If you’re reading this, you know Ryan Braun has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. You also know that he is currently in the process of appealing the result, and has vehemently pleaded his innocence. Until we learn the results of the appeal, there really isn’t anything new or productive we can say. Thankfully for you, however, I was able to use the Disciples of Uecker TARDIS to travel to three different future timelines and retrieve the commentary I ran in each, thereby bringing you tomorrow’s news today. Enjoy:
That breeze you felt earlier was the collective sigh of relief let out by Brew Crew Nation when Ryan Braun was found officially and undeniably innocent of the charge of PED use leveled against him. Not only does this mean the Brewers won’t lose him for a 50 game suspension, it more importantly means that the face of their franchise will not find his legacy irrevocably tainted. While it is unfortunate that news of the false positive was leaked when it never should have been known, thankfully, the circumstances surrounding the test clearly removed Braun from any suspicion. Drug tests are occasionally inaccurate, and those of us who trusted Ryan Braun more than a test found their faith justified. What could have become a stain that tarnished a reputation is instead a bizarre footnote in a career that will hopefully go on to be considered among the game’s greatest.
Now I know how truly grateful I should be that the team’s biggest problem is finding corner infielders.
This is a dark day for the Milwaukee Brewers. Despite his protestations of innocence, Ryan Braun’s appeal of a positive test for PEDs was rejected. He will face a 50 game suspension starting on Opening Day, putting a repeat division title out of reach for the Milwaukee Brewers. Worse, no matter what he does for the rest of his career, his accomplishments will always take a backseat to his legacy as a cheater, and the Brewers franchise that rewarded him and repeatedly praised his character is left looking foolish for putting their faith in the wrong man.
I am angry at Braun for this. Angry, yes, that he made an already difficult season for the Brewers more difficult by earning a suspension, but far angrier that he would bring such a dark mark on the franchise and on his own career. Ever since he signed his latest extension with Milwaukee earlier this year, I’ve taken comfort in the fact that even if the Brewers don’t win a World Series in the next 10 years, I’d always know that one of the game’s best players, who could be in the Hall of Fame someday, someone born in Los Angeles, who went to school in Miami and was considered too “Hollywood” for a small market team, went up to the Brewers’ owner and said, “I want to spend the rest of my career in Milwaukee.” I took great pride in that. In a week where we saw the greatest player in the game leave the only team he’s known, I’m sure we all took pride in that. But now it seems empty. Rather than the franchise’s great success story, Ryan Braun seems like the franchise’s great shame, and the fact that he would let this happen, that he would take such a beautiful thing and smash it to pieces, infuriates me.
More than angered, though, I’m confused. I’m confused how someone as smart as Ryan Braun would think he could get away with this in the current testing regime. I’m confused how someone as media savvy would not know the best response would be to immediately own up to your mistake. And perhaps most of all, I’m confused how someone who’s been drug tested his entire career would suddenly test positive for the first time in his fifth major league season, after establishing himself as a superstar and securing a blockbuster contract. True, human nature can often be inscrutable, and people do things for reasons that are completely indecipherable to anyone else. But forgive me for thinking this isn’t the first time Braun has used, but rather the first time he’s been caught. Further forgive me for thinking that if Ryan Braun has been able to use for the past five years without getting caught, he’s not the only baseball player to have done so. As dark a day as this is for the Milwaukee Brewers, it is perhaps a darker day for Major League Baseball.
Well, there’s good news, and there’s bad news. The good news is that Ryan Braun’s positive PED test was overturned on appeal. The bad news is that the details of the case remain shrouded in secrecy, and consequently, it appears that baseball fans don’t know whether to view this as an exoneration or a coverup. Already there are whispers that MLB gave the young model citizen Braun a second chance they never would have given the mercurial troublemaker Manny Ramirez. While such rumors are completely unfounded, the Steroid Era has given ample breeding ground to complete cynicism. As such, Ryan Braun is now a player who, according to the official record, has played completely clean, and yet will spend the rest of his career under a cloud of suspicion.
This is almost somehow worse than if Braun’s suspension were upheld. At least then, the stain attached to his career would have been earned. Sad as it is to know that baseball player’s cheat, it’s hardly surprising; athletes are human, and therefore flawed. On a personal level, I would find it particularly disappointing to find Ryan Braun stooped to such a level, as this episode has caused me to realize that I actually do imagine him carrying himself better than a typical flawed human; in my mind, he is above this. However, even this would be no true tragedy; a man’s illusions must always end up shattered, one way or another.
But the true crime of steroid use isn’t what the users did. It’s not Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, with their comically large biceps, tearing down records as though they were men playing a child’s game. The true crime is that Jeff Bagwell is assumed to have used steroids because he had big muscles and hit home runs. Ditto for Mike Piazza. The true crime is that an entire era of baseball is not allowed to stand on its own merits, but instead will always be looked at with distrust out of the corner of one’s eye.
Joe Posnanski is fond of saying that baseball is never better than when you’re ten years old. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. Well, I was ten years old in 1998, at the height of the steroid era. The seemingly unending stream of scribes and pundits who seems less interested in celebrating the accomplishments of ballplayers than in demonstrating the inauthenticity of said accomplishments have decided this was baseball’s dark age. They have decided it must be asterisked away into oblivion, cordoned off away from the rest of the game’s “pure” history. And so it is with Braun. No matter what he accomplishes for the rest of his career, there will always be a “but…” attached. Officially, he has done nothing wrong, but due to a truly unfortunate leak, he will always be punished, a victim of the culture that cannot see something great without searching for the dark root it seemingly must spring from.
This is the darkest of all possible timelines.