Welcome to life on the road, Braun
Next up for the Brewers, “CHEATER!”
That wasn’t exactly how the Cubs' PA guy introduced Ryan Braun in his first at-bat in a road game this year, his first at-bat in his new life. It was just how the guy in front of me in the left-field bleachers Monday night at Wrigley Field drowned out the announcement.
Other people held up signs comparing Braun to Barry Bonds, or one that said that not guilty doesn’t equal innocent. Some fans chanted “MVP! HGH! PED! MVP! HGH! PED!”
For Chicago, this wasn’t exactly vicious. But it’s the new world for Braun, who has not sat out any of the first four games of the season for the Milwaukee Brewers. He won his appeal after failing a drug test that showed high levels of synthetic testosterone. He won on a goofy, tiny loophole of a technicality.
And he has never explained. Never apologized. Never served any time.
Instead, he blamed others, concocted stories. So now this former good guy and reigning MVP has a taste of what his world will be. Was it what he expected?
Well, he spent forever in the training room after the game, while most reporters cleared out to write their stories. Then, he took a shower and then walked out slowly to his locker. One writer left.
“I’m not going to be able to talk tonight,” he said. “We don’t have time.”
Yes, coincidentally, the team bus was about to leave, with him on it, about two minutes after he started getting dressed. Most of his teammates were already gone.
“Maybe, if it’s quick, I might be able to . . .”
Was this the crowd reaction you expected, and is this how it’s going to be for you from now on?
“I have no expectations at all,” he said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the team.”
Do you think this is a matter of waiting out fans? Perception will just turn eventually?
“I don’t think about it,” he said. “It’s not something that even enters my thought process.”
Braun is making a mistake. No one believes that he’s innocent. No one.
And no one believes he’s not thinking about it. He speaks cryptically, blames the sample-taker, seemingly accuses the sample-taker’s son, says that his family and friends know the story.
Just tell it, Ryan. Don’t hide in the training room or the shower.
Don’t run to the bus. Don’t just wait it out.
This is a calculated mistake on Braun’s part. And for baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who was publicly frustrated that two of three arbitrators decided to let Braun go, well, know this:
It is your fault, too. Selig and MLB brought this on by letting the steroids scandal get out of hand in the first place. And if the goal is to clean things up now, well, that’s nice. But also, people don’t believe the players, and they don’t believe the league.
This is the residue. This is baseball’s life now, and Braun’s, too.
Braun never explained how his urine test showed the high levels of testosterone. He never even argued about that during his appeal. His lawyers reportedly didn’t even argue that the samples, which arrived at the lab in Montreal with the tamper-proof seals still intact, had been tainted. No, the argument was that the chain of custody of the samples wasn’t appropriate. The sample-taker got Braun’s urine at a playoff game last year, and then tried to send it via Federal Express to the lab. When the FedEx office was closed, he did what sample-gatherers always do. He put it in a fridge in his basement and sent it off two days later, on a Monday.
An arbitrator ruled that that wasn’t a proper chain of custody. Case thrown out.
“What kind of lawyers must he have!” one Cubs fan in the bleachers yelled at a fan in a Brewers jersey.
Plenty of Brewers fans came to the game, as Wrigley Field is less than 1 1/2 hours from downtown Milwaukee.
“Sosa would be proud, Braun!” one guy yelled at him when he took the field.
“Sammy was a better cheat!” someone else yelled.
Remember, these fans loved Sammy Sosa at one point.
“Hey Ryan, do you want to see my butt?” one woman yelled.
OK, there was some beer involved in the Wrigley bleachers, as always.
Around the stadium, the heckling wasn’t quite as nasty. But the boos were louder every time Braun came to bat.
He went 2 for 4 for the night with a double in the Brewers’ 7-5 win.
Braun is now hitting .375 with one homer in four games.
Does his success make a difference? Some people feel that if he drops off now, then that will prove he was cheating. Others think that if he doesn’t drop off, it will be evidence he still is cheating.
Can Braun turn public opinion about him? He is just 28, and he has time.
Kobe Bryant turned things by helping the US Olympic Team win gold.
Maybe at some point, fans will think that Braun has paid enough just by doing the right things and passing drug tests for years. He has time to fix this.
Actually, I think it will go the other way. Forgiveness comes easy in this country, but people want an apology first. Or a penalty.
Baseball’s punishment for steroids is weak enough as it is.
Fifty games isn’t even one-third of a season. In the NFL, players get one-fourth of a season. Olympic runners get four years. Tennis players get two.
Braun didn’t get one inning.
There also will be a racial test in this. Let’s be honest. Barry Bonds was despised for so long, and if Braun is forgiven, it won’t look right. Maybe saying nothing with a smile is better than saying nothing with a snarl, but it’s hard to overlook that the MVP failed a performance-enhancing drug test and never even had to explain himself.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said he didn’t think the crowd was any harder on Braun on Monday night than it was in Chicago all last year. And he didn’t think the rest of the league would be as hard on Braun as Chicago is.
“I think it’s going to happen, obviously,” Brewers closer John Axford said. “It’s a Cubs game, and there’s always some razzing from the fans. But this year, it’s going to be a little different.”
This year and future years. To hear Braun explain it, though, that’s OK with him. It’s not about him. He doesn’t even think about this stuff.
He said so while rushing to the bus.