A-Rod is not Bagwell

I’ve got something of a reputation for defending guys accused of using steroids, especially when the accusers are overtly indifferent to quaint concepts like “proof,” but I’m gonna have to get off the boat here:

Ryan Braun never had a chance. He was guilty in the eyes of the public from the moment his positive test for synthetic testosterone was leaked. Alex Rodriguez is guilty of everything the Miami New Times report says he is – guilty, that is, if you listen to what the public has already decided about the situation. Jeff Bagwell is guilty too, just because.

Slow your roll a little bit. Ryan Braun’s sample was improperly handled so, officially, the positive test result never happened. As such, there’s technically no evidence at all that he broke any rules. The case against Bagwell, such as it is, is that he played during the steroid era and had big muscles. This, tp put it mildly, is no evidence of any kind, circumstantial or otherwise. The problem with accusing these guys is that it’s all done based upon suspicion, with no real evidence backing it up.

Say what you will about some of the dumb responses various columnists have pumped out over this news, but there’s no question that there is at least evidence that A-Rod has been juicing. An actual newspaper reviewed hundreds of documents detailing the sale of banned substances to A-Rod and others by a clinic operator who is being investigated by the federal government. It’s true that those documents could be fabricated, but that’s a pretty wild assumption that shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt.

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.

17 thoughts on “A-Rod is not Bagwell

  1. Derpy

    Ryan Braun's sample was not improperly handled. They followed protocol. The fact that they pretended it wasn't protocol, even though, at the same time, they admitted it was protocol, is mind blowing, but it doesn't make him innocent.

  2. Paul R

    "Ryan Braun’s sample was improperly handled so, officially, the positive test result never happened. As such, there’s technically no evidence at all that he broke any rules." Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and, uh, wong!

    There was plenty of evidence showing Braun broke the rules. The evidence was all in the sealed, uncontaminated, urine sample. That the courier kept at his house over the weekend instead of delivering it Friday night is a mere technicality and it didn't change for a second the evidence that was in that sealed, uncontaminated urine sample.

    • LarryAtIIATMS

      Paul, we went through all of this in detail last year. Drug testing is based on validated test procedures. If the procedure is followed, then the results are deemed reliable to a percentage of certainty that the powers that be deem acceptable. If the procedure is not followed, then not. The MLB procedures (and for that matter, the procedures used by WADA) include rules for how samples are supposed to be handled, and how quickly samples need to be tested. Once the Braun sample was handled outside of these rules, we don't know what the tests mean.

      Honestly. I spent about two years of my life studying how these tests work. This isn't horseshoes. There's no harmless error rule.

      Also, and for what it's worth, it was reported that Braun's team took a test sample from Braun and it tested negative. Then they stored the sample in the way that the MLB drug testers stored the original sample, at which point the sample tested positive.

      Paul, I don't mean this to sound critical, but so far you've betrayed no indication that you know anything about drug testing, or biochemistry. Urine is a "live matrix". It changes chemically in a sealed and uncontaminated container, and it does so unpredictably, because everyone's biochemical mix is different, and any single person's biochemical mix changes from day to day. I can't blame you for not knowing what you're talking about, because you've read what's been written in the mainstream media, and there's only a few people in the mainstream media who know anything about drug testing — and none of those people write about baseball. The smartest single voice in the baseball world is Craig Calcaterra, and my suggestion is that you listen to him and ignore everyone else.

      • Cs Yankee

        So, 48 hours in a basment versus 48 hours in FedEx hands (per approved protocol) can add synthetic testosterone to the sample?

        Victor Conte has said that this was the way to cheat as it is fast acting and can be flushed from the body. Seems like Braun was caught at the beginning of a short cycle as it wasn't natural T.

        I might believe it could if it was natural levels off, but as I understand it synthetic T is not part of the makeup of a container and is foreign to the body.

        What are we missing here?

      • Moskva

        Ok – so are you saying that your negative urine sample can turn positive if stored for too long in a refrigerator? Or does this only happen if you store it in the wrong temp? And if it was protocol to store the samples in a frig if they could not mail out on time on Friday, then how many other samples have accidentally turned positive? I mean this must happen on occasion, no? Nothing snarky here – I admit I know nothing about this and am curious.

        • LarryAtIIATMS

          I'll answer both above posts here, but it will take multiple posts.

          The testers cannot detect synthetic testosterone, for the simple reason that it is chemically identical to natural testosterone. Based on what we presently know, if I put a molecule of synthetic testosterone on one side of a slide and a molecule of natural testosterone on the other side, there's no way that anyone could tell the difference. It is chemically the same stuff. In other words, any time you read that the scientists "found" synthetic testosterone in an athlete's sample, go ahead and laugh. It is not possible to do any such thing.

          Here is what the scientists do, and forgive me for getting technical — it is unavoidable. What the scientists do is to compare the isotope ratio of testosterone metabolites (biochemicals produced when testosterone is metabolized, or broken down) to the isotope ratio of comparable biochemicals that (in theory at least) the body can only produce naturally. What is an "isotope ratio"? Well … the body's biochemicals contain carbon, and carbon comes in three isotopes: carbon 12, carbon 13 and carbon 14. Nearly all of the carbon in the body is carbon 12, where the atoms contain 6 protons and 6 neutrons. A bit of the carbon is carbon-13, with 7 neutrons, and a VERY small amount is carbon 14, with 8 neutrons. The theory is that someone doping with synthetic testosterone is going to have a TINY bit less carbon-13 in his testosterone than average. Why? Because (we believe) synthetic testosterone is produced from plants like soy and yams that naturally are a bit light in carbon-13 atoms. In other words, the testers are not finding synthetic testosterone, they're finding evidence that the overall testosterone in the body seems to come disproportionally from foods like soy and yams.

          The process of measuring isotope ratios in a urine sample is exacting and detailed. In effect, you're trying to count neutrons, and if you're off by a fraction of a percentage point, you're going to come up with dramatically wrong results. So, the process of performing this test is demanding. The samples go through extensive preparation, where stuff we're not interested in is removed from the urine, and stuff we are interested in is changed to make it easier to measure. Then the stuff goes through gas or liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, and a number of other steps. I am dramatically simplifying the process in my description.

          The $64 question is, how do we know that all of this process detects dopers? The answer is in the process of lab method validation, which itself would require a book-length discussion to lay out adequately (I know, because I once wrote such a description for another blog). But boiled down to its essence, the idea is this: you lay out a method with steps 1 through x, and you follow that method from 1 to x, and you measure the results, and if the results come out right time after time, you have a good lab method. Once you have a good lab method, you can then follow the method to produce what you believe are reliable results.

          If you don't follow the method, every step of the method, you don't know what you have.

          • LarryAtIIATMS

            I'll now answer questions, from easiest to most difficult.

            Moskva, you ask if a negative urine sample can turn positive if stored too long in a refrigerator? Yes. The chemical make-up of urine is going to change over time, and it's going to change faster at higher temperatures. How many other samples have accidentally turned positive? I don't know. Again, if we're willing to speak in terms of probability and likelihood, I'd say that this sort of thing doesn't happen very often. It's probably rare. But I know it's something the scientists are concerned about, because it's something the scientists study.

            Cs, hopefully I've answered your question above about synthetic T. Regarding Victor Conte, he's a very smart guy and we should listen to him. But no one in their right mind is going to start a steroids cycle at the beginning of the playoffs. Someone using synthetic T at the beginning of the playoffs is doing so in the belief (not verified by any science I know) that low doses of synthetic T promote muscle recovery and fight muscle fatigue. This was always an odd part of the Braun case, that his measured testosterone-epitestosterone ratio was so much higher than what we might expect for someone who was microdosing. It's possible that a player might accidentally take a higher than intended dose of synthetic T (for example, accidentally fall asleep wearing a testosterone patch), but from the beginning this was an odd part of the case against Braun.

            Synthetic T, particularly in microdoses, is difficult to detect. In baseball, the players know the scheduled times for "surprise" drug tests — no one is knocking on player's hotel doors at 3 a.m. So, it's pretty easy for players to microdose synthetic T at, say, 10 p.m., and know that the dose will not be detectable if they're tested the next afternoon or evening.

            Cs, the first question you raised is the most difficult. As I read it, the MLB protocol anticipated that samples would be sent to the Montreal testing lab the day they were collected, for testing the next day. The storage and shipment of testing samples is, and has always been, one of the weak links in drug testing procedures. My guess is that the lab procedures in question were never validated for ANY sort of delay in shipment — I've read about a dozen of the peer reviewed studies used to validate the synthetic T test, and they all had test subjects pee into a cup at the lab, where the samples were immediately refrigerated and promptly tested. Obviously you're right, whatever funky things could happen to a lab sample in a collection agent's basement could also happen in a Fed Ex warehouse. Of course, since we don't have the arbitrator's decision in the Braun case, we don't know for certain that we have all of the facts.

            My understanding is that Braun's team swung the case by retesting a Braun sample after 48+ hours of room temperature storage and showing that the sample changed in storage from a negative to a positive test. This understanding has only been reported by one source (Will Carroll of SI), though it's been frequently repeated. With this evidence, the arbitrators seized on the violation of MLB protocol and ruled for Braun. Yes, I suppose you can argue that if the collection agent had managed to transfer possession of the sample to the Fed Ex agent before the Fed Ex depot closed for the weekend, then there would have been no violation of protocol, and the original test results might have been accepted by the arbitrators … in which case I'd argue that Braun would have been CONVICTED on a technicality.

            Over the years, I've spoken to any number of people who test food, drugs and other products, and they've all assured me that once they discover any deviation from test protocol, no matter how minor or technical, they toss the results out. There's no argument with the FDA that your deviation from protocol was no worse, practically speaking, than some way you could have stretched the rules of your protocol. This is where I stand: test results are valid if you follow the rules you set up for the test, and if not, not. But if you prefer, you can justify the Braun decision on the fact that Braun's urine apparently did change from negative to positive in storage.

          • Moskva81

            Thanks – most interesting! Learned a lot.

          • CS Yankee

            Good stuff to know, thanks.

            I wonder when we'll actually see a clean guy test positive. All the players deny any accusations and rumors, but we haven't yet seen a failed test honestly challenged, have we? The closest I can recall was Rafael blaming it on B-12 injection from Tejada. However, they all seem to plead for forgiveness once they test positive.

            What smells bad to me is that the Braun camp hasn't exactly worked on challenging the process since he was cleared. If you went through this wrongfully, wouldn't you try to make the process better and restore your image?

          • LarryAtIIATMS

            When will a clean guy test positive? It may already have happened. There's no way to know for sure. You'd need a lab to admit a mistake, and for a sample to be retested, and there's generally not much left of a sample after it has gone through the testing and retesting required to declare a sample positive. I recall once, someone sent portions of the same sample to different WADA testing labs and got different results from different labs. But from what we know, these labs are pretty good, and the lab in Montreal used by MLB is particularly good.

            Yeah, I know what you mean about silence in the Braun camp. I was hoping that the arbitrator's decision would be made public, and that we'd get confirmation of what Will Carroll reported. My suspicion is that some secret agreement was reached by both sides to keep mum, but I have no proof. Braun may have figured that if he tried to clear his name, he'd only create a "he said she said" situation, where MLB, the drug-testing authorities and the mainstream media would all be aligned against him no matter what the truth might be. Both sides might have figured that they'd both lose in a war of words. Hard to know for certain, but I suspect both sides signed a confidentiality agreement. We're not hearing MLB talk about this case either.

          • ProfRobert

            Larry, thank you for this detailed, thoughtful and clear explanation. I've never seen anyone try to address this issue in an appropriate level of detail until now.

      • Frank S.

        So Braun is presumed innocent because the chain of custody of the sample wasn't perfect in that — even though it was in a sealed, uncontaminated, container and was taken by an authorizd MLB tester — the courier kept it at his house over the weekend instead of delivering it on Friday night. But Clemens is still presumed guilty on the say so of a proven liar, whose "evidence" consisted of syringes allegedly used by Clemens, stored in an open coffee can with syringes from other individuals, that was itself stored in a dusty closet for months, and even though a jury failed to convict? Hmmm. I think people just decide who are the "god guys" (Pettitte, Braun) and who are the "bad guys" (A-Rod, Clemens, Bonds) and then tailor their arguments (and the facts) to fit the conclusions they have already drawn.

        • LarryAtIIATMS

          Frank, I admit I write long, but you don't seem to have read very carefully. I said nothing about chain of custody, and nothing about Clemens.

          You're making a point about good guys and bad guys that needs to be made. You just need to make the point more effectively. There are at least 4 categories here: confessed dopers (Pettitte, A-Rod), athletes accused in the Mitchell Report who claim they're innocent (Clemens), athletes who doped but claimed they didn't know they were doping (Bonds), and athletes that were accused and then exonerated (Braun). Within each category there may be good guys and bad guys, but when you lump together Pettitte and Braun you're mixing apples and oranges, and blunting the point you're hoping to make.

          • Frank S.

            Larry, I wasn't referring to your post in particular– which I know referenced neither chain of custody nor Clemens — but to what I perceive as the general public consensus, of which your defense of Braun is just a part. Anyway, I agree that there are at least 4 categories, but the fact that Pettitte and A-Rod are both included in the same category as you've defined it — and yet the former is almost universally loved and the latter almost universally despised — seems to further support my white vs. black hat theory. Why do people in the MMM — even prior to the latest word from Miami — write column after column stating with both a certitude that is not supported by evidence, and a holier than thou morality on a moral issue that is far from as black and white as they make it seem (reference this blog's PEDOTTUBHA meme), that A-Rod must have been lying when he said he stopped using PEDs after he left Texas, and Clemens must also be lying (even though a jury failed to convict), but Andy Pettitte — no, he was definitely telling the truth when he said he only used briefly when he was injured?

          • LarryAtIIATMS

            Frank, as I said, I think you're making a good point about good guys and bad guys. As for your big "Why?" question, two responses jump to mind. First, for the MSM, PED use is a morality play. So there are good guys and bad guys, as well as victims, dupes and repentant sinners. Agreed, this bears no relation to reality. The second reason is related: with very few exceptions, those in the media who write about PEDs don't know what they're talking about. Complicit in this parade of ignorance are the folks who run the anti-doping agencies and the labs, who for complex (and sometimes good) reasons prefer not to lay their cards on the table.

  3. Toby Furney

    .aroid is a bitch.i can not believe he did this to his career.why do you waste yours and my time in new york?why did you whine about people loving jeter and not you?why did you constantly screw up in the playoffs?why do i own your jersey?i swear to God and my mom above that i will never cheer for you again.i wished you signed with boston back in 03.you piece of shit

  4. lazlosother

    Ryan Braun's sample was not handled properly. If the fault was with the agreement so be it. The fact is that the mediator did not feel the sample was reliable. As a result, the rules on how samples are handled were changed. If there really were no problem there would be no reason to change protocol.

    It isn't Ryan's fault that the procedures were inadequate. It isn't Ryan's fault that MLB leaked his name before the process had run its course. It isn't Ryan's fault that sticking a sample in some guy's basement for the weekend isn't the best idea. Given the outcome, Ryan is entitled to the assumption of innocence. His test means nothing.

    Having said that, the folks using and developing PEDs are usually a step ahead of the testers. I'm surprised that fans are still surprised when the occasional athlete is actually caught.

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