Unlike a lot of people who pay attention to these things, I was supportive of Ryan Braun’s recent MVP award. Matt Kemp of the Dodgers had a better statistical season than Braun–only a fool would deny that–but the award isn’t really about that. What the award is about is up to the individual voter, and that’s what makes it so controversial sometimes.
The bottom line for me is that making it into the postseason trumped stats that were amassed for a team that never got a whiff of meaningful games in August and September. The people who don’t buy this position, and feel that Kemp was more deserving of the award, are all over the revelation that Ryan Braun failed a drug test and is facing a 50-game suspension as a result. It’s certainly a setback for the game’s efforts to climb out from the muck of the Steroid Era.
Ryan Braun has embraced, as well he should, his standing as a role model for young kids. The “Hebrew Hammer” has a compelling life story, and his long-term contract in Milwaukee means that he will be a fixture in that community for years to come. And that’s why this is such a big deal for the game’s image. There’s no good reason why he should have synthetic testosterone in his system, and if it was, in fact, there it makes a mockery of those who play the game clean.
For too many years, the powers that be at MLB ignored the players’ use of these substances. Canseco, McGwire, Bonds, Ken Caminiti, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Brady Anderson, and on and on. What about Brady Anderson, you might ask? He hit 16 homers in 1995, 18 homers in 1997, and 50 in the year in between. Hank Aaron never hit 50 home runs in a single season, but Brady Anderson did. You need to have a strong sense of denial to accept that at face value.
My point is that Braun has disabused us all of the notion that testing has scared the users away. He is entitled to due process, and I want to believe it’s all a mistake. But that doesn’t seem likely at this point. We all have to accept–like the little kid who confronted Joe Jackson when the Black Sox scandal broke out–that people will cut corners, and do things in a dishonorable way, just to get ahead. It happens in life, and it happens in baseball too.