Some thoughts on Braun

So all told, it’s probably best to reserve judgment on Braun’s issue until everything is fully sorted out by MLB. The smart money says he probably used some form of banned substance, whether intentionally or not, but maybe he will be exonerated of wrong doing. There’s no harm in waiting a few weeks to bring the righteous outrage, and if the appeal fails you’ll get to deliver it with even more vigor!

That said, the media really needs to cool down on these matters. Ken Rosenthal, in particular, seems to have won the race to write the most forceful hand-wringing of PED usage in baseball based on the test, with the old “baseball will never be clean” chestnut. Obviously Ken didn’t take enough philosophy classes in college (or go to law school) or he’d be familiar with the false-positive paradox, which basically undercuts the entire premise of his column. But in general, what is supposed to be the point of this worrying? Say Braun did use a banned substance. Then…what? He got caught, he’ll be suspended, and it would be incredibly hard to mount a credible conspiracy theory about Major League Baseball covering up steroid use by their star players. What is MLB supposed to be fretting over in the big picture?

At the end of the day, the reason the steroid issue will never go away is because it’s like concentrated liquid crack to national sports writers, who just can’t resist the urge to return to the highest peaks of moral preening they reached at the end of the Steroid Era. Which is why even an isolated case involving the newly minted N.L. MVP that’s in dispute (and represents one of a relatively few cases of usage by established MLB players in the first place) can inspire this sort of hand-wringing and outrage. The fact of the matter is that, whatever the outcome of Braun’s appeal, the real lesson of this test is that baseball’s testing regime is working pretty much as it should.

The real threat is that leaks like this will sour the MLBPA on the process. Though if I had to put money on the matter, I’d wager the leak came from the WADA lab.


Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

36 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Braun

  1. Brien, terrific piece! I started to write essentially the same piece this weekend, and I'm glad you wrote it instead.

    The facts as revealed so far simply do not add up. That's not unusual in the early stages of a big sports doping story. The best possible outcome is that we all take three steps back and let the participants (Braun and his camp, the lab, MLB) sort this one out. I'm reasonably certain that the ultimate story will differ from the one we have before us in important respects. No predictions, but Braun could emerge as innocent, or at least as not proven guilty.

    For those who do not know me, I write here and elsewhere about doping issues, and I know an absurd amount (for a non-scientist, that is) about how the labs test for testosterone doping. Anyone interested should post questions in the comments section. When more (and more reliable) facts emerge about this case, I'll certainly post an article here, but in the meantime I'll be happy to answer any questions that anyone might have at this point.

  2. Absolutely agree, Brien. Anonymous leaking and questionable journalistic ethics have become the real blight of the PED issue. If it wants the players to stay clean and to keep making the testing policy stronger in each successive CBA, MLB really needs to get its own house in order. I'm sure Larry can speak to this in greater detail, but everything I've read suggests that false positives are an inevitable part of the process and, like the supposedly anonymous results of 2003, these players should be protected from slander until confirmations have been made.

  3. IF braunn is guilty, should his MVP go to Matt Kemp? Let's face it, Kemp had a better season and only reason why Ryan won the award was the fact that brewers went to the postseason.

  4. Looking at the other side, Moiuz – if it turns out that this IS just a false positive, WHAT can be done to erase what will be a cloud on Braun's rep for the rest of his career?

    It is pretty much an acknowledged fact that the dirt of an accusation sticks longer and better than any number of followup reports trying to clear the reputation. Even when the original accusation is completely without merit.

  5. The false-positive paradox only applies if the actual positive rate is very low; then the error rate times the negative population will be larger than the positive population. So for a disease like HIV, with a positive rate of .3% overall in the US, and lower in low-risk groups, a 5% or even 1% false-positive rate would lead to many more false than true positives. It seems to me that steroids are different, because the true positive rate could be high, like 5% or 10%, or higher. In that case even a lousy false-positive rate of 5% would mean that a majority of positive tests were real. I'm no expert, just a (painting dots on bugs) biologist, but the other issue is the source of error. False HIV positives can be largely dealt with by retesting the sample. This works if the source of the error is the test itself, not individual variation. If the source of error is natural variation (some people have different hormone ratios without PEDs), then retesting the sample won't help. Great site, just a comment, don't know anything about the actual false-positive rate or retesting protocol in MLB

  6. How much of a PED must be ingested or in a person to cause a positive result. I remember reading about certain beef in South America having some substance that may cause positive results. So what would stop a zealous RedSox fan who is a server at a restaurant in NY from spiking the food of a NY Yankee (a sprinkle of female fertility drug) in the hopes of him failing a test and being suspended 50 games. Sounds stupid but is it plausible?