MILWAUKEE -- For nearly a decade, general manager Doug Melvin has driven all of the Brewers' big decisions. In this instance, he's stuck on the sidelines with everyone else. The fate of left fielder and face-of-the-franchise Ryan Braun reportedly rests in the hands of a three-member panel in New York. Braun is charged with violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and faces a 50-game suspension, which, if levied, would deal a harsh blow to the Brewers' bid to defend their National League Central crown and would tarnish the NL Most Valuable Player Award trophy Braun is to accept Saturday night. The New York Daily News was first to report Thursday that Braun's appeal had begun, another leak in a saga that began when ESPN reported on Dec. 10 that Braun had submitted a urine sample during the postseason that tested for a high level of testosterone. Braun's camp immediately went on the offensive, citing "highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence and demonstrate that there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program."
More than a month later, Braun is trying to become the first Major Leaguer to successfully appeal such a result before a special panel. According to the Daily News, it includes MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner, MLB executive vice president for labor relations Rob Manfred and independent arbitrator Shyam Das. The appeals process is supposed to remain secret, between Braun and his representatives, the MLB Commissioner's Office and the Players Association. Brewers officials have remained completely in the dark. "I don't know anything about it," Melvin said Friday morning, "and it's not right for me to comment on something I don't know about." Braun is expected make his first public comments on Saturday night, when he accepts his MVP Award from the Baseball Writers' Association of America at a dinner in Manhattan. The status of his suspension will still be up in the air, and a Braun spokesperson declined to reveal what the player might say at that event. Melvin said he had not spoken with Braun since news broke of the potential suspension. He'll see Braun on Jan. 29 in Milwaukee, where the outfielder is to participate as usual in "Brewers On Deck," the team's annual fanfest. The uncertainty presents a difficult situation for the veteran GM, considering Melvin is tasked with keeping the Brewers atop the NL Central amid the loss of star first baseman Prince Fielder to free agency and escalating salaries to other home-grown players that are making it more complicated for Melvin to fill holes via free agency. The loss of Braun for 50 games would be a severe blow. He beat the Dodgers' Matt Kemp in MVP balloting after batting .332 with 33 home runs, 111 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in 2011. Braun was the Brewers' first league MVP since Robin Yount in 1989, and Braun accepted the award in November already aware of the positive drug test. When ESPN broke the story on a Saturday night, sources very close to Braun declared his innocence. "It was not a PED, drug or steroid of any kind," one source very close to Braun said in a text message. "And there has never been a result like this in the history of the [MLB drug testing] program." Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio also issued a statement the night of the breach, strongly supporting MLB's drug testing program but just as strongly standing behind Braun. "Ryan Braun has been a model citizen in every sense of the word, both in the Milwaukee community and for the Brewers," Attanasio said. "Since joining our organization in 2005, he has been a person of character and integrity. ... Before there is a rush to judgment, Ryan deserves the right to be heard. We are committed to supporting Ryan to get to the truth of what happened in this unfortunate situation." With the appeal under way, all sides may be closer to that truth. The Associated Press reported that both sides typically submit written final arguments after oral presentations are finished. It was unclear Friday where the process stood. A Major League Baseball spokesperson declined Friday morning to comment on the reports of Braun's appeal, citing the confidentiality of the program. Braun's agent, Nez Balelo, did not reply to requests for comment, nor did the spokesperson hired by CAA Sports to handle media inquiries. Braun himself sent a text to MLB.com the night of the original ESPN report that said, in part, "My day will come soon." It appears his day has come.