What I Think About Ryan Braun
It has been a few days since MLB announced that it was suspending Ryan Braun for the remainder of the 2013 season, which has given me some time to really think about what the whole thing means (whatever that means). I wanted to avoid writing something on Monday because I worried that anything I wrote would be too knee-jerk and would not reflect my actual thoughts on the matter. Interestingly enough, my opinions on the whole story are the same today as they were on Monday (and the same as they were in December 2011 when ESPN first broke the positive test story): I just do not care that Ryan Braun used performance enhancing drugs.
I do not think this makes me a “bad” baseball fan. People will say that indifference towards PEDs got baseball in this mess in the first place. This might be true. Had Commissioner Selig and the owners cracked down in the 1990s, maybe the game would be clean now. Of course, this argument ignores the use of amphetamines (“greenies”) before the dawn of the “Steroid Era” and every other unsavory tactic players used to boost performance throughout the history of the game. What I am saying is this: the so-called “Loosey-goosey” era of Major League Baseball is hardly the only time in which guys did whatever they could do enhance their numbers and get an edge on other players. The majority of people choose to ignore all of this for reasons that quite simply escape me. It is probably because nobody was hitting 70 home runs in a season or bulking up with steroids given to cattle. That, and before the late 1980s and early 1990s, the game was played “the right way” (insert huge eyeroll here).
Now that I got that out of the way, it can address Ryan Braun specifically. He has been called a liar, a cheater, a fraud, and much worse. These labels are probably accurate. Ryan Braun does not appear to be a good friend. He told his teammates and friends in no uncertain terms that his 2011 failed test was a result of a failed process and that he never took PEDs while he continued to use these substances. He lied to their faces and stood back and watched them go to bat for him publicly and loudly. Specifically, Aaron Rodgers and Jonathan Lucroy were steadfast in their backing of Braun. They stuck their necks out for him and he let them down. They should feel betrayed in him and should expect (and receive) sincere apologies. As for fans who believed Braun when he claimed he was clean? Ryan Braun owes them nothing more than he has already provided. When the appropriate time comes, he may speak out in more detail about why he did what he did, but we already know the answer whether he says it or not. He wanted a competitive edge over the other players and did not think he would get caught.
People will start listing off the reasons why he did not need to take PEDs. He was already excessively talented. He was financially secure for the rest of his life. He had a chance to be the next Robin Yount in Milwaukee- a retired number, a statue, and the eternal love on an entire city. All of these are true, but if we have learned anything from professional athletes, it is that they have a constant desire for more. They want to be better than you or I or anybody thinks they can be. They want to be the best of all time, and they do not want there to be a debate about their status as G.O.A.T. This insatiable drive often leads them to take actions that may get them in trouble. Every athlete has seen a high-profile athlete get caught cheating and yet they continue on doing what they were doing. It happened before Braun, and it will happen again.
I am not justifying what Braun did as OK. He should not have cheated, and he certainly should not have lied to his friends’ faces about it. From a personal perspective, it is a whole lot more fun reading about the star player on your favorite team winning the MVP and being on a Hall of Fame track. But I do not think Ryan Braun owes me anything. He did not disappoint me personally. He did not break my trust. He only hurt his family, friends, and teammates. All that he has given me throughout his career remains intact. The memories I have of him hitting the go-ahead home run against the Cubs in the final game of the 2008 season and hitting the home run that clinched the NL Central title against the Marlins in 2011 remain just as amazing. I got goosebumps watching those at the time, and I still get the chills when I hear Bob Uecker’s calls to this day. I do not retroactively lose those memories and feelings now that we know Braun was hopped up on testosterone (at least for 2011), and neither does any other Brewer fan.
When he comes back next year, I’m sure the reaction Ryan Braun receives at Miller Park will be decidedly less friendly. People will still be angry and betrayed, and they let him hear it. Then he will go out and hit over .300 with 30 home runs (and he will), and people will begin to forgive him. Isn’t all we want from the guys on our favorite team is that they help our teams win? It is all I expect from them, and it is all I feel I deserve. So I will still wear my #8 throwback jersey with pride because I want the Brewers to be good again as soon as possible, and I know that Ryan Braun will play a big part in that.