AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Another legal question: What do a urine test and FedEx have in common? Well, today at least, they both relate to one of Major League Baseball's best players, Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, the National League MVP. Yesterday, an arbitrator overturned his 50-game suspension for violating the league's rules on performance-enhancing drugs. And today, Braun showed up for spring training in Phoenix and defended himself to the media.
RYAN BRAUN: I truly believe in my heart and I would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point.
CORNISH: For more on Ryan Braun, sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays. Hey there, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: So, catch us up on the details of this case. We learned a lot from this press conference.
FATSIS: Yeah, we did. Braun's urine was tested after a playoff game in October. The testosterone level was found to be above the limit. And he said he was told it was three times higher than any test in baseball before. Now, the result of this is supposed to be confidential until a player has a chance to appeal, but it was leaked in December to the media. And that's how it became public.
The arbitrator's decision backing Braun's appeal found that Major League Baseball didn't follow its proper protocol for delivering the urine sample to testing lab. And that's what he focused on today in his news conference.
CORNISH: So what is that protocol, 'cause I'm having a hard time understanding how you overturn a positive test result.
FATSIS: Well, the protocol, first of all, it's important to say, is collectively bargained by Major League Baseball and the players' union, and it's overseen jointly by those two groups. Samples are supposed to be sent the same day they're taken. Braun's sample apparently sat in the collector's refrigerator over the weekend because the local FedEx was closed.
And Braun today - you mentioned FedEx - he talked about number of FedEx locations that were open after the game near the stadium, and between the stadium and the collector's house, and how the sample was in the collector's custody for 44 hours. He said his lawyers had learned information about the collector that was concerning. So clearly, the effort here is to raise doubt about what happened to his urine sample.
CORNISH: You know, also it's fascinating the violation of confidentiality here. I mean, that's supposed to be an integral part of the process.
FATSIS: Yeah, if a player does test positive and wins an appeal, which is - this is the first time that's happened - the positive result is not supposed to become public. Braun's case never should have become public knowledge. We can speculate on how that happened. We just don't know.
Yesterday, MLB said in a statement that it vehemently disagreed with the arbitrator's ruling. And in doing that, I think baseball is compounding the initial violation of its own privacy guarantee to players, and of Braun's right to due process. You can call it getting off on a technicality, but that's what happened here.
CORNISH: And, of course, this is historic, right? No other player has accomplished overturning a positive test result. So, what do the fans - I mean, what are they left with here in terms of believing him?
FATSIS: You know, Braun sounded very sincere. He was convincing. He was poised. There's nothing in his background that would lead anyone to suspect he was cheating. But the reality is we just don't know. He didn't provide any evidence that his sample was tampered with. Baseball said it was triple-sealed and wasn't opened until it got to the testing lab. Having a urine sample sit around for a couple of days shouldn't compromise its integrity.
Braun said that he was considering legal options. So maybe there's more to the 44 hours and the open FedEx offices that were ignored here. We will see what happens.
CORNISH: So, Stefan, we talked about the fans. What does this mean for the players? Can we expect other people to challenge these decisions in the future?
FATSIS: You know, players are always going to appeal these kinds of decisions. But it's important to say that there aren't dozens and dozens of positive tests. Or there haven't been in baseball since drug testing was implemented a few years ago.
What I think we're going to see is that Major League Baseball is going to insist in sitting down with the players' union and during the next round of collective bargaining, and tighten up the language in its drug testing protocols.
CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis, he joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can hear more of him on Slate.com's sports podcast Hang Up and Listen.
Thanks so much, Stefan.
FATSIS: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.