The drug rumor nightmare is behind him. He is in a zone. Right now there is not much of a statistical divide between 2011 Ryan Braun and 2012 Ryan Braun, besides the fact that his Milwaukee Brewers aren’t winning this year and that his involvement in a nationally broadcast soap opera has probably left him with some lifelong scars.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound slugging outfielder is in his prime at 28 and his 2012 statistics are marvelous. For the fifth time Braun became an All-Star and he deserved it. Some 83 games into this season he had a National League-leading 26 homers on the board, with 64 RBIs, accompanied by a .312 average.
All-in-all a perfect complement to Braun’s 2011 NL Most Valuable Player season (33 homers, 33 stolen bases, 111 RBIs, 109 runs scored, .332 average) and given his track record in the game no surprise. However, for some the fact that Braun has played a full season is the big surprise, not how well he has played. If anything, playing at the same high level is an extra achievement for Braun because he has displayed no signs of being distracted.
There is a difference between being despised and suspected and the way things have gone for Braun in 2012 fans in some places have greeted him with a smattering of boos as opposed to what could have been a thunderous round of boos. Braun was a step away from being labeled a cheater, a stigma that would follow him for life. Instead, he has emerged from his personal 2011-2012 performance-enhancing drug saga with some nicks and bruises, but that’s all.
Last year, the Brewers, who were also blessed with Prince Fielder in the lineup before he split for free agency, were a good team, winners of the NL Central Division, and a contestant in the post-season. Around the same time that the Brewers qualified for the playoffs Braun took a drug test. It later slipped out that he had failed it because of too-high levels of testosterone.
Facing a 50-game suspension and a scarlet C for cheater being branded on him, Braun fought back. In the first instance of a major leaguer successfully appealing a case, Braun saw an arbitration panel vote 2-1 in his favor. The crux of the case was built around a sample test that showed the elevated testosterone reading (a second test showed normal levels) and the way the same was handled, apparently in violation of the drug testing program’s rules.
That was in February and Bruan was cleared to play just as spring training got into full swing. Not every detail of the case has been publicized and some comments that were issued by various parties are at odds with those uttered by other participants, so what was real was not 100 percent clear.
Yet Braun was in the clear and made the most of it. In the land where one presumed innocent until proven guilty, Bruan was innocent. He has played ever since at the exact save level he did last year. There will always be a small rain cloud over his head, the way the Pig Pen character in the Peanuts comic strip is forever trailed by a cloud of dust, but Braun is doing what he should be doing this year–playing on.
The genie is out of the bottle, so there is no going back, but Braun at least as the forum to answer critics and how his career is viewed is basically up to him, the way he handles himself and the way he plays.