NEW YORK – National League MVP Ryan Braun's 50-game suspension was overturned Thursday by baseball arbitrator Shyam Das, the first time a baseball player successfully challenged a drug-related penalty in a grievance.
The decision was announced Thursday by the Major League Baseball Players Association, one day before the 28-year-old outfielder was due to report to spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Braun's urine tested positive in October for elevated testosterone, and ESPN revealed the positive test in December.
Braun has insisted that he did not violate baseball's drug agreement.
"I am very pleased and relieved by today's decision," he said in a statement. "It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side."
MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said management "vehemently disagrees" with Das' decision.
Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called the decision "a real gut-kick to clean athletes."
During the hearing, Braun's side challenged the chain of custody from the time the urine sample was collected by Comprehensive Drug Testing Inc. to when it was sent, nearly 48 hours later, to a World Anti-Doping Agency-certified laboratory in Montreal, two people familiar with the case said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because what took place in the hearing is supposed to be confidential.
The sample was collected on Oct. 1, a Saturday and the day the Brewers opened the NL playoffs. The collector did not send the sample to the laboratory until Monday, thinking it would be more secure at home than at a Federal Express office during the weekend.
Baseball's drug agreement states that "absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the laboratory on the same day they are collected."
"To have this sort of technicality of all technicalities let a player off ... it's just a sad day for all the clean players and those that abide by the rules within professional baseball," Tygart said.
Das, who has been baseball's independent arbitrator since 2000, informed the sides of his decision, but did not give them a written opinion. He has 30 days to do so.
"Today the arbitration panel announced its decision, by a 2-1 vote, to sustain Ryan Braun's grievance challenging his 50-game suspension by the commissioner's office," a statement from the players' association said.
Manfred and union head Michael Weiner are part of the arbitration panel, and management and the union almost always split their votes, leaving Das, the independent panel member, to make the decision.
"MLB and cable sports tried to sully the reputation of an innocent man," Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Twitter. "Picked the wrong guy to mess with. Truth will set u free"
Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was pleased his best player was vindicated.
"Since joining our organization in 2005, Ryan Braun has been a model citizen and a person of character and integrity. Knowing Ryan as I do, I always believed he would succeed in his appeal," Attanasio said in a statement. "It is unfortunate that the confidentiality of the program was compromised, and we thank our fans and everyone who supported Ryan and did not rush to judgment."
Brewers closer John Axford added on Twitter: "All I can say is that Braun has exemplary character is continuing to handle this in an unbelievable manner."
An evidentiary hearing on Braun's appeal was held Jan. 19-20 in New York, ending the day before the player accepted the NL MVP award at a black-tie dinner.
"We provided complete cooperation throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances. I have been an open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide," Braun said in his statement. "I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year."
A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that, after being informed of the positive result, Braun asked to have another urine test taken, and that the second test was within normal range.
Positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs have been relatively rare under the major league testing program, with just two others in 2011: Tampa Bay outfielder Manny Ramirez and Colorado Rockies catcher Eliezer Alfonzo. Ramirez at first retired rather than face a 100-game suspension for a second positive test. Now that he wants to play again and since he missed most of last year, he will only need to serve a 50-game penalty.
"It has always been Major League Baseball's position that no matter who tests positive, we will exhaust all avenues in pursuit of the appropriate discipline. We have been true to that position in every instance, because baseball fans deserve nothing less," Manfred said. "As a part of our drug testing program, the commissioner's office and the players' association agreed to a neutral third-party review for instances that are under dispute. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das."
Braun hit .332 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs last year and led Milwaukee to the NL championship series, where the Brewers lost to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Brewers are counting on his offense following the departure of Prince Fielder, who became a free agent and signed with the Detroit Tigers.
"I just did a few shirtless cartwheels to show my excitement," Brewers teammate Corey Hart said in a text message.
Braun already was signed through 2015, but the Brewers gave him a new deal running through 2020 that added $105 million and guaranteed him a total of $145.5 million over a decade.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley and AP Sports Writer Howie Rumberg contributed to this report.