I have to admit I'm of two minds regarding the Ryan Braun story (communications theory calls this Cognitive Dissonance!). I'd like to go through my two simultaneous positions as I got to them:
1. Hey, Braun is exonerated, his name is cleared, and those meanies that leaked the failed test look really bad in hindsight. All those people calling for him to give up his MVP sure will look stupid in the morning.
2. Whoa, the MLB is stating rather publicly that they disagree with the arbiter's decision. This is about the time when you see two camps developing on twitter. On one side, the "technicality" camp, and on the other, "his name is cleared!" camp. Will Carroll was particularly vocal in suggesting that this was not a technicality.
3. Starting to learn more. Turns out, the test wasn't thrown out, the test wasn't proven wrong, a second test didn't show up clean, but the way the sample was handled after it was collected (not being shipped immediately) ultimately leads to Braun being un-suspended. My immediate reaction is to stick with my previous thoughts -- the people calling for his head sure do look dumb right about now -- but this is always the worst kind of ruling.* But Will Carroll is definitely wrong.
4. Sitting on it for a while, I've come to a few conclusions based on available information. One, the arbiter did do his job correctly, based on what I've seen on the rules surrounding the handling of collected samples. Two, Ryan Braun was most definitely not exonerated, much less declared (or actually) innocent. Three, MLB looks really, really bad right now. Four, this is terrible for baseball.
*This is clearly crass, but in my defense I saw someone on twitter compare this to the O.J. case, so I'll go there. If you were around back then, you remember two distinct camps: guilty, and not-guilty. I was neither, actually. I'm pretty sure the three or four people that I knew in high school would attest to my rather unpopular position: he's guilty, but he shouldn't be found guilty because of tainted evidence. Not to go too much further down the rabbit hole, but a good rule of thumb is not to let avowed racists near crime scenes.
My point of the terrible comparison between the two cases is that yes, it actually is possible to believe the right decision was made while still believing the plaintiff is guilty. This has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with what holds up in court (or in arbitration) and reasonable doubt. Ryan Braun could certainly be innocent, but this ruling doesn't do him any favors in proving that.
Now, here are some of the better and more reasoned reactions I'm seeing. You can kinda tell the ones where they haven't yet learned how much legal semantics were required:
Braun ruling deals blow to Selig's testing program - Jeff Passan | Yahoo! Sports
Make no mistake: This was a technicality. It was a loophole. Most of all, it was brilliant lawyering by Braun’s attorneys. Hundreds of tests had been handled in exactly the same manner in baseball and never before had the players’ union protested their accuracy.
Sources from MLB and the union told Yahoo! Sports the chain-of-custody section of the joint-drug agreement is likely to be rewritten to ensure that a defense similar to Braun’s would have no legs. Because even some inside baseball who should be on Braun’s side – players, agents and other officials – see his prevailing as a Pyrrhic victory.
Best case for Brewers, can start season with Braun - Todd Rosiak | JSOnline
There's no way to overstate the importance of Braun's availability to the team for the entire season. His offensive numbers were incredible in 2011. He hit .332 with a .397 on-base percentage, .597 slugging percentage and .994 OPS. Add in 33 home runs, 111 runs batted in, 109 runs scored and 33 stolen bases, and Braun was as good as it got as a hitter in the NL.
And while he has never been lauded for his defense in left, Braun nevertheless was a Gold Glove finalist. Put it all together, and there simply would have been no way for the Brewers to adequately replace what Braun brings to the table on an everyday basis for those 50 games he was in line to miss.
- Ryan Braun still faces court of public opinion - latimes.com
"By attacking the decision, MLB virtually ensured that the Braun case will remain controversial at the same time the sport is trying to move beyond doubts lingering from its steroid era."
Braun needs to keep swinging away - Michael Hunt | JSOnline
The reporters who broke the story in December, thus placing Braun and MLB in uncomfortable and embarrassing situations, were the same people who did extraordinarily solid work on the Barry Bonds saga. Their story also gave Braun the opportunity to proclaim his innocence to the world before his appeal, not that it was always heard by those made cynical from baseball's drug problems.
Despite the odds, I always believed Braun would win his appeal. He never seemed like a shortcuts kind of guy. He really does work at the innate skills that might cause other players to reach for the cruise-control button or the needle. He really does arrive early and leave late, despite his guaranteed millions.
- Redeeming Ryan Braun: Positive Test Overturned | FanGraphs Baseball
"But the signal forgets one thing: Ryan Braun. Science determined that his test did not stand up to scrutiny. Why would you come out and make a statement against this science? Why would you continue to sully the name of a player that has just found some redemption? Why would you do this publicly?"
Braun Wins Appeal, Will Not Be Suspended Reaction - Brew Crew Ball
I don't know why MLB is being so petty about this. Again, we don't know the full story yet. We just know the (great) end result. But right now, Major League Baseball is, apparently, a little more than upset. Perhaps they don't like their decision being overturned.
Maybe they don't like the precedence this may set, in regards to a superstar player publicly beating the system and successfully appealing a positive drug test. The MLB has been working very hard since the 1990s to eliminate steroids from the game. I'm sure they don't like the publicity of a player overturning their decision.
Or, maybe they just plain think (very strongly) that Ryan Braun was truly guilty.
Ryan Braun suspension overturned - Lone Star Ball
From a p.r. standpoint, this is a worst case scenario for MLB. The N.L. MVP tested positive for PEDs, and was apparently going to be suspended for 50 games. That news came out. The whole PED issue gets drug back out and beaten to death again. And then, the player ends up getting the suspension overturned on what is going to be perceived as a technicality.
Braun was not "proven innocent" -- instead, his team argued that the evidence used to prove him guilty was inadmissible. So MLB has a steroid scandal, the alleged wrong-doer ends up walking with no punishment, and MLB looks ineffectual and clownish.