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Timeline of Ryan Braun's Wild Ride from Future Hall of Famer to PED Suspect

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Timeline of Ryan Braun's Wild Ride from Future Hall of Famer to PED Suspect

Perhaps Ryan Braun just didn't feel like talking.

That's one possible explanation for the report that came out from ESPN's T.J. Quinn and Mike Fish on Tuesday, which claimed that the Milwaukee Brewers left fielder refused to answer questions when he met with Major League Baseball to discuss his ties to Biogenesis.

Another possible explanation is that Braun didn't talk because guilty men never talk.

You just know that's what MLB is thinking, as it's clear by now that the league would like nothing more than to suspend Braun after failing to get him back in 2011. Also, it only takes one look at the comments section of any Braun-related article to know that Braun doesn't have an overwhelming amount of friends among baseball fans.

Even Braun's fellow players are against him. ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription needed) wrote on Wednesday that "many" players are lined up against Braun and "want to see him go down."

Just think. A couple years ago, Braun was one of the biggest, brightest and most likable stars in the league and a guy who appeared well on his way to Cooperstown. In no time at all, he's gone from that to being a guy with a reputation in tatters.

And now for a look back on how it's come to this.

 

2007 to 2011: From Celebrated Rookie of the Year to Celebrated MVP

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

After the 2006 season came to a close, Baseball America rated Braun as the Brewers' second-best prospect and Best Power Hitter in their minor league system.

When Braun arrived in Milwaukee in late May 2007, he made good on that projection pretty much immediately.

In 113 games as a rookie in '07, Braun compiled a slash line of .324/.370/.634 and hit 34 home runs. He won the National League Rookie of the Year over Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, a fitting exclamation mark that confirmed that, yes, the Brewers had something very special on their hands.

Braun was a force again in 2008 with an .888 OPS and 37 homers, helping to lead the Brewers to their first postseason berth since 1982. It was more of the same in 2009 and 2010, as Braun compiled a .902 OPS and hit 57 home runs. Braun was an All-Star both years, just as he had been in 2008.

But 2011 was the year for Braun. He hit a career-best .332 with an NL-best .994 OPS, 33 home runs and 33 stolen bases. He was the best player on a Brewers team that won the NL Central, the organization's first division championship in almost three decades. His reward was the National League MVP.

How good was Braun in his first five big league seasons? This good:

GP HR SB AVG OBP SLUG OPS OPS+
729  161  96  .312  .371  .563 .933  145

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the list of players in major league history who had at least 150 home runs, at least 90 stolen bases and an OPS+ of at least 140 in their first five seasons consists of the following names:

Ryan Braun.

Yup, just him. In his first five seasons in the big leagues, Braun wasn't just good. He was historically good. On-a-straight-path-to-Cooperstown good.

To boot, Braun was (and still is) set to be paid handsomely along the way thanks to the $100 million extension he signed with the Brewers early in the 2011 season. The Brewers were effectively signing away any chance they had of re-upping with Prince Fielder at the end of the season, but they clearly figured it was worth it to commit to Braun. In addition to a great player, he was a fan favorite and the perfect guy to be the face of the franchise for years to come.

But then things got complicated.

 

2011-2012: The Positive Test That Wasn't...But Sort of Was

Norm Hall/Getty Images

Braun was named the NL MVP in late November 2011. In some other parallel universe, he got to celebrate the achievement all winter.

In this universe, he only got to celebrate it for a couple weeks.

The word came down in early December from Outside the Lines that Braun had submitted a urine sample for testing sometime during the 2011 playoffs and that it had turned up positive for elevated levels of testosterone. A subsequent test revealed that the testosterone was synthetic.

That's a PED violation, which is a 50-game suspension.

Because Braun was disputing the result through arbitration, word wasn't supposed to have gotten out. But once it did, it didn't look good for Braun or for MLB. This was a guy who had just signed a $100 million contract and won an MVP award, and the message was that he had done so while he was cheating.

Mr. Braun, your thoughts?

"It's BS," he told USA Today.

Braun was slightly more eloquent in the statement he issued through his agency, not to mention quite confident that his dispute of the positive test was going to be worth the trouble in the end:

There are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence and demonstrate there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program. While Ryan has impeccable character and no previous history, unfortunately, because of the process we have to maintain confidentiality and are not able to discuss it any further, but we are confident he will ultimately be exonerated.

It took several months for Braun's appeal to play out. During that time, the question was whether the baseball writers would go back on their decision to give Braun the NL MVP as punishment for being caught in a PED scandal. Performance enhancing drugs are high up on the list of things that get baseball writers riled up.

Braun kept his MVP, though, and when he accepted it in January 2012, he even stopped to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Braun later accepted the award in uniform in April of 2012.

"Sometimes in life we all deal with challenges we never expected to endure," said Braun, via the Journal Sentinel"We have an opportunity to look at those challenges and view them either as obstacles or opportunities. I've chosen to view every challenge I've ever faced as an opportunity, and this will be no different."

In this case, the challenge Braun was facing was an opportunity to beat the system, something no player ever busted for using PEDs had ever done. A daunting task if there ever was one.

...But you know what they say about there being a first time for everything.

Shyam Das, the arbitrator in Braun's case, handed down his decision in early February: There would be no suspension. Braun had won.

"I am very pleased and relieved by today's decision," Braun said in a statement, via the Journal Sentinel. "It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side."

Given the circumstances, "innocent" was an interesting word for Braun to use. It would have been more accurate if he had just settled for "not guilty."

The results of Braun's test were not found to be faulty. It was the process of getting to the results where things went wrong, as baseball's chain-of-custody protocol for urine samples was violated by the collector.

Where Braun saw a ruling that proved his innocence, Major League Baseball and, well, everyone else saw a guy getting off on a technicality. The league was bothered enough by the ruling to openly oppose in a statement, via the Journal Sentinel:

As a part of our drug testing program, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute.  While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.

As angry as the league clearly was, however, it could do nothing about it. Braun had won, so it was his word that ruled, not baseball's.

He took full advantage of that when he gathered the media for a public statement shortly after his suspension was overturned.

"I'm the victim of a process that completely broke down," said Braun. At one point, he also added that the testing was "fatally flawed."

This did not sit well with Major League Baseball.

"Our program is not fatally flawed," MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said in a statement, via ESPN. He also promised that changes would be made that would ensure that nobody would ever get off like Braun did ever again.

Manfred might as well have flat-out told Braun what he and the league were really thinking: This isn't over.

 

2012: Another Brilliant Season in the Books

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
The question heading into the 2012 season was if Braun really was dirty in 2011 while he was putting up monster stats, would his numbers would take a huge step back if he was clean the whole year?

Based on what we know now, evidently not.

Here's Part One of what we know about Braun's 2012 season: He did not fail a single drug test all year. In a year that saw Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon get busted for using synthetic testosterone, that's not insignificant.

And now here's Part Two of what we know about Braun's 2012 season: He was better than ever.

Braun hit .319 and once again led the National League in OPS at .987. He also set a new career high with 41 home runs, and his 30 stolen bases made him the first player with back-to-back 30-30 seasons since Alfonso Soriano in 2005 and 2006.

Making all this even more impressive was the fact that Braun did it without slugger Prince Fielder providing him protection in the lineup. The massive first baseman had signed with the Detroit Tigers over the offseason. He also played good defense in left field, which helped make him the most valuable player in the National League in the eyes of FanGraphs' version of WAR.

Unsurprisingly, Braun wasn't voted as the most valuable player in the National League. The surprising part was that Braun finished second in the voting, a clear indication that the writers weren't holding their suspicions of Braun against him. 

The doubt was still out there, to be sure. But after a season of excellent production and no failed tests, Braun seemed to be in the clear. Or at least headed in that direction, anyway.

And then Biogenesis happened.

 

2013: Back in the Spotlight, Possibly Under MLB's Hammer

Tom Lynn/Getty Images

When the Miami New Times dropped the first bombshell in its report on Biogenesis and its alleged client list, nobody was talking about Ryan Braun. The names of the hour were Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Nelson Cruz.

For all anybody knew, Braun had something in common with a majority of MLB players in that he had absolutely nothing to do with the now-shuttered Miami "wellness clinic."

Then along came Tim Brown and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports in early February with the following report:

Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun's name is in records of the Miami-area clinic alleged to have distributed performance-enhancing drugs to a rash of baseball players, and Major League Baseballwill investigate the link to the former MVP who tested positive for illegal synthetic testosterone during the 2011 postseason. 

Three of the Biogenesis clinic records obtained by Yahoo! Sports show Braun's name. 

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Biogenesis in all its spookiness.

The catch was that the documents with Braun's name in them didn't link him to PEDs in any direct way. That left the door open for a reasonable explanation, and Braun came through with one in a jiffy.

Braun said in a statement issued to the Journal Sentinel and other media outlets that his ties to Biogenesis, specifically clinic director Anthony Bosch, were due to a consultation stemming from Braun's run-in with MLB in the months bridging 2011 and 2012:

During the course of preparing for my successful appeal last year, my attorneys, who were previously familiar with Tony Bosch, used him as a consultant. More specifically, he answered questions about T/E ratio (testosterone to epitestosterone) and possibilities of tampering with samples.

There was a dispute over compensation for Bosch's work, which is why my lawyer and I are listed under 'money's owed' and not on any other list. I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch. I will fully cooperate with any inquiry into this matter.

Initially, Braun's alibi seemed legit enough. It didn't look good that he had used the director of a seedy clinic as a consultant, but that didn't make the concept itself entirely unbelievable. And indeed, what was on paper didn't exactly dispute Braun's claim.

Then came more evidence uncovered by Outside the Lines, and suddenly Braun's alibi was on shaky ground:

The list was written in April, in the hand of Biogenesis of America clinic founder Anthony Bosch. Among the names is the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun, and to the right of that name is a figure: $1,500.

That list, a source familiar with Bosch's operation told 'Outside the Lines,' indicates that those players received performance-enhancing drugs from Bosch and owed him money. The document, one of dozens obtained by 'Outside the Lines,' suggests a closer link to Bosch and the now-shuttered clinic he ran in Coral Gables, Fla., than Braun has acknowledged.

Fast-forward to April, and Bosch was telling ESPN that he had "just answered a few questions" from Braun's legal team. But he also said that he had been "falsely accused" of distributing PEDs and that he had done nothing wrong, and then proceeded to discredit those words in early June when he agreed to cooperate with MLB's investigation—a development first reported by Outside the Lines.

Securing Bosch's cooperation was the break that the league needed, and at the time the message was that suspensions were coming. For both Braun and A-Rod, MLB had something extra-special in mind: 100-game bans rather than the usual 50-game ban that comes with a first-time violator of the league's PED ban.

Braun's reaction? About what you'd expect. As he usually does, he played it cool.

"The truth has not changed," said Braun, via MLBlogs.com. And later: "I’ve dealt with this off and on for the last year and a half, I guess. I think I’m pretty good at avoiding distractions."

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

This takes us right up to the present day, a time when Braun is being viewed with raised eyebrows for his unwillingness to answer MLB's questions about Biogenesis. He said he was going to "fully cooperate with any inquiry," but he drew a line at answering questions he didn't want to answer.

No, that doesn't automatically mean he has something to hide. And no, his refusal to answer MLB's questions isn't necessarily going to make it any easier for the league to suspend him. That will depend on the truth about his ties to Biogenesis, and Braun would have everyone listen to his usual refrain.

"In regards to that whole crazy situation, the truth still hasn't changed," Braun told MLB.com. "I'm still going to continue to respect the process and not discuss anything in the media."

The word from ESPN is that MLB is going to seek to suspend Braun, Rodriguez and as many as 20 other players sometime after the All-Star break. If that happens, Braun is going to find himself looking to make a fool of Major League Baseball once again.

If so, it must be acknowledged that Braun could very well emerge victorious once again. The first time he found himself squaring off with MLB, he was trying to do the seemingly impossible by debunking a positive test. By comparison, debunking what's going to amount to testimonies and a pile of circumstantial evidence doesn't sound so tough.

But Braun's reputation? It's probably screwed either way.

It certainly will be if MLB gets him. Braun will officially be branded a cheater and will carry the brand for the rest of his career. He'd be even worse off than all those stars of the Steroid Era, as Braun won't be able to play the "everyone was doing it" or the "it was the culture" cards. Not everyone in MLB is clean, but the league is undoubtedly cleaner now than it's been in years.

And even if Braun gets the better of MLB again, there will still be suspicion. Fans will undoubtedly be suspicious, and so will a few (or more than a few) writers. After all, any man who escapes dire punishment on two different occasions is either totally innocent or a really good escape artist.

History could well remember Braun as the latter. And if it comes to that, his history might never be honored with the plaque that once seemed destined to be his.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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