After a year and a half, the Ryan Braun debacle has finally been settled, with the Brewers slugger-turned-pariah suspended for the final 65 games of the 2013 season. It’s a slap on Braun’s bum thumb. The Brewers are in last place and Braun had missed much of the last few weeks, and was far less than 100 percent when in the lineup.
Had Braun somehow escaped discipline for the remainder of the season, he would have been shut down at some point. As it stands, Braun can now rest the thumb, have surgery if needed, and get a head start with a clean slate in 2014.
When I first wrote on the Braun case after his legacy first got rocked by the initial ESPN leak on December 10, 2011, I asked myself if I had jumped to premature conclusions.
During 2012 Spring Training I sought a take from someone I know who avidly follows the team. The answer I got was that this situation was stranger than fiction, and there is no way Braun was guilty. This came from someone who spent years bashing Barry Bonds, who at least never threw a drug tester under the bus.
By the way, does anyone remember Braun saying he would “bet his life” he is innocent, or his “this is all B.S.” text to a local reporter?
It would have been nice to seen Braun come clean. Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon were nailed this time last year, both quietly returned to MLB in 2013. One infamous baseball scandal involved a kid asking one of the central figures involved “Say it isn’t so…” In this case, a better plea would be if it’s so, then admit it.
Instead, we deal with more ‘I told you so’ columns from Jeff Passan and others.
“We told you he’s a cheater, we told you he’s a liar.”
Buster Olney takes it up another level, suggesting that Braun will join Lance Armstrong on the PED Mount Rushmore of shame.
The Brewers still get to field a team for the rest of the season. The pitching staff set a franchise record over the weekend recording 36 consecutive shutout innings. Shortstop Jean Segura has emerged as an All-Star, ditto for Carlos Gomez. Rookie Caleb Gindl ended Sunday’s game with a walk-off home run, with his teammates running towards the clubhouse rather than mobbing him at home plate in the post-game celebration. Gindl was later doused with baby powder in lieu of the now-tired shaving cream pie in the postgame interview.
Those are nice on-field stories, which continues to make following the team fun on a daily basis.
And on Monday night, an announced crowd of over 30,000 saw the Brewers play the San Diego Padres. But the face of the franchise is a black eye beyond repair.
Never again can we look at his 2008 late-season extra inning grand slam against the Pittsburgh Pirates, or his tie-breaking homer in Game 162 against the Cubs three days later in the same light. Or the home run that effectively clinched the 2011 National League Central championship.
What makes the wound deeper is Braun has become a respected community leader, and is involved in business ventures with Wisconsin’s other iconic athlete, Aaron Rodgers.
Think Rodgers is looking forward to fielding questions about Ryan Braun, whom he ‘bet’ his 2013 salary on being innocent?
Maybe Ryan Braun returns to Miller Park to a standing ovation on Opening Day, 2014. Maybe Braun bounces back, returns to previous numbers, and leads Milwaukee back into playoff contention. Or maybe he gets popped for strike two under MLB’s drug testing plan. How can we trust him again? How can owner Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin continue to have his back?
Is he worth it? It’s now hard to wear a No. 8 jersey around town. Some fans put duct tape over it Monday night. Players were getting irritated being asked about the matter in recent weeks.
Perhaps the best course of action would be for the Brewers to trade Braun. Thanks to the hometown-friendly contract he signed two years ago he is not quite a Ryan Howard-like albatross, although he is due $113 million over the next seven years. Braun would not command normal 100 percent value, but the team would be able to get a few prospects in return. It would also signal the start of a rebuilding period, but the team’s minor league system also needs to be restocked, the Brewers’ Triple-A team in Nashville has also struggled this year.
For six years Ryan Braun has been the face of the Brewers franchise, but he’s now been an eyesore for 19 months. Maybe it’s time to call for a divorce so everyone can move on.