Most teams would be doing cartwheels at the thought of having a five-time All-Star with a career slash of .312/.373/.563 back in the lineup. Then again, most teams aren’t the Brewers, employer of one Ryan Braun, the prodigious slugger who made a go at usurping Alex Rodriguez as baseball’s biggest liar.
And it was a valiant effort too. Sorry Ryan, nobody out-pariahs A-Rod.
But does something as ludicrous as a second-place finish in the polls of social scorn mean that Braun’s sins are forgotten? What about his bald-faced lying to teammates; the destroyed reputation of an innocent urine handler with spare fridge space; the public proclamations that his supposedly false positive wasn’t just about him—poor, victimized Ryan Braun—but about “everybody who’s been wrongly accused?”
Can a team really look the other way at all of that?
Yeah, pretty much.
Oh sure, Braun will face some scrutiny from the public and his teammates, and his reputation will forever be tarnished. I mean, grade schools and church groups will think twice about having him in to speak, but if baseball has proven one thing over the decades, it’s that production covers over a multitude of sins.
Case in point: For as disgraceful as Braun and his unholiness, A-Rod, are, neither of them held a candle to the madman that Ty Cobb was, and Cobb is celebrated as one of the best players of all time.
You can hate the man, but you have to respect the player’s ability to help you win big, fat, gold rings and make cushy postseason paychecks.
That doesn’t mean Cobb didn’t have enemies in uniform. He certainly did, and Braun will too. First basemen will slap tags on him harder, and catchers will—especially now that the home plate collision rules are in their favor—look to put a shin guard down in that ankle-breaking angle. He might even get beaned a time or two.
Yet as indignant as players proclaim to be and regardless of how much “baseball justice” they dispense, they all understand why Braun did it.
Because baseball pays guys who can hit like Braun upward of $300 million.
Because fans will make a conscious effort to forget the bad you did as long as you produce.
Because players care more about winning than they do about cheating. Even teammates who have been lied to. Especially teammates.
I played with PED users. I knew it not because I opened toilet stalls and caught them in the act of sticking a syringe in the rump, but because they bragged about it. Yes, bragged, openly and honestly, complete with long, scientific names of chemicals we "should all try before we die."
One player, a fellow pitcher, sat next to me in the bullpen and told me how, on the day after he did his first cycle of steroids, he felt nearly instantaneously stronger. He said his fastball jumped from 91-92 mph to 96-97 mph. He never felt tired, recovered fast and could outwork anyone. Then he said that, looking back, he could guarantee it was the reason he got drafted for hundreds of thousands more than he would have otherwise made.
This was in the minors, mind you, where no one knew who we were or what our reputation was. If a guy beat the system and improved his fastball or fly-ball distance it was brag-worthy—because it made everyone jealous, not spiteful.
This young fireballer was on the fast track to the Bigs, and even if he did get caught, he’d never have to give his signing bonus back. Furthermore, if one of us, his fellow pitchers, were in line for a win, we wanted him and his 96-97 mph stuff coming in to lock it up for us.
He may have been a dirty rotten cheat, but he was our dirty rotten cheat. We could tell the world how bad he was after we got as much from him as we could.
Braun’s teammates may not like him as a person, but they don’t have to. A team isn’t a self-help group. And for all the guys who are mad about getting lied to, there are plenty of guys who knew he was taking something and didn’t say anything about it because they didn’t feel like it was their place—or because they were fine with letting him take the risks if it meant helping the team win.
How will you treat Ryan Braun in 2014 post-PED comeback?
Aside from the high-and-tights and firm-handed hellos when sliding back at first—which the rest of baseball almost has to do to convince the outside world it really cares about Braun’s cheating more than it cares about itself—Braun will meet a quiet disgust reserved for those whom you don’t like but still have to work with.
And even that shun will break as soon as Braun’s silver-slugging, five-time All-Star, career .312/.373/.563 bat shows back up.
If, on the ultra-rare chance, one of Braun’s teammates becomes angry to the point of physical violence, so what? It won't be the first time locker rooms have become wrestling rings.
That said, any teammate mad enough to pick a fight with Braun for being a jerk in a sport that has harbored countless jerks might want to think twice. It’s far more likely that he will find himself out of job for being a clubhouse cancer rather than Braun.
Like I said, production covers over a multitude of sins, and while Braun is definitely a dirty rotten cheat, he’s the Brewers' best, most productive dirty rotten cheat.