McGRATH: Ryan Braun let a city down
BY DAN MCGRATH For Sun-Times Media July 31, 2013 9:23PM
Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees - Game Two
Updated: September 3, 2013 7:15AM
The Milwaukee Brewers should have been playing the White Sox this week, with the loser retreating to face the San Francisco Giants in a series to determine the season’s most disappointing team.
The last-place Brewers have gone 5-5 since Ryan Braun’s suspension, including three consecutive wins over the Cubs in which they worked over a bullpen that had been the engine driving a Cubs mini-revival. But the Brew Crew still seemed a sad and dispirited bunch. Bad enough that a once-promising season has taken a decidedly wrong turn into hopelessness. Far worse is having a franchise player exposed as a creep.
That’s a rather harsh judgment of Mr. Braun, who accepted a 65-game suspension last week in the face of highly sustainable evidence that he was a drug cheat, with ties to Miami’s notorious Biogenesis lab. This was the same Ryan Braun who summoned a Rafael Palmeiro level of righteous indignation in declaring his innocence when confronted with a failed test two years ago.
“Faulty procedures,” Braun cried, and an arbitrator sided with him. The young man responsible for handling the sample lost his modest job with a shipping company. Braun collected every penny of his $4,287,500 salary and the 2011 MVP award without missing a day of work until two years later, when Biogenesis investigators closed in on him.
There will be additional suspensions in the case, some with playoff-race implications — Detroit acquiring shortstop Jose Iglesias from Boston in the three-team Jake Peavy trade was a pre-emptive move to offset the expected loss of Jhonny Peralta, and Texas was openly seeking a hitter as a hedge against losing Nelson Cruz. But none — not even that of Alex Rodriguez, if it happens — will elicit as strong a reaction as Braun’s.
He revealed himself to be a self-serving hypocrite, and so much for players union solidarity — rather than defend him, many of Braun’s contemporaries teed off on his lack of character. The embarrassed Brewers are offering ticket-buyers a rebate on concessions in an attempt to fend off disillusionment among their fans.
Aside from Green Bay, its neighbor to the north, Milwaukee is the smallest U.S. metropolitan area that is home to pro sports teams. It’s a civil place that tends to embrace its sports stars with small-town enthusiasm and innocence, as if they were high school heroes. Many former Packers, Brewers and Bucks settle in the area after their playing days, and it’s not the weather that keeps them.
“Braun is the most prominent face of that franchise since Robin Yount,” said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who played and coached in Milwaukee for a dozen years. “The people who paid to see him play, who bought his jersey, who believed him — they’re feeling let down, no question.”
Braun is 29. He’s a pariah for now, but he’ll have a chance to recover in a forgiving society — who’d have thought Michael Vick would reclaim his status as a millionaire NFL quarterback?
Alex Rodriguez is 38. If he draws a lifetime ban as a repeat offender, he faces losing the $86 million remaining on the richest contract in baseball history, as well as a reasonable claim to being the best player of his era. If A-Rod wasn’t, Barry Bonds was. Now they are teammates in disgrace, their numbers, records and reputations forever discredited by chemical enhancement.
So stupid. Both were first-ballot Hall of Famers on talent alone. But their egos demanded more.
Roger Craig was chatting up reporters in his Candlestick Park office before a game several years ago when Vida Blue’s name came up. Craig’s Giants had signed Blue as a No. 5 starter that season, hoping to wring eight or 10 wins out of his aging left arm, but split-finger guru Craig was mortified to discover that Vida couldn’t throw the bedeviling pitch — his hand was too small to affect the proper grip.
“So I taught him to throw a spitball,” Craig said, “and I told him to call it a Cuban forkball if anybody asked.”
We all nodded, more amused than stunned or outraged by Craig’s revelation. It was cheating in a different form, but it seemed more acceptable, like stealing signs, “deking” runners or other edge-seeking practices that fell under the heading of gamesmanship.
And it didn’t pervert the game.