Somehow Ryan Braun became the first Major League player to wiggle out of a drug policy violation accusation shortly after he won the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player award. He won his case on appeal, which had never happened before, and resumed his slugging ways for the Milwaukee Brewers this season.
And Braun has been slugging the ball again, playing phenomenal ball. After 138 games Braun has a league-leading 40 home runs, 103 RBIs, and is batting .312. His on-base percentage is .387 and his slugging percentage, which also leads the league, is .602. No one can say that Braun was distracted by his problem with MLB enough that it bothered him in the batter’s box. He is 28 years old, in his prime, making millions of dollars, and providing good return on the investment. Last season, by comparison, Braun hit 33 homers, drove in 111, and batted .332. He stole 33 bases in 2011 and has 24 steals this year. Pretty close all-around.
As far as I can tell there has been limited backlash against Braun for escaping suspension. Contrast that with the loud suspicion and innuendo that dogged Barry Bonds during his final days with the San Francisco Giants. Some Americans will make that a black-white issue, suggesting Braun is getting a free pass because he is white and that Bonds was hounded because he is black. That’s something I can’t speak to, though one would have to be 100 percent naive to entirely dismiss the idea.
Braun is right at his peak, playing consistently first-rate baseball, and because he is doing so I have occasionally heard floated the thought that he should be the NL MVP again. I thought the right guy — him–won it last year. But I don’t think Braun is the right guy this year. That’s because we are talking about the difference between MVP and most outstanding. Braun’s numbers make a better case for most outstanding.
Last year the Brewers finished 96-66 and won the NL Central Division. Going into Tuesday play, Milwaukee was 74-72 and 13 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cincinnati Reds. There’s your answer why Braun is not a serious MVP candidate this year. His team was a champion last year and is so-so this year. The dropoff was not a surprise since the squad lost Prince Fielder to free agency. Braun would be the perfect (and probably the landslide) MVP candidate if he personally lifted his team sufficiently to overcome the loss of Fielder. It’s as simple as that.
Or maybe it’s not. I sense an undercurrent of suspicion still surrounds Braun’s feats to the degree that the combination of starrring role/drug probe mitigates against the thought of voting for Braun as MVP again so soon. I doubt we’ll ever know what went through the minds of voters as they cast National League MVP ballots this year, but I would guess that more than one will consider the confusing case a taint against Braun.
I don’t have that problem because I don’t think Braun should get the award anyway. Last year his team’s results helped him. This year they are holding him back.