Is Ryan Braun the latest bad guy in baseball?
Not necessarily bad as in a terrible, mean-spirited person. Bad as in the person everybody loves to hate.
The sport has had its share of these over the years, from Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens to Alex Rodriguez. John Rocker and Milton Bradley also come to mind, though for different reasons.
Now, it seems it's Braun's turn.
Technically, this is still just the second time, but it feels like more than that, doesn't it?
We remember all too well the positive test result and ensuing 50-game suspension that Braun, then the reigning National League MVP, managed to escape in early 2012.
Having held firm in his innocence throughout the process, Braun surprisingly won his appeal that February against Major League Baseball and got the proof of his alleged guilt—a 2011 test sample that showed elevated levels of testosterone—thrown out based on mishandling of the evidence.
With that Braun became the first player in the sport to appeal a positive drug test and win.
This February, there was a report by Jeff Passan and Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports that Braun's name was listed among the records of Biogenesis, the Miami-area clinic founded by Tony Bosch that is alleged to have supplied PEDs to baseball players.
To this, Braun told Yahoo! Sports that he merely used Bosch as a consultant, adding, "I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch."
Now we've got news that the league reached an agreement with Bosch and will be meeting with him on Friday to find out what he knows, what evidence he has and what he can prove.
Braun's response? "The truth has not changed," as he told the media.
Major League Baseball is in attack mode, and Ryan Braun is in its sights as public enemy No. 1. The villain, if you will.
Which explains in part why the league has already threatened 100-game suspensions for players who are proven to be directly tied to Biogenesis and Bosch for the purchase and use of any illegal substances.
Baseball is doing its due diligence to get to the truth, which is commendable. But the sport is also doing battle once again—and very publicly—with one of the game's best players, one who just so happened to come out unpunished the last time the two sides squared off.
The way MLB sees it, no doubt, the bad guy won.
And while he certainly doesn't want to be seen as the "bad guy" in all of this, Braun has done a pretty good job of acquitting himself in that role.
In the face of this controversy, Braun has steadfastly maintained his innocence despite all of the questions, criticisms and claims otherwise.
He's also maintained his level of production on the field.
While under a microscope tuned to the highest intensity possible last year, Braun had arguably his best season, hitting .319/.391/.595 and leading the NL in runs (108), homers (41) and OPS (.987).
All of his stats were eerily similar to his MVP campaign in 2011. Of course, Braun didn't win the award again, but he did finish second.
While his production is down some through the first two months of 2013, the 29-year-old outfielder is still playing extremely well. Through 53 games so far, he's posting a triple slash line of .292/.368/.510 with 24 extra-base hits, including nine homers.
Through the same number of games last year, Braun's numbers were .306/.389/.592 with 26 extra-base hits, including 14 homers.
Clearly, Braun has what it takes to perform through all the chatter and accusations.
Is he a villain in all of this...or a victim? Whichever role, he's playing it—and playing through it—well.
Whether Braun is really the "bad guy" here depends on your point of view, as well as the evidence, which could continue to mount against him if Bosch has anything of substance to reveal.
At a time when there's a need to put a face to this scandal and assign the role of villain, until we find out otherwise, that face and that role belong to Ryan Braun.