Thursday, February 23, 2012

Collapse of Braun Case Likely Opens Floodgates

The collapse of the Ryan Braun performance enhancing drug test -- which technically cleared the Milwaukee Brewers slugger of wrongdoing and lifts an impending 50-game suspension -- can be expected not only to undermine positive test findings for all ongoing and future cases, but even call into question past test results and even the testing process itself.

As a result of Thursday's ruling, hundreds if not thousands of potential drug screenings not only of baseball players but of worldwide athletes of virtually every stripe may become subject to routine challenge, now that this revolutionary precedent has been established.

Though Braun, 28, National League Most Valuable Player, tested positive for elevated levels of artificial testosterone -- which can amplify strength, endurance and performance -- medical authorities have known for at least 20 years that such urine test results are not entirely reliable.

Unmasked now as it is, it seems likely that public confidence in the testing process has potentially been undermined irreparably, opening the door for the creation of a virtual cottage industry of private laboratories, doctors and lawyers with the capability to temporarily or permanently block or otherwise impede future and past athletic suspensions.

Braun's suspension was overturned Thursday in a 2-1 decision by a three-member MLB appointed panel, marking the first time the testing process and impending penalty has been successfully challenged by a grievant.

A positive drug finding may be generated by a urine sample from an athlete who legally or unkowingly ingests a product that transforms into a controlled substance by the individual's natural metabolism. Such false positives have been know to be generated by the ingestion of as little as a single sesame seed such as those commonly found added to common bakery products.

Numerous otherwise innocuous foodstuffs or patent medicines can lead to false positives, but details of the Braun findings, nor the basis of his challenge, have yet to be explained, either by Braun, the three-member panel or Major League Baseball.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Twins 1B Justin Morneau Among Missing

Joe Mauer will be there. Ron Gardenhire will be there. Brian Duensing and Denard Span will, as will Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Bert Blyleven, Tom Kelly, Dan Gladden and a host of other current and former Minnesota Twins personalities.

But where is Justin Morneau?

Morneau, the eight-year veteran whose MVP year saw him bat .321 with 34 homers in 2006, is among the missing as the team sets out on its two-week Winter Caravan promotional tour. His absence doesn't necessarily point to disaster, but it is none too reassuring either, given Morneau's health issues over the past three seasons.

If there was one person fans would want to see smiling, healthy and happy more than any other, it would be Justin Morneau. The tour runs through Jan. 30, but Morneau's not coming, now or later.

Various team testimonials depict the 6-foot-4 Canadian working out and healthy in sunny Florida, eagerly getting ready for 2012. But that's the same news that was reported last year when the ailing slugger missed half the year, then hit a mere .227 with just four homers in 264 at-bats.

Morneau, 31, because he makes up half of the team's critical M&M keystone with Joe Mauer, needs to recover his playing ability if the Twins are to avoid another disaster like the 2011 season. The problem is, in addition to other illnesses, Morneau has suffered mightily from post concussive syndrome, the result of a repeated blows to his head since he began playing hockey as a teenager.

The malady is marked by headaches, dizziness, nausea, blurry vision, inability to concentrate, sunlight aversion and other manifestations, none worse than an inability to function as normally as anyone else throughout the day, to say nothing of being able to play professional baseball.

It is not only the type of disorder that permanently sidelined former Twins corner infielder Cory Koskie, it IS the disorder. Said Morneau recently to the London Free Press: "I won't know how my body is going to react until I do baseball activities."

He told MLB News Network: "Something's not right."

Starlin Castro's Fate Likely Lies With Grand Jury

The fate of Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro -- who has been questioned in connection with a possible sexual assault -- likely lies with the office of State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who can be expected to study police findings before deciding whether to send the young defendant through a gauntlet of courthouse appearances beginning with testimony before a Cook County grand jury.

Because Castro has not been charged with crime, authorities likely as not will resort to grand jury testimony from various witnesses,  including police, the plaintiff and the defendant, to determine whether evidence can substantiate accusations that otherwise cannot be resolved without a guilty plea, a finding of innocence at trial or a dismissal by a judge.  Thus the jurors have a dual responsibility in that they must see to it that justice is done while at the same time protecting the defendant against unfounded claims.

If the state's attorney's office finds evidence lacking,  the grand jury may not be necessary.  But if Castro is indicted, the case could be drawn out through much if not all of the 2012 baseball season, but not necessarily block Castro from playing while awaiting trial,  an event that could be postponed until fall or winter.

Though theoretically a defendant can also be bound over for trial without grand jury action if a judge determines probable cause as the result of a hearing,  the grand jury process is often favored in so-called classic cases of "he said, she said" contentiousness.

Castro's lawyers, Jay Reisinger and Michael Gillespie, said their investigation has determined that the allegations are "baseless."

The issues came to light after Chicago radio station WBBM 780 reported that Castro was the subject of a sexual assault investigation which allegedly occurred at a downtown apartment Sept. 29. A local woman whose identity is being withheld claimed said she had gone home with Castro after a night of drinking in a River North club.

She went to the emergency room the next day, prompting hospital officials to relay a description of her condition and other details to police, as required by law. Because the regular baseball season was over and the Cubs were not in post-season play, the next day Castro went home to the Dominican Republic, where extradition procedures can be difficult. While the U.S. legal system in based on English common law,  the Dominican Republic's system is based on Napoleonic Code, which in the United States is observed only in Louisiana.