I'll start this out by saying that Braun has not brought about the end of my Brewer fandom.
I'm disappointed in steroid users in baseball. This is the equivalent of me saying I'm disappointed in football players who get cheap shots in on interception returns, basketball players who throw punches (how fitting...looking at you Cincinatti), and hockey players who slash. This isn't a post about how terrible it is that PEDs, HGH, and overall self-righteousness has overtaken a sport. This is a post about what it means to be vilified. This is a post, written in anger and alcohol, about what it means when you are accused of being the "lowest of the low" in your sport.
Tonight I caught the first SportsCenter (capitalized for nostalgia's sake) where the story regarding Braun broke. My first instinct, being that they cut to a commercial break, was to look up the initial reports regarding the story. Braun tested positive for elevated testosterone levels. This testosterone was synthetic. These two facts alone have now made our national MVP somewhat of a villain on a national level. Bud Selig backed him, a franchise built around him, and now he's a 'phony' in the national sense of the word.
Braun absolutely carried the team throughout the playoffs, not only this year, but in 2008 as well. When our second best playoff performer was a shortstop who shall not be named, Braun continually got on base, had clutch hits, and even played a bit of defense in the outfield. He was almost the sole reason we even made it to the Cardinals series. Not only that, he was one of the major contributors on a team that proved it was finally worth it to be a Brewers fan in 2008. We were not the Washington Generals of MLB. We were a team that actually got highlights on recap shows, actually had personality, actually had a motivation to win.
I'm a newer Brewer fan. I didn't even enjoy watching baseball until the past decade. In all senses, I hated the sport. I hated that people like Sosa, McGwire, Ramirez, Clemens, even Rodriguez to an extent ruined the game. I wanted the competitive balance to be restored. I wanted my MLB to be like the NFL- parity, control, and hope. In a city where the team is a perennial loser who never signs the big name and never extends the contract, finally seeing a turn-around was important to me. Ryan Braun was, and is, a big part of that change.
At this point, it does not matter if Braun tested positive or not. That, more than anything, is the most disappointing aspect of this whole evening. It's also responsible for a killed case of beer in the recycling bin. If you have your name linked in the same sentence as steroids, your career is killed. We have yet to see any player come out the other side unscathed. Steroids in baseball is about being the villain. You cheated, you took a shortcut, you're the bad guy.
Braun has never been the bad guy, even his initial reaction of "It's bullshit" seemed about status quo (side note: best steroids-linked reaction ever? Imagine if Clemens had gone to court with that opening remark). He's a competitor, and he's a face of a franchise that is on the brink of mediocrity every year. As much as I hope the ESPN report is false, I also hope that something can be done about the obvious HGH and PED use in professional sports. If not just baseball, when will something be done about the NFL? Where is the line drawn between success and 'cheating'? How much integrity do we expect within professional sports?
Regardless of the validity, Braun is now permanently linked with steroids. I don't believe I've fully grasped the implications (true or false) of the allegations, but I do know that I'm angry. I don't even know what I'm angry about. I expect my athletes to use every possible effort to win, but only if it's within the confines of what I accept as 'fair game'. I expect my athletes to perform well, but only if it's within their 'natural talent' to do so. i expect to be entertained, but only if this happens within the 'rules' of what my entertainment provider-the league- has defined.
I am furious with people who cheat. I'm angry with egotistical athletes who only play for their own benefit. I know I'm angry about this evening, but I have a really difficult time finding an antagonist. At this point, it doesn't matter who's right and who's wrong. All that matters is a breaking news report about a hometown hero who allegedly did things the wrong way.
Cynicism, thy name is modern Major League Baseball.