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Brewers' Braun's appeal clouded in secrecy

MILWAUKEE -- Had the date of Ryan Braun's appeal hearing not leaked to the media, one would have no way of knowing that the recommended deadline for rendering a verdict is near.

MILWAUKEE -- Had the date of Ryan Braun's appeal hearing not leaked to the media, one would have no way of knowing that the recommended deadline for rendering a verdict is near.

But, just as the positive drug test of the Milwaukee Brewers' star left fielder leaked, so did the hearing dates. Braun appealed that result and pending 50-game suspension before a three-man arbitration panel in New York City on Jan. 19-20.

Major League Baseball's drug policy states that the panel chair, in this case Shyam Das, "shall make all reasonable efforts" to render a verdict within 25 days following the opening of the hearing. The 25th day after the hearing opened would be today.

That recommendation is not rigid, however. Das could ask for an extension if necessary, which some familiar with the process say could happen. There has been no indication a verdict will come down as early as today.

The 25-day recommendation is geared more toward in-season hearings, when games are at stake. With Braun's hearing taking place in the offseason, there isn't as much urgency.

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Das might consider the opening of spring training more of a de facto deadline for rendering a decision. It would not be fair to Braun or the Brewers to have him report to camp not knowing his fate.

Brewers pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report in Phoenix on Saturday, but other players do not have to show until Feb. 24. Thus, Das could wait until just before that date to render his verdict if he needs the time. The other members of that panel are Rob Manfred, MLB vice president for labor relations, and Michael Weiner, executive director of the players association.

Because the process is designed to be confidential, the Commissioner's Office would not make an announcement if Braun were exonerated. Rest assured that the players union and/or Braun's representatives would announce the verdict, considering the damage already done to his reputation by the leaking of the positive test.

Even if suspended for 50 games, Braun would be allowed to participate in spring training, including exhibition games. He likely would leave the club before the start of the regular season.

With the start of camp only days away, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said Friday that everyone involved would like a ruling as soon as possible.

"You'd like to see a decision, one way or the other," said Melvin. "You get a little bit anxious about it. At some point, you want to know."

Due to the supposedly confidential nature of the process, which has been violated on more than one occasion, Melvin said the club has been given no idea when to expect a ruling.

"We haven't heard anything," said Melvin, already in Phoenix to prepare for the opening of camp.

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"We don't know when it will happen. It doesn't do us any good to think about it or worry about it at this point. We're just going to get the guys ready to go. It's out of our control, so there's not anything we can do about it."

Some have wondered if the longer the panel went without announcing a decision, the better the chance that Braun would become the first major league player to have a positive drug test overturned. Those familiar with the process, however, say the long wait favors neither side but merely indicates the sensitive and complex nature of the case and, in this situation, the absence of in-season expediency.

According to the original report by ESPN, Braun tested positive for an extremely high level of testosterone in early October at the outset of the playoffs. He immediately proclaimed his innocence and launched his appeal of the finding, including the hiring of prominent attorney David Cornwell to present his case to the panel.

Braun's camp let it be known that he tested positive for a banned substance that was not technically a performance-enhancing drug and cited "highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence and demonstrate there was no intentional violation (of the) program."

To avoid suspension, the MLB drug policy states that "the player has the burden of establishing that his test result was not due to his fault or negligence. A player cannot satisfy his burden by merely denying that he intentionally used a prohibited substance; the player must provide objective evidence in support of his denial."

When a suspension is announced for a major league player, the exact substance that triggered the positive result is not announced. MLB groups banned substances as "performance enhancing," which results in a 50-game suspension, or a "stimulant," with a penalty of a 25-game suspension. Braun did not test positive for a stimulant.

There is a lot at stake for both sides. For Braun, it is his reputation as well as his legacy as one of the top stars in the game. For MLB, it is the legitimacy of a drug-testing process already compromised somewhat by confidentiality being breached.

Accordingly, it should be no real surprise that three weeks have passed without a verdict being rendered, or that several more days could pass without one.

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