More procedural issues in MLB's steroid testing

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More procedural issues in MLB's steroid testing

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- Major League Baseball dropped its 100-game suspension of Colorado Rockies catcher Eliezer Alfonzo for a positive drug test because of the same procedural issues that came up in the Ryan Braun case. Alfonzo is eligible to play immediately, according to a person familiar with the decision who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Sunday night because no announcement had been made. Mostly a backup during six major league seasons, Alfonzo became the first player suspended twice for performance-enhancing drugs under the MLB testing program when the commissioner's office announced a 100-game penalty last September. Alfonzo appealed and was notified within the past week that MLB had lifted the ban. The reason: a dispute over the storage and shipment of his urine sample similar to the one that led to Braun's 50-game drug penalty getting overturned by an arbitrator in February, the person said. The person was not familiar with specific details regarding the chain of custody of Alfonzo's specimen. Alfonzo's contract was renewed by the Rockies in March, but he was not paid while he was on the restricted list during the suspension. He is currently assigned to Triple-A Colorado Springs in the Pacific Coast League, but the 33-year-old catcher has been at home in Venezuela, the person said. Alfonzo gets the minimum 480,000 salary in the majors and 86,473 in the minors. A message left for Rockies spokesman Jay Alves late Sunday night was not immediately returned. Braun, last year's NL MVP, tested positive in October for elevated testosterone, which was revealed by ESPN in December. His sample was collected on Oct. 1, a Saturday and the day he and the Milwaukee 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." Braun appealed and when his ban was thrown out by arbitrator Shyam Das, MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said management "vehemently" disagreed with the decision, which made the Milwaukee slugger the first major league player to successfully challenge a drug-related penalty in a grievance. 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 outside 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. Since then, MLB and the players' union have made some changes to collection procedures as a result of Das' decision. Employees of Comprehensive Drug Testing, who take the specimens from players, are now required to drop the samples off at a Federal Express office on the same day they are collected, provided an office is open in the vicinity. If not, collectors should take the specimens home rather than leave them in a drop box. The prohibition against using drop boxes already was in the drug agreement between players and owners. Alfonzo's penalty was dropped without a hearing before an arbitrator, the person said Sunday. The catcher missed the final 15 games of last season and Colorado has already played 33 games this year. Under the major league drug agreement, first offenses are arbitrated before any public announcement -- but additional offenses are litigated after a suspension is announced. Alfonzo also was suspended for 50 games in April 2008 while a member of the San Francisco Giants. "I am surprised by this positive test," he said last September in a statement released by the Major League Baseball Players Association. "I learned my lesson in 2008 and have not taken any prohibited substances since then. With the union's help, I intend to fight this suspension and look forward to appearing before the arbitrator in the near future." After the suspension four years ago, Alfonzo said he never knowingly took steroids but did take medicine for bronchitis while home in Venezuela. Manny Ramirez and Guillermo Mota are the only other major league players to be penalized twice for positive drug tests. Baseball began testing with penalties in 2004. Under the current rules, a third violation would carry a lifetime ban. Alfonzo is a .240 career hitter with 17 homers and 67 RBIs in 591 at-bats over 193 major league games. He has also played for San Diego and Seattle.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.