On Friday, May 25th, 2007, the Milwaukee Brewers were sitting atop the NL Central with a 28-19 record, leading the Cubs by 6.5 games. The Brewers had been using a combination of Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell to man third base to that point in the season, but with less-than-stellar results. Heading into a series with the San Diego Padres, the Brewers made a roster move to call-up one Ryan Braun to make his major league debut.
The 23 year old Braun had been Milwaukee’s 1st-round pick less than two years before, getting selected 5th overall in 2005 out of the University of Miami. He had torn through the minor leagues and in his first 34 games in AAA that season, he was batting .342/.418/.701 with 10 home runs and 4 steals. Braun was been ranked as the league’s #26 prospect by Baseball America coming into the season, and here’s some of what John Sickels of Minor League Ball had to say about Braun a month prior to his call-up:
[P]roduces plus power to all fields. He has shown a knack for hitting for average as well, and his strike zone judgment should be at least average in time. He does a better job handling breaking balls. He also runs well and should be able to steal double-digits, at least early in his career. Although Braun has a strong arm and a good measure of athleticism, his defense at third base is still problematic, due to shaky footwork. Some scouts believe he'll have to play the outfield eventually, but personally I think he'll be able to handle third base if they are patient with him, granted he'll never be a good glove. Braun projects as a 20-25, perhaps 30 homer hitter, capable of hitting .280-.300 at the major league level. He probably won't hit as many home runs as [Brandon] Wood, but his batting average should be higher.
Braun batted second and went 1-5 that night, recording his first major league hit, a double, off of Padres reliever Doug Brocail (Greg Maddux started the game). The Brewers would fall by a score of 8-6. The next day, he slugged his first big league home run off of Justin Germano and he never slowed down. Braun would go on to win Rookie of the Year in 2007, batting .324/.370/.634 with 34 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 113 games (while also playing the worst third base in history, recording just an .895 fielding percentage before moving to the outfield in 2008). That was just the beginning of what has turned out to be one of the most storied and decorated careers of any player who has ever suited up for the Milwaukee Brewers.
10 years after making his debut for the Brewers, Ryan Braun sits at or near the top of most every offensive category in franchise history. He owns the 2nd-highest batting average in team history at .303, the best slugging percentage at .544, and the 2nd-highest OPS (.910) and OPS+ (140). He’s recorded the 5th-most hits (1624) and 3rd-most runs scored (898) and stolen bases (185). He is the franchise’s all-time leader with 292 home runs despite playing in just the 5th-most games (1,383). The only Brewers who have accrued more bWAR than Braun’s 44.4 are a couple of Hall of Famers named Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. Braun has hit 30+ home runs six times in his career, stolen 15+ bases six times, and has had five seasons of more than 100 RBI. By OPS+, Braun has never posted a below-average offensive season in the big leagues, with his worst single season in 2014 still rating at 13% better than league average.
The Hebrew Hammer has collected plenty of hardware during his career beyond his ROY award in 2007. He has been named to the All-Star team six times, captured five Silver Slugger awards, and received MVP votes in 7 seasons, including winning the award in 2011. That year he boasted a .332/.397/.597 slash in 150 games, leading the league with a .994 OPS. He hit 33 home runs and stole 33 bases, was valued at 7.8 bWAR, and helped lead his team to 96 wins and an appearance in the NLCS, the deepest playoff run the Brewers had made since 1982. Braun has lead the league in hits once (2009 - 203), runs scored once (2012- 108), home runs once (2012 - 41), slugging twice (2007 - .634, 2011 - .597), and OPS twice (2011 - .994, 2012 - .987).
A true superstar, Braun has delivered in some very clutch moments, hitting two of the most important home runs in the organization’s history:
Braun hasn’t won a World Series with Milwaukee yet, but he’s been an outstanding performer during the two playoff runs he’s been a part of. In 15 games combined between the 2008 and 2011 postseasons, he’s run up a .379/.422/.638 slash line with 2 home runs, 9 doubles, and 12 runs batted in. He almost single-handedly defeated the Diamondbacks during the 2011 NLDS, posting a 1.460 OPS during the 5-game series.
Unfortunately, Braun’s career has not been devoid of controversy. A failed PED test was leaked during the winter of 2011-12, though he wound up having his suspension overturned by an arbitration panel due to some chain of custody issues regarding his urine sample. He unequivocally professed his innocence during a press conference the next spring, only to get embroiled in the Biogenesis scandal that became a big story in 2013. Braun was one of 14 players that were discovered to have purchased performance enhancing drugs during the probe, and in July of 2013 he was suspended for 65 games. He admitted to making a huge mistake, was apologetic and since then has been one of the game’s model citizens. Still, he gets booed mercilessly on the road and there are a few fans that remain in Milwaukee who have not and will not ever forgive Braun for his transgressions and brash defiance in the face of his guilt. It’s a stain that cannot ever be removed from his career and may ultimately keep him from the Hall of Fame.
Most of the fans in Milwaukee have moved on from that period of Ryan’s career and remain loyal to the franchise player, and he in turn has remained loyal to the franchise and the city. Braun signed an 8-year contract extension after his rookie season to stay in Milwaukee long-term, and then doubled down with an additional 5-year extension in 2011 that may keep him in Milwaukee for his entire career. Those two contracts will wind up paying over $140 mil during his career, though even that unimaginable sum is comparatively modest when looking at some of the other contracts that are being signed throughout the game right now. Ryan has always been very involved in the community, helping fund scholarships, hosting Make-A-Wish kids at the park, serving as co-chair of the ARCW’s “Walk for Aids”, and helping out Habitat for Humanity here and in his home state of California. He has previously been nominated for the “Branch Rickey Award” honoring humanitarians in baseball.
Braun has battled some nagging health issues in recent seasons, most notably a troublesome nerve injury in his thumb that hampered his entire 2014 season until he discovered cryotherapy as an effective treatment. Even as he ages and deals with the wear-and-tear of a long career, the 33 year old has remained a highly effective offensive threat. His .879 cumulative OPS since 2015 ranks 7th among all qualified MLB outfielders and his 62 home runs ranks 15th. Even this year, he’s walking at a career-high rate of 12.1% and his current hard contact rate of 45.5% would be the highest total he’s ever produced. Not only is he an anchor in the middle of the lineup, but as the Brewers have rebuilt he’s become the club’s elder statesman and a leader in the clubhouse, earning praise from prospects like Brett Phillips for the way he carries himself and goes about his preparation.
Though he’s under contract for another four seasons and has earned his 10-5 full no-trade rights, Braun’s future with Milwaukee is a bit clouded. He’s sat back and watched as nearly every other veteran player has been dealt during the club’s rebuilding process, remaining as the last pillar of that 2011 playoff squad. Rumors have swirled regarding possibly being traded himself, and there was reportedly a deal that was in place to send him to the Dodgers last August that fell through at the last minute. Now that he’s in control of his destiny, Braun has hinted at the fact that the only trade he would accept would be to the his hometown of Los Angeles, which means there should be a pretty good chance that he finishes out his current contract, and potentially his career, as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.
10 years ago today, Ryan Braun made his major league debut for our beloved local nine. There have been plenty of highs and a rock-bottom low during his career, but though it all Braun has made himself into one of the best players in the history of the Milwaukee Brewers. Congratulations on 10 years in the big leagues, Ryan, and thank you for all the memories. Hopefully we’ll make a few more in the coming years, and if the team’s current first-place standing is any indication, bright things are on the horizon for the Brew Crew, and Ryan Braun should be a part of them.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference