Milwaukee Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun was the classic case of the person that men wanted to be like and women wanted to be with. Children all over the state of Wisconsin had posters on the walls of this man because he was the definition of the classic role model. He was clean-cut, handsome, intelligent, great with the media and seemed like the perfect All-American man straight from California, until December 10, 2011. On that date, the people at ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported that Braun tested positive for an elevated level of testosterone, a level said by a source to the Daily News to be “insanely high, the highest ever for anyone who has ever taken the test and twice the level of the highest test ever taken”.
That moment in time was the “Say it ain’t so, Joe” moment of my baseball life because Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder were my first taste of watching real superstars play in Milwaukee at Miller Park. Before then I had to deal with the bargain-basement stars such as Richie Sexson, Jeromy Burnitz and Ben Sheets, when he was healthy. Braun was also one of the key players in that “post-steroid generation”, so who would’ve thought he would get caught with what his generation was trying to get away from?
Braun of course vehemently denied the allegations and reports of use of PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) but there were still a good portion of baseball nation basically calling for his head and for his new shiny MVP award simply because people are still trying to erase the words “performance-enhancing drugs” from their minds. Nearly every single baseball player outside of Wisconsin had Braun out for slaughter while Brewers fans everywhere were holding out hope that the decision would be appealed. An appeal seemed impossible to most but Wisconsin sports fans everywhere were used to believing in the impossible.
The impossible did happen at the start of the year in January as he won the appeal thanks to what the New York Times considered a “technicality”. The sample was apparently not shipped for testing as soon as is required by the drug policy but was actually held in the refrigerator of sample collector Dino Laurenzi. The folks at Major League Baseball were of course livid with the decision because they believed that arbitrator Shyam Das made some sort of mistake to let Braun off and even threatened to sue. Fortunately, that never materialized so Ryan could start out the 2012 season like every single other MLB player.
Ryan Braun’s 2012 season started out with more of a whimper than a bang; in spring training he had a batting average below the Mendoza Line at .216 which immediately made that massive target on his back even bigger in the eyes of the people who said he got lucky with the ruling.
Ryan Braun was really nothing special at the start of the season but things changed on April 30 at Petco Park in San Diego. It all started with a simple crack of the bat against Padres prospect Joe Wieland that landed in the right field bleachers to tie the game up at 1-1 in the 4th. Braun was feeling it that day because he nailed another shot against Wieland in the next inning to give Milwaukee a 5-2 lead. That wasn’t the end of Braun’s rampage as he hit his 3rd long shot of the game against reliever Ernesto Frieri and followed that up with a triple to end his night and month of April. That simple game against a below-average Padres team lifted Braun’s batting average from .262 to a superb .294.
From May until the end of the season, Braun went on to have what some might consider a career season with a career-high 41 home runs, 112 RBI, 30 stolen bases and 6.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement). While he was on the road to grabbing those great numbers, Braun had to deal with some less-than-loving fans in places like Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles or Busch Stadium in St. Louis, which you can understand because Braun beat out Kemp for the 2011 MVP and St. Louis fans despise the Brewers (feeling is mutual).
What really confused me is when the fans at Turner Field in Atlanta sent boos at Braun in mid-April because before that I always thought that the Braves and the Brewers had this mutual connection as fans simply because they’re kind of related in this strange MLB world, but fans still decided to turn on him.
So despite the hate both on and off the field, Braun still had a great 2012 when you consider that he basically was a man against the world at times throughout the year. His “cookie-cutter” image may be dead in the water but in my eyes he earned more of my respect for going out there and having a great season with all the negative attention on him. Braun also led a Brewers team that just lost Fielder to free agency and had a below-average bullpen to an above-.500 record. He may not be a perfect superstar but he’s our superstar and quite frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way.