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One Year After PED Suspension, Brewers' Ryan Braun Still Playing from Behind

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One Year After PED Suspension, Brewers' Ryan Braun Still Playing from Behind
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Boos and taunts still fling through the air like arrows whenever the Ryan Braun Traveling Carnival blows through town.

"You hear stuff, but fans are fans," Brewers All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy says. "They're going to do that. Their job is to yell at you."

Earlier this month, Chicago and Los Angeles were particularly rough.

Earlier this season, Boston and Philadelphia were especially throaty.

"It seems to go on a little more than I would have thought," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke says. "It's interesting when you go to a park where their player has been suspended, and he hears it. The mentality, I just don't get that."

Has Wrigley Field forgotten the way it once celebrated the since-disgraced Sammy Sosa?

Have Dodgers fans forgotten Mannywood, and the synthetic testosterone that was ingested by Manny Ramirez?

And you, Philadelphia: Marlon Byrd was suspended for 50 games for performance-enhancing drugs in 2012, and yet he's patrolling right field for the Phillies. Same patch of grass Braun was on back in April when the Philly boos poured down on him like Whiz on a cheesesteak.

Wait, maybe Whiz wasn't quite the proper way to go there.

One year after his 65-game suspension for performance-enhancing-drug ties to Biogenesis, what do we make of Ryan Braun?

Do not ask Braun that question.

"I'm not going to get into any of that stuff," he told me during the Brewers' recent visit to San Diego. "I'm just not going to get into any of that stuff."

That he has never, not once, publicly offered a detailed explanation for his guilt after regaling everyone with one enormous lie after another over a period of nearly two years is beyond cowardly. Especially after he so very publicly threw a poor urine collector down the garbage disposal while attempting to save his own skin and avoid a separate 50-game ban handed to him after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone.

So no, the boos, the taunts, the vitriol...Braun single-handedly is responsible for bringing it on himself. Nobody is above the rules. He is not a sympathetic figure. He had several opportunities to do the right thing, and each time he...didn't.

He said in November that he and his fiancee had dinner with the sample collector and that they "made amends." I hope so, for the collector's sake. But I stopped trusting what Braun says long ago.

His numbers are no longer otherworldly. His .277/.327/.483 slash line is the worst of his eight-year career, and his 17 homers are absolutely pedestrian compared to his 41 in 2012 and 33 during his NL MVP 2011 season.

But as we've learned with this slippery character, nothing is ever as it appears with Braun. And before you go blaming his decline on a lack of PEDs, there is this: He's been battling a nerve issue in his right hand all season that has left his thumb borderline useless. Since the All-Star break, he's hitting just .232 with a .283 on-base percentage (as compared to .298 and .348 before the break).

USA TODAY Sports

It is not going away anytime soon.

"I've kind of accepted it," Braun says. "It is what it is. I have to adjust my routine. I definitely take less swings than I have in the past. I find a way to compensate for not being able to use my top hand the way that I'm used to using my top hand."

It has been a year of adjustments. He's also moved to right field from left. So far, so good. But again, different.

"It's been challenging," he says. "It took me a couple of years to really get comfortable in left field and get to the point where I felt like I was an above-average left fielder. I'm continuing to learn, continuing to get better and better and get more and more comfortable. But it's different, the ball comes from different angles, getting used to the dimensions of all the ballparks.

"Overall, I feel OK. I feel like there's plenty of room for growth and development."

He leans on generic catchphrases like "growth and development" and "challenging" and refusing to discuss "any of that stuff" to an uncomfortable degree. It's a shame. He's personable. He's smart (too smart for his own good at times, you could argue). Once, Braun would have been a prime candidate to replace Derek Jeter as perhaps the game's finest ambassador.

But that was many, many lies ago and before a PED test that revealed a testosterone level that at the time (2011) was three times higher than any number in the history of drug testing (by Braun's admission in his first infamous spring training press conference).

At times this year, he has appeared to have taken on the crowds' challenges and one-upped them. At the Phillies' home opener, he crushed three home runs.

He will not fire back.

Fan reaction? "I'm not going to answer that," he says.

Michael Perez/Associated Press

And what about the reaction of some of his peers? Like that of veteran Skip Schumaker, who last year, after Braun reached a plea bargain and accepted the 65-game ban, said this: "I have an autographed Braun jersey I'm going to take down. I don't want my son associating that with what I've worked so hard to do to get to here, and have him compare Braun to me."

Braun bobs and weaves with the skill of a championship fighter.

"There's been people who are supportive, and I always appreciate the support," he says. "Just in general. Fans, players, teammates, the organization. A lot of people have been very supportive, and I appreciate that."

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, remember to duck and don't talk about the pee.

The Brewers lead the NL Central, and to him and them, that's all that matters.

"We're all kind of past that," Lucroy says of Braun's sordid past. "And we're looking forward to winning."

Roenicke says Braun is handling things as well as can be expected.

"I don't know how," the manager says. "It would get old, for me."

No question, to Roenicke's other point, the Brewers lead the league in identifying hypocrisy as they tour the league in 2014. No surprise there. Fans are quick to pounce when it comes to cheaters. As long as it's not their guy.

It's too bad, this entire, sorry situation. But there's only one man to blame, and Ryan Braun sees him every time he looks in a mirror.

 

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball @ScottMillerBbl.

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