From the moment The Miami New Times broke the Biogenesis story, the tenor around Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, two former league MVPs and future Hall of Fame members if not for involvement with performance-enhancing drugs, shifted swiftly and quickly. Both were implicated for PED usage in recent years, but the Biogenesis documents, and subsequent investigation from Major League Baseball, left little doubt of their involvement once again.
While A-Rod had already admitted to PED use and Braun had won an appeal to overturn a suspension, neither was in the day-to-day ire of baseball's fanbase. As the calendar gets set to flip to fall and another chapter of Major League Baseball's history is completed, the narratives have changed.
Rodriguez has transformed from disliked to hated by baseball fans. From $252 million man to New York Yankee to steroid user to the face of Biogenesis, A-Rod is no longer seeking approval from fans. It feels as if he's now resigned to a fate he fought for years: being the villain.
He's become a circus act, sprinkling in productive at-bats (.319/.407/.489) within the day-to-day weaving of legal issues against Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees. He's hated, knows it and has done little to squash the notion of his PED use that MLB alleges having substantial evidence of.
From the team of lawyers to the brazen and brash full appeal of a 211-game suspension to the war within the Yankees front office, Rodriguez is going out his way to play out 2013 on his terms. No longer is he the kid from Miami with the golden swing and million-watt smile trying to make everyone like him. He's now a villain, hitting the ball with authority and helping the Yankees make a run at the postseason.
Braun, on the other hand, is trying to distance himself from Rodriguez. With many years left in his playing career, the prospect of playing the villain for another decade hasn't resonated with the Milwaukee Brewers slugger. While the news of his prepared apologies trickled through the news cycle, so did the sordid details of his plot to win his 2011 PED appeal, including painting the sample collector as an anti-Semite.
At this point, it's impossible to call either Rodriguez or Braun role models, boy scouts or choir boys. For the general populous of sports enthusiasts, something between disdain and pity is the common emotion toward two of the game's most disliked figures.
Braun lied and took down an innocent bystander, alienating teammates along the way. Rodriguez wanted to be famous, took the cash and came up dirty on more than one occasion.
With the price of tickets and your viewing time as precious as it is in 2013, the prospect of telling anyone not to hate cheating baseball players is futile, but in the interest of fairness, Braun should draw the ire of baseball's faithful much more than Rodriguez.
Rodriguez's biggest transgressions have always been self-inflicted wounds, damaging his legacy and status among the greats in the history of the game. As of this moment, he's never served a day of a PED suspension, costing his former or current organization exactly zero days of his services due to drugs.
His refusal to accept a suspension on August 5 separated him from the other Biogenesis figures, including impending free agents on playoff contenders like Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta who could have appealed for the good of their current teams.
Outside of the steroid issues, A-Rod hasn't been liked for years. Despite his status among the elite all-around players in the history of the sport, he never came across comfortable in his own skin, constantly seeking approval like the 25th man on a roster.
Whether disingenuous or insecure, Rodriguez looked the part of rock star but never could fully embrace what it took to be the face of baseball. Once the 10-year/$252 million contract was signed in Texas, A-Rod's public fate was sealed.
Braun, the young, consistent, outgoing personality of the Midwest was Mr. Brewer. Willing to sign a lucrative, long-term deal to stay in Milwaukee, the Hebrew Hammer set the bar for other players to stay in a mid-market and be the face of a franchise. Even after an appeal process and denial into the camera, the PED vitriol didn't extend into his home park last season. For better or worse, the Brewers embraced their guy.
Now, both are hated, but only one went out his way to take down an innocent man outside the game of baseball.
A-Rod is many things, but he has never played the race or religion card to get himself out of harm's way in the PED mess he created.
Braun, in publicly denying his usage, only to now backtrack, is the same vein of liar as many other steroid users and cheaters before him, but the process of covering his own tracks feels like a Lance Armstrong move more than usual hyperbole of contemporary ballplayers.
While the media market of New York hypes up Rodriguez's plight, he may have a case to win against baseball, could be playing for a slimy organization and is eligible to actually play the game right now.
Braun, through taking the suspension and admitting double guilt, is avoiding the wrath of baseball fans and the media. At least A-Rod is there, taking his medicine in print and sports talk radio.
A-Rod and Braun, even outside of the natural connection to the city of Miami, are more alike than they are different, but Braun, in his path to stardom, came across brazen in his lying and slandering of the urine collector that first sparked the 2011 MVP's positive test. That's a low A-Rod hasn't reached.
Rodriguez is an insecure cheater, uncomfortable being the player he was destined to become. Braun, with years of time left to further sully or rescue his reputation, is the figure deserving of more hate right now.
The prospect of hating athletes who cheat, especially when hard-earned consumer dollars are spent to watch their talent, is human nature. Hate and dislike however you choose, baseball fans. Just remember the facts along the road of jeers.
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