NEW YORK — Baseball and its players’ union defended their drug testing program Friday and promised to tighten collection procedures following criticism by anti-doping agencies of an arbitrator’s decision to overturn NL MVP Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension.
At a news conference in Phoenix, where he reported to the Milwaukee Brewers for spring training, Braun criticized drug testing by baseball as “fatally flawed,” citing the roughly 44-hour lag between when his urine was collected and when it was given to Federal Express for transport to a laboratory in Montreal.
The drug agreement between management and the Major League Baseball Players Association calls for the sample to be sent the same day “absent unusual circumstances.”
While Braun left open the possibility that the delay could have led to his sample being altered, Major League Baseball Executive Vice President Rob Manfred said “neither Mr. Braun nor the MLBPA contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering.”
David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, called the delay a “technical breach” and was disappointed arbitrator Shyam Das ignored the substance of the case.
“The very experienced laboratory director in Montreal gave evidence that the sample had not been compromised nor tampered with,” Howman said. “Accordingly, no damage occurred to the sample before analysis.”
What is clear is that both sides will tell Comprehensive Drug Testing Inc., the collection agency, to adhere to the drug agreement.
“This case has focused the parties’ attention on an aspect of our program that can be improved,” union head Michael Weiner said. “We are confident that all collections going forward will follow the parties’ agreed-upon rules.”
“Our program is not ‘fatally flawed,’” added Manfred. “Changes will be made promptly to clarify the instructions.”
Speaking for about 25 minutes on the field Friday, Braun shed light on the events of his positive test and how his legal team successfully challenged it during a two-day hearing in January.
The collector, identified by two people with knowledge of the case as Dino Laurenzi Jr., took the sample at about 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1, after Milwaukee opened the playoffs with a 4-1 win over Arizona, and left Miller Park about 30 minutes later with the urine in a triple-seal container manufactured by Capitol Vial. Braun said the collector’s son was with his father at the ballpark.
The two people familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Braun’s hearing was conducted in private, said the collector testified he took the sample home. The collector didn’t think the sample would be sent until Monday to the WADA-certified lab in Montreal, and believed it would be more secure at home than at a FedEx office during the weekend.
Braun, however, said at least five FedEx locations within 5 miles were open until 9 p.m. and there also was a 24-hour location. But Braun said the sample wasn’t left with FedEx until 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 3.
During the gap, the sample was at the collector’s home, and he placed it in a cool, dry area on a lower level, the people familiar with the case said. However, the collector didn’t document his storage procedures, one of those persons said.
“There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked, that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened,” Braun said. “We spoke to biochemists and scientists and we asked them how difficult would it be to tamper with somebody’s sample. And their response was that if they were motivated, it would be extremely easy.”