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Essay: The Ryan Braun Debacle

Marc Serota/Getty Images

In 2004, after Paul Molitor was elected to the Baseball Hall-of-Fame, and as the Brewers were limping along to win about 67 games a season, a friend wrote to me, "The Brewers will never have more than two players in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame. Ever! That sucks!"

And it was hard to argue with this sentiment. The Crew as a franchise was pathetic. They hadn’t finished above .500 since 1992, they’d just traded away their best player, Richie Sexson, and the lure of Miller Park was already waning, attendance dropping by over a million people in just two years. In short, there was little reason to be optimistic for baseball in Milwaukee.

And then two things happened. In 2005, 21 year-old Prince Fielder took his first at-bat as a major-leaguer. Two years later, Ryan Braun entered the picture, and suddenly, the idea of the Brewers having a winning season and – dare we jump the gun just a bit too quickly – a future Hall-of-Famer didn’t seem so farfetched.

Fielder played six seasons for the Brewers before leaving for Detroit, and though he rejected a long-term contract with Milwaukee, fans can look back on his stint with fondness.

But Braun did something no one expected. He decided to be The Man, the franchise players on a small-market team. In 2011 he signed a five-year extension on his contract, keeping him in Milwaukee through the 2020 season.

It was a dream come true for Brewer fans. Finally – finally – someone decided to take the high road and chose to stay in Milwaukee. Sure, he’d make a little less money than he would with the Yankees or the Red Sox, but he’d be the biggest guy in town.

Which is why the recent scandal involving Braun’s use of performance-enhancing drugs is so monstrously unfair. Finally a small market team reels in the perfect player with the perfect contract, only to find out that they were sold a bill of goods.

In 2011, just eighteen games into Braun’s MVP season, he said, "I truly believe I can get much better as a player. These first 18 games are probably the best baseball I've played in my career and I really believe that's a sign of things to come."

Well, sure. He was cheating! Of course it was a sign of things to come. Now the Brewers are stuck with a tainted human being, and – very possibly – a mediocre ballplayer for the next seven seasons, an eternity in baseball. The Brewers will have to pay Braun a total of $117 million. This for a team whose total payroll in 2012 was $88 million.

What’s worse is that Milwaukee fans, who’ve had so little to celebrate these past thirty years, will no longer be able to look back on 2011 with any pride. The Brewers’ first division title in 29 years was a lie. The Brewers’ first MVP in 29 years was also a lie. Milwaukee fans might not be so quick to forgive a man who stooped to such inordinate lows as Braun, who was not only willing cheat, but also willing to hurt other people’s reputations to further his own career. If there’s a team willing to take on $117 million of tarnished goods, I’m sure Brewer General Manager Doug Melvin is all ears.

Perhaps Braun, who reportedly accused urine collector Dino Laurenzi, Jr., of anti-Semitism, can take part in this year’s High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. After all, he won’t be playing baseball, so he has no excuse not to begin the long, hard, arduous journey of contrition and, ultimately – if he’s very lucky – redemption.