack Morris and Kirk Gibson, who will split time.

This is the move in response to former longtime announcers Mario Impemba and Rod Allen getting suspended and later fired following an in-booth altercation in Chicago last September. The two of them, who weren’t exactly friends, reportedly fought over a chair, with conflicting reports of how serious the fight was. An anonymous witness said Allen put Impemba in a choke hold. Allen recently gave an interview in which he denied that and said it was only some pushing and shoving. Either way, it ended their 16-year team-up for Tigers games.

Shepard has worked for Fox Sports Detroit for nearly 20 years, doing fill-in play-by-play for the Tigers — he replaced Impemba for the last few weeks of last season — and for Detroit Pistons games. Gibson has been a part time analyst for the network for the past couple of seasons, splitting time with Allen. Morris has done Tigers, Blue Jays and Twins games over the years, sometimes even splitting time between the Twins and Tigers, which is rather unusual.

Shepard is pretty good at his job. While Tigers fans liked and were familiar with Impemba, there won’t be a falloff in quality. Gibson makes some good analytical points and has a surprisingly sharp and biting sense of humor about him, but his gruff and monotone delivery is not everyone’s cup of tea. You get used to it. Morris is not my cup of tea — he tends to do a lot of the “back in my day” stuff former players often do — but I’m pretty sure he could recite the dictionary on TV in Detroit and a lot of Tigers fans would tune in. Such is life.