Tags: Feature Sports Story, Sports
Braun signs an autograph for a fan in Lake Geneva in 2010. Lisa Seiser. (click for larger version)
July 30, 2013 | 03:10 PMUnless you've been living under a rock the past two weeks, you know that Milwaukee Brewers star and former Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun is suspended for the rest of the season for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Though only 56 games remain through Tuesday, MLB made a major statement that this behavior, which has gone mostly without punishment ever since the home-run derby days of 1998 with Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, will be reprimanded heavily from now on. Braun may have gotten 100 games had Tony Bosch spoke against him earlier this season, and New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez may still receive a 100-game or even lifetime ban from the game.
Bosch is the infamous former owner of the now-defunct Biogenesis lab, a Miami-based steroid and PED pharmacy that contained documents of transactions with big names like Braun and A-Rod and a host of other professional players. Reports say A-Rod has considerably more evidence against him, and the pendulum may come down on the former MVP's career, which is already hanging by a thread.
I have read just about everything on the Braun subject, including a borderline-harsh column in the USA Today and a shocking editorial by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's editorial board that said Braun should be cut. USA Today columnist Christine Brennan went as far to say MLB "threw the bum out." She applauded MLB for making a statement that these actions can't happen if the business wants to thrive and pointed out that experts believe some 1.5 million boys and girls use performance-enhancing drugs.
It's even gotten to a point where Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Braun's close friend and business partner, told the media Braun lied to his face repeatedly. When asked if he still considered Braun a friend, Rodgers didn't say yes and said, "I was disappointed by the way it went down. I trusted him, and that's the thing that probably hurts the most."
Perhaps the most scathing comments came from former teammate Zack Greinke, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.
"Just the fact that he was willing to use anyone that got in his path," Greinke said. "The closer you were to him, the more he would use you. It's just disappointing that a human being could be like that."
Wow. What shocking reactions. I'm one of the die-hard Brewers fans that gave Braun the benefit of the doubt until the very end and believed every single lie, and there were plenty. A week ago, I was looking forward to Braun's return in 2014, a sincere apology and a fresh start. But I don't know if I even care about the guy now.
What may have fully changed my mind was a trip the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum last week in Kansas City.
During a 2,800-mile trek halfway across the country with just my parents and my wife, we made a stop at one of baseball's hidden treasures. Though an amazing trip that included breathtaking views in Vail, Colo., authentic barbecue in Kansas City and being stranded 5,000 feet high at Mount Rushmore with a bum tire, I can still hear the voices of my 76-year-old dad and 71-year-old mom critiquing my every move behind the wheel. Love you guys.
Back to the matter at hand. Last Wednesday, we all decided a trip to the museum would be awesome and teach us about the truly tragic history of this country. Also, my father recently was inducted into the Burlington Baseball Hall of Fame, and I wanted to keep the historic theme going. He remembers the Negro Leagues greats like Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and Bob Gibson.
Though black players were finally allowed to join MLB by 1947 thanks to Robinson, black teams formed their own league and traveled for exhibition games dating back to the late 1800s. There was a media event when we visited, as several members of the Baltimore Orioles were given plaques for their preservation of the league's heritage. The Orioles were in town to face the Kansas City Royals.
The Negro League guys simply wanted to play the game they loved despite constant oppression and discrimination. Black players weren't allowed to stay in white hotels on road trips and often were forced to pitch a tent outside the stadium or live with a host family that would secretly harbor them for a few days. However, town people would drive around looking to vandalize these host families' homes and even physically attack the black players. Robinson even received death threats after being accepted into the then all-white MLB.
Whoa, did this trip put things into perspective for me. Black players were hated and attacked for decades but still played the game they loved and Braun can't even tell the truth? It's America's pastime, a sport rich in traditions like hot dogs, peanuts, cracker jacks and family fun. Just about every kid I played ball with growing up wanted to be a major leaguer one day. Personally, I would take a vacation day in a heartbeat just to walk on Miller Park or maybe take batting practice.
Somewhere along the way, Braun lost this childhood innocence. Maybe it was the millions. Or the fame and unconditional love from a team, its fans and an entire state. Or maybe it was the MVP award or the numerous All-Star games that inflated this guy's ego.
It's rare to see this level of talk from former teammates. Usually, teammates stand by a guy until the end, even in hard times. It's obvious now that Braun was a bad clubhouse presence who lied and used teammates and close friends to materialize his warped web of deceit.
While I won't yet jump on cutting him because it will hurt the franchise too greatly, I can't respect Braun until he sincerely apologizes, admits exactly what he did, every last detail, and proves he really does love the game and is playing for the right reasons. Who knows, maybe he's made his money and he will just walk away a rich man and avoid everyone. He stated he won't even talk to Milwaukee media until he is legally allowed to.
What an immature coward. The Brewers, already the league's smallest market and not exactly a destination for big-name free agents, don't need this distraction. Owner Mark Attanasio has even taken the desperate step of giving $10 vouchers to every fan at August home games as an apology for these tough times.
Milwaukee has Braun under contract until 2020, don't be surprised if the Brewers let him go early if things don't get better in the next two years or so. Yes, they would still have to pay him, but they could repair their image. However, if a team like the Cubs or Yankees stole him, it would be even worse for the Brewers.
With a depleted farm system and the lack of a pitching staff, Milwaukee, which is currently in last place, could remain in the cellar for the next few years until some young pitchers develop. Don't rule out the Brewers trading Braun by the 2016 or 2017 seasons to rebuild. It seems like every good Brewer, including Paul Molitor, Greg Vaughn, CC Sabathia and Greinke, to name just a few, eventually jets for greener pastures.
With endless hate sure to come his way, Braun could even demand a trade in the near future. Unfortunately, if Braun doesn't clean up his act in the next few months, that unceremonious departure will come much sooner.