Ryan Braun finally released his statement last night on his suspension and his reasons for taking PEDs during the 2011 season. In the statement, he admits to using the cream and taking the lozenge to recover from injury and that use occurred only in that season. He also says his self righteous and unjustified anger led him to attack people the way he did when the news of the failed test came out.
I don’t think anyone believes that this statement will smooth over the venom that’s been spewed at Braun since he finally owned up to his drug use. It’s the bare minimum he needed to do to start to repair his image enough that he can show up to Spring Training in 2014 without it being a complete circus. At some point he needs to stand in front of the press and let them take their pound of flesh.
The statement is out and the Braun camp is ready to deal with the present situation and resume the rest of his career. But up to this point Braun was a Rookie of the Year, an MVP and perennial All-Star. Even if he only used in 2011, how does this change the perspective on his career to this point?
Personally, it doesn’t change my perspective much at all going backward. Yes, Braun has behaved pretty poorly at best, reprehensibly at worst. The public denial when he knew full well that he was guilty is something he’ll never really live down. It’s pretty messy right now, but if it does turn out that Braun tried to smear the urine test collector as an anti-semite, that is a whole other level of disgusting.
Still, as I’ve said in this space before, I’m not really one that gets too worried about PED use. The line between acceptable and illegal is pretty arbitrary in these matters and how much effect most of the stuff actually has is questionable. I also never thought Braun (or basically anyone I don’t know personally) was some shining paragon of virtue to begin with, so it’s not like this is some personal disillusionment to me.
That isn’t to say I’m against the idea of a testing system. If the players want that and collectively bargain it, then that’s fine. I just don’t spend much time worrying about how PED’s have affected the “purity” of a game that has always had a complicated relationship with players doing illegal things to gain an edge. I’m not going to pretend this is the predominant opinion out there, though.
A lot of people seem to really intensely care just what Braun put in his body, how much, when, why, and what ultimate effect it had on his career. People who care a lot about such things are probably going to view him as nothing but a PED cheat. I’m really not sure much in the way of facts or evidence can change that, though time might take some of the sting out of their anger.
Even if there hasn’t been any hard evidence, rumors have been whispered that Braun began using PEDs while in college at the University of Miami. Combine that with the perception that the city of Miami is a hotbed for PED users, and Braun is probably going to be viewed as a cheat even before he became a pro ballplayer. All of the awards he accumulated will now be seen as tainted and ignored.
Ryan Braun’s contract with the Brewers runs through 2020, so the story of his career is really only at the midpoint. He’ll only be 30 years old next year and is still owed well over $100 million. He has the time and opportunity to play clean and rehab his reputation. The Hall of Fame may not be an option, but he can avoid being a pariah if he can come closer to replicating the production that fans have become accustomed to.
It’s a tricky situation though. Braun’s exiting his prime and in his previous couple seasons, he’s maximized his talent. How well does he have to perform to avoid being labeled a PED creation? Does he still need to hit .320/.390/.580 with 35-40 HRs? I have a hard time believing he was going to keep producing those numbers no matter what kind of creams were being massaged all over his body.
If Braun doesn’t come out and perform in line with his career best seasons, he’s inevitably going to be dismissed as a PED creation. Never mind that Braun was at his best in his age 27 and 28 seasons, when we would expect something of a peak and then a decline afterwards. That just isn’t going to matter to a lot of people who have already made up their minds on the subject.
As you said, going forward, he needs to submit himself to the media so they can have their little contest to see who can be more scornfully self-righteous. Then he needs to go out and play as well and as quietly as he possibly can, keep his head down and make this fade into the past. If he can do that, then there is some chance that about a decade from now he can retire a Brewer and the franchise won’t want to completely erase his memory.
On the other hand, if it turns out that this explanation of wrongdoing isn’t the full and complete truth, then he’s going to quickly start down the Alex Rodriguez path towards being a complete outcast. He doesn’t explicitly deny ever using at any other time, but that isn’t really going to matter here. At some point, he’s going to have to face reporters and they’ll ask. If it turns out he was using banned substances before or after the second half of the 2011 season, he’s basically done as anything other than a pariah in the public eye.
For the sake of the franchise as a whole, I do hope Braun’s statement at least begins the process of making this all go away. Not sure how optimistic I am that it will, but at least it seems to be a step in that direction.