Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ryan Braun Suspension Taints Brewers History

In 2008, the Milwaukee Brewers chased down their first playoff berth since 1982.

Over the final week of the season, Brewers fans experienced some real goosebump-type moments.

Three years later, more of the same, this time for the NL Central title.

Nearly five years later, those moments have suddenly taken on a different meaning.

And it isn't good.

The man responsible for many of those moments -- Ryan Braun -- has been officially outed as a cheat and the ultimate fraud.

It's one thing for a pro athlete to take performance-enhancing drugs and lie about it. Unfortunately, guys do that all the time.

But Braun took it to another, nauseating, degree.

I spent 23 minutes under the warm Arizona sun two Februaries ago listening to Braun earnestly, arrogantly and pointedly proclaim his innocence, blaming the man who collected his urine for "chain of custody" issues. That's how he beat the rap, on a technicality that he would never admit while professing his innocence.

That day, I listened to him say that upon learning he tested positive for testosterone at "three times higher than any number in the history of drug testing" on Oct. 19, 2011, he said he told the players association: "I promise you on anything that's ever meant anything to me in my life, the morals, the virtues, the values by which I've lived in my 28 years on this planet, I did not do this."

Monday, I watched Braun accept a suspension without pay for the rest of this season, 65 games and about $3.5 million worth, and lamely say, "As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes."

Fine time to get religion, isn't it? With his Brewers in last place, 18½ games out? Cutting a deal when he's making a mere $8.5 million this summer, before his salary increases to $10 million next year, $12 million the year after that and then leaps to $19 million in 2016?

What we already suspected, but sadly learned beyond reasonable doubt the minute he signed off on this deal, is that Braun is a phony and a liar. And he is the worst kind of liar: the kind who stares straight into your eyes as he's lying to you.

It's one thing that Braun lied. Sad fact is that people lie all the time, often about stuff not worth lying about, and more often than that about stuff they'll eventually get caught for lying about. And here's the thing: We all know we're going to get caught, but still lie!

But Braun's lies and deceit are only trumped by the awful statement he followed Monday's suspension announcement with.

"As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect," Braun said in a statement. "I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country.

"Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed -- all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love."


When the initial suspension was overturned, Braun had the nerve to call out the man who took his urine sample in October 2011. He went through back channels to impugn this man's character, even going so far as to insinuate that there was some sort of intent behind the chain of custody issue that got Braun out of a 50-game suspension.

None of this gets Major League Baseball out of its responsibility, but this is not the time to attack Bud Selig. I don't disagree with Brew Crew Ball, which closed its piece on the suspension by saying Selig "got the feather" in his cap that he "so desperately wanted." Part of this was clearly a personal vendetta on Selig's part, but I'm not going to sit here and act as if Braun is some sort of victim.

Ryan Braun put himself in this spot. He did so with what has been reported to be a long pattern of PED usage, not just a one-shot deal. He chose to not only lie about what he had done when presented with the evidence, but he chose to throw a drug-test collector guy to the wolves as part of his defense.

No, Dino Laurenzi, Jr., didn't follow procedure to the letter. But that didn't mean Braun had to go out of his way to point fingers and accuse Laurenzi of acting maliciously. Braun did so knowing that Brewers fans were likely to stand by him, and they did just that.

Now, it's the job of Brewers fans to send their own message.

Not going to suggest vandalism or running on the field to attack, or anything dumb like that.

But here's a novel idea to separate Brewers fans from the neanderthals in San Francisco that cheered Barry Bonds throughout: Make Braun earn it.

After all, the fans are the ones who bought the tickets to fill the coffers and allow the team to pay Braun an absurd amount of money. And the fans are the ones who stood, cheering and screaming when Braun hit home run after home run to get the Brewers to the playoffs twice after a more than quarter-century drought. Those moments -- memories for fans of all ages -- are forever tainted by Braun's use of PEDs. The memories might last, but so will the questions.

Would Braun still have been an MVP without drugs? Would CC Sabathia still have been able to hoist the Brewers to the playoffs in 2008 with not even a half-season's worth of starts? Would the Brewers still have beaten Arizona in 2011 without Braun getting hits in half his 18 at-bats over the series?

We'll never know.

He can't change what he did. But he can make himself a better man for having put himself -- and others -- through what his choices have put them through. No one made him ingest PEDs, but he can make sure it doesn't happen again, and he can earn back the trust of those he has let down.

That's true in his clubhouse, and it's true in Section 218, too.

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