In early December 2011, a friend and fellow Brewers fan texted me out of the blue. I hadn't spoken to this friend in months and was quite surprised to see his name pop up on my phone. Little did I know, this simple text message would forever jade my outlook on sports and challenge my convictions as a fan.
"Ryan Braun tested positive for PEDs."
It was a cool morning in New Orleans with a steady wind blowing in from Lake Pontchartrain. I distinctly remember standing next to my bike, about to ride to work and staring at my phone, befuddled.
My phone remained silent for a minute as I tried to process the enormity of that statement to Brewers fans. I still hadn't wrapped my mind around it by the time my phone suddenly erupted with dozens of texts to the same effect from friends all over the Milwaukee area, my hometown.
We could argue all day whether or not Braun actually juiced. Many claim that since he got off on a technicality he must be guilty, but that's a far cry from a valid argument. Supporters point to his 2012 statistics and use the increase in production while under worldwide scrutiny as evidence of his vindication, but these claims don't directly address the issue, either.
Truth be told, no one other than Ryan Braun really knows the whole story. What we do know is that he stated his case to a third party and won. In the eyes of Major League Baseball, Ryan Braun has not done anything at all against the rules of the game. Whether or not you agree, that is the reality and it is unreasonable to judge his MVP-caliber season against his once-alleged PED use.
Ryan Braun deserves to have his MVP credentials determined by his statistics, performance, leadership and impact just like any other player.
Let's be clear, though. I am not advocating for Braun to win the award this year. In fact, I wrote yesterday that Buster Posey is more deserving of the honor. But I came to that decision without a bias that Braun is on steroids, nor one that boosts his eligibility for proving he's not using.
What I'm asking is that the MVP is decided not by an irrational emotional response, but by unbiased and thoughtful discernment.
If you think the Brewers' left fielder deserves his second straight MVP award because he was No. 1 in home runs, No. 2 in RBI, No. 4 in AVG and OBP, No. 1 in SLG, No. 1 in runs and No. 9 in stolen bases, fine. Statistically, no one was in the same league.
If you think that Buster Posey deserves it because he posted equally impressive numbers at the plate, but did so from the catcher position while guiding a premier pitching staff to the playoffs, more power to ya.
But Ryan Braun deserves to be judged by his contributions, just like every other player in baseball. He has been vilified, defamed, scrutinized and detested over something that the court of appeals overturned. He outlasted an offseason gauntlet of inquiry and doubt. He put in his time and, in the eyes of many, undeservedly so.
Major League Baseball has not deemed him a criminal and therefore the accusations should not have to stay branded on him like a scarlet letter.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it should not affect his MVP or Hall of Fame credentials.
Ryan Braun is an amazing talent with jaw-dropping results year in and year out. We can either appreciate his ability and enjoy witnessing his brilliance, or we can lose sight of his accomplishments while pointing fingers at shadows.
Milwaukee fans are lucky enough to experience Ryan Braun. Whether or not he deserves to be called this season's MVP, you don't want to miss out on his already incredible career.