Skeletons in the NL Central Closet | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Ryan Braun fielded questions from the media for the first time last week. Outside of two letters of apology, one for general consumption and one specifically for Brewers’ fans, Braun’s 15-minute chat was his first interaction with the press since serving a 65-game suspension for his connection to Biogensis. Those interested should check out the entire transcript, courtesy of Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Reactions to Braun’s statements were mixed. Many want to hear more specifics, even though Braun may not be at liberty to say certain things while MLB litigates its case against A-Rod. No matter what you think about how Ryan Braun has handled his affairs following the suspension, one thing is for certain – 2014 will be the most difficult year of his career.

The “boo-birds” were already pestering Braun after his successful appeal in 2012. Expect that flock to be significantly bigger come next season. The best thing Braun can do to counteract the “Boos” is to continue to perform at an elite level. But as a fan, what do you do when the guy behind you at the stadium is the one spearheading an anti-Braun chant?

Here is a little advice and a few lines of arguments to help you handle that situation next season.

First, if said anti-Braun cheerleader is large and inebriated, simply don’t say anything. Braun’s suspension, and player PED use in general, are important issues that should be discussed and debated by baseball fans. But there will always be a number of thick-headed individuals who will be unable to listen to logic or engage in any sort of spirited debate. So, first and foremost, learn how to pick your battles.

Second, if you’ve determined that the anti-Braun chanter will not cause you the loss of life or limb, then proceed. Start by reminding the person of this simple proverb – let those without sin cast the first stone. If the Braun-basher knows baseball history then he/she is already aware that every NL Central team has skeletons in its closet. If the anti-Braun boo-bird has conveniently forgotten his/her team’s past transgressions, here’s a crib sheet for every NL Central team to help you refresh his/her memory.

St. Louis Cardinals

The self-proclaimed “best fans in baseball” should be the last ones coming after Braun next season. Any moral high ground had by a Cardinals’ fan was lost the moment the team signed Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $52 M deal. Enlighten any anti-Braun Cardinals’ fan that his/her own GM, John Mozeliak, said that the team was not the morality police. So why should a Cardinals’ fan be one? Also, Mozeliak said everything’s cool with Peralta going forward because, “he admitted what he did, he took responsibility for it”. Just like Braun.

If you feel like pushing it, ask the Cardinals’ fan what is worse for baseball. The Brewers signing Braun only to discover, after the fact, that he used PEDs or the Cardinals knowing that Peralta used PEDs but still signed him to an lucrative, long term deal? One could argue that the Brewers were duped by a player on PEDS while the Cardinals rewarded a player for using them. Which team looks worse in that scenario?

If that doesn’t get the Cardinals’ fan to consider the situation more carefully, there’s always Mark McGwire. Just remind the anti-Braun advocate that he/she cheered on McGwire, in 1998, as he broke one of the game’s most illustrious records by belting 70 home runs while being more juiced than oranges at a make your own Mimosa bar.

Chicago Cubs

Make no mistake the wrath of Wrigley will rain down on Braun next season. So if you hear a Cubs’ fan saying that the friendly confines has no room for cheaters, calmly remind the fan that Braun’s power numbers have stayed quite consistent over the years. Unlike, say, Sammy Sosa, who somehow went from hitting 36 home runs in 1997 to 66 HR in 1998. To put it another way, in 1997, Sosa hit a home run once every 17.8 AB. In 1998, he hit a home run once every 9.7 AB. Something tells me it was more than Flintstone vitamins helping Sosa launch all those bombs out of Wrigley.

A diehard Cubs’ fan may counter that Sosa has never been officially linked to evidence that he used anything performance enhancing. Except, of course, that time he was caught using a corked bat. Sosa may have taken responsibility for that mistake but has never publicly admitted to using anything else. If the Cubs’ fan, like Sosa, is still in denial about what he did, then he/she has not seen this picture.

Cincinnati Reds

A Reds’ fan heckling Braun might not realize that the skeletons in his/her team’s closet are special. Since 1944, baseball has blacklisted, aka “banned for life”, only seven people. Eventually, all were reinstated, except for one – Reds’ legend Pete Rose.

PEDs may be bad for baseball but Rose gambling on games was considered down right toxic. If you’re debating a sensible Reds’ fan, this may be a good pivot point to discussing stricter, or even lifetime bans, for players using PEDs. After seeing what has happened to Rose, do they think the game would be better if it cast away more players?

If the Reds’ fan simply dismisses the Pete Rose argument, or goes after Braun’s character for how he handled his successful appeal, feel free to break out the big guns. Remind the Reds’ fan of the last person baseball blacklisted – former Reds’ owner Marge Schott.

Schott was banned from the game from 1996 to 1998 for a cocktail of comments that were racist, homophobic, and even arguably sympathetic to Adolf Hitler. Schott sold her share of the Reds in 1999. But, if you really want to get under the skin of a Reds’ fan, ask him/her how it feels that baseball invited Schott back to the game but not Rose.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Any Pirates’ fan giving Braun an earful might not know that baseball’s first major drug scandal began with them. In 1985, a handful of Pirate players were trotted out before a Pittsburgh grand jury for what is now referred to as the Pittsburgh drug trials. Drawn into the wake were other prominent major leaguers – like Vida Blue, Keith Hernandez, and Tim Raines to name a few. At issue weren’t steroids or any kind of performance enhancing drugs. Nope, the Pirate teams of the early ‘80s preferred a different kind of drug – cocaine.

If the Pirates’ fan is still babbling on about Braun, then he/she must not be familiar with this sordid chapter of Pirates’ history. Tell the Pirates’ fan to check out Aaron Skirboll’s account of the entire affair, The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven, or just give him/her the cliff notes.

In the early ‘80s, manager Chuck Tanner ran a loose ship. This included having an open door, locker room policy. So a player’s friend, family, or even local drug dealer could stroll in to say “Hi” or, you know, drop off that night’s party favors. If that was too obvious, a local Pirates’ fan named Kevin Koch (fittingly pronounced “coke”) was hired to be the first Pirate Parrot. His crazy antics and energetic performance rallied the fans and grabbed the attention of the Pirates’ players. In his own strange way, Koch was a part of the team. And the players loved when he, and his friend, would hang out with them after the game and supply the nose candy.

If the Pirates’ fan complaining about Braun sucking on an “enhanced” lozenge can’t be quieted by telling him/her that the Parrot mascot was once a legitimate drug dealer to the team, then tell them the really sad part of the story. A few years of burning the candle on both ends caught up with a few of the Pirates’ players – most notably shortstop Dale Berra (Yogi’s son) and relief pitcher Rod Scurry, who during the late innings of one game decided he would rather be at his drug dealers house instead of the bullpen. By the time the team tried to clean up their act, there was already a federal investigation going that led to the grand jury.

Implicated players who agreed to testify before the grand jury were granted immunity from prosecution. Leaving all of the legal blowback on seven low-level Pittsburgh area drug dealers. MLB did suspend eleven players for their connections to the Pittsburgh drug trials, which made it the harshest punishments since the Black Sox scandal. But don’t worry, the seven players suspended for one-year were allowed to play if they donated 10% of their salaries to drug-related causes. The four suspended for 60 days just needed to donate 5% to charity.

Following his testimony, Rod Scurry, the Pirates’ player most ravaged by cocaine, was immediately shipped to the Yankees. He appeared in 31 games for them in 1986, spent 1987 in the Giants’ minor league system, and had a 4.02 ERA over 39 games with the Mariner in 1988. He became a free agent December 21, 1988, and was arrested at a crack house in Reno the next day. Rod Scurry died of a heart attack in 1992 after being restrained by police during a drug psychosis that had him convinced snakes were attacking him.

If the Pirates’ fan isn’t dead silent by this point, he/she must be deaf. Finish by explaining to him/her that no organization in the NL Central has clean hands. Not one fan base entitled to throw the first stone. Ryan Braun’s transgressions are just the freshest and, some could argue, the most insignificant.

And you, fair Brewers’ fan, just remember that Braun will be ok. Time heals all wounds… except if you’re Pete Rose. Because what he did was clearly the worst out of all of them, am I right?


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