Major League Baseball, believing a glorious renaissance was finally erasing ugly remnants from the so-called steroid era, was jolted over the weekend when it was revealed that National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers tested positive for a banned substance.
Braun, who told USA TODAY he has never used performance-enhancing drugs, tested positive in October for elevated levels of testosterone, according to ESPN, which first reported the story, citing two sources familiar with Braun's case.
MLB has not acknowledged the positive test because it was supposed to be confidential while Braun appealed it.
Considered one of baseball's elite players and role models, and lauded by Commissioner Bud Selig, the Brewers left fielder was hoping to have the test result rejected, saying it was a false positive. Now Braun must go through an appeals process -- with a resolution not likely until January -- and if he loses, he will be suspended without pay for 50games to start the 2012 season.
If that's the case, it will mark an ugly return to baseball's not-so-distant past. From 1996 to 2007, MVP awards and vaunted home run records were claimed by bulked-up stars who later admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs or whose usage was documented through the news media or legal proceedings.
As the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez saw their usage exposed, the sport fought back with tougher drug testing and after the 2005 season produced a program punitive enough to minimize the game's doping culture.
Five years later, Selig trumpeted an end of sorts to baseball's steroid era when McGwire admitted in January 2010 that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his 1998 battle with Sosa for baseball's single-season home run record.
Selig seemed to be correct. But if Braun's result is upheld, it will represent an immeasurable setback for the game.
"It just breaks my heart," Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson said. "You want to desperately follow the game, love it and root for players, and now you don't know who to believe."
Braun, who submitted a urine test during the first round of the playoffs against the Arizona Diamondbacks, did not test positive for a performance-enhancing drug or steroid, according to his attorney, David Cornwell. Yet Braun had an elevated ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone and showed synthetic testosterone, according to two people familiar with the test results. When informed of the results in October, Braun immediately submitted another urine test that was negative, according to people close to Braun who requested anonymity.
"This breathless coverage and death watch of Ryan Braun is reprehensible," Cornwell said. "If anybody says that he digested a performance-enhancing drug, they are wrong. We are prepared to go through the appeal process."
However, no player has won an appeal, according to MLB vice president Rob Manfred.
"I don't know what defense he's going to come up with, but it's an almost impossible mountain to climb," said Gary Wadler, associate professor of medicine at the Hofstra Medical School and longtime World Anti-Doping Agency official. "To have an abnormal (testosterone-epitestosterone) ratio, and it being synthetic, that's a double whammy."
'An MVP who everyone liked'
Braun, 28, is a mixture of Los Angeles and South Beach, but not merely for his laid-back demeanor. The Southern California native was an excellent student at the University of Miami, has a business mind that could play on Wall Street and boasts a rare combination of smarts, swagger and savvy.
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