NEW YORK (AP) - 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.”
Yet Dr. Don Catlin, one of America’s top anti-doping scientists, rejected the possibility of tampering as unlikely.
“It’s slim, very slim,” he said. “I don’t like to use the word impossible, but it’s pretty close to that.”
Laurenzi Jr. did not return a telephone message on his cell phone seeking comment.
His father, Dino Laurenzi Sr., said his son was a collector for baseball’s testing program and now at spring training. He also said he was unaware his son was involved in the Braun case. Told what Braun said, the father maintained any accusations “would be unfounded.”
“He’s a straight shooter. Never been in trouble,” Laurenzi Sr. said.
Manfred defended the collector as “extremely experienced” and said he “handled Mr. Braun’s sample consistent with instructions issued by our jointly retained collection agency. The arbitrator found that those instructions were not consistent with certain language in our program, even though the instructions were identical to those used by many other drug programs _ including the other professional sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency.”
The NFL’s labor contract specifies only that samples be “sent by Federal Express or similar carrier to the appropriate testing laboratory,” without requiring a timeframe.
Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, thought the collector made the correct decision.
“You have to ask yourself how ridiculous the argument is _ particularly because athletes would much prefer to have their sample kept with the trained professional, hired by your union to maintain it and keep it secure rather than it being dropped off overnight at some random Mailbox Inc., in a strip mall waiting to be shipped out with a bunch of Christmas presents,” Tygart said.
When the sample was tested in Montreal, it showed a ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone ratio of in excess of 20-1, a person familiar with the case said. A ratio of in excess of 4-1 triggers a positive test.
“They told me that the test result was three times higher than any number in the history of drug testing,” Braun said. “It made me question the validity of the results.”
A second test of the same sample showed the presence of synthetic testosterone, the person said.
Chain of custody is critical in defending drug cases. At Barry Bonds’ criminal trial last spring, there were two days filled with witnesses ranging from federal agents to lab workers to scientists whose only testimony was to describe how they acquired the sample, who it was passed on to the next person, where and how it was stored, what tests were performed and when, and how each step was documented.
“If there’s one thing wrong with the paperwork, you can lose the case,” said Catlin, founder of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory. “But it’s hard to make them totally perfect.”
All 12 previous grievances challenging suspensions under the drug program were denied.
Catlin had a simple suggestion for MLB to tighten its procedures: Give each collector a small freezer to store samples under lock and key, until they can be sent to laboratories.
“Obviously it’s bad form to have to say that the collector put biological urine samples into his refrigerator next to his milk and salad dressing,” Catlin said.
AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.
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