Thanks to a highly questionable technicality in MLB’s drug testing program, Ryan Braun is free to play ball. He is not, however, free of skepticism, disdain, and ridicule. Suffice it to say, the reigning NL MVP will toil the rest of his career with a big fat (*) next to his name.
Braun may have been exonerated of the charges brought against him, but he hardly proved his innocence. Outside of diehard Brewers fans, who may have learned a few pointers in the fine art of rooting-in-denial from the legion of Giants fans who worshiped at the altar of Sir Barry Bonds, nobody is buying Braun’s side of the story. He got lucky, thanks in part to the early closing hours of a FedEx Kinkos store in Milwaukee.
So where does the Brewers’ talented* outfielder go from here? He doesn’t quite fall neatly into the various categories of baseball’s drug cheats — admitted or suspected or rumored. He’s in a class by himself. Failed a drug test ( by a longshot) but avoided suspension due to a highly dubious and questionable procedural error. He proclaims his innocence but has no rational explanation for the mother lode of testosterone found in his system. But the system is what it is — at least until MLB mitigates the risk of such technicalities gumming things up — and Braun gets to play on without loss of service.
So let’s say he plays at the same high level he has during his first five years in the majors. Maybe he wins another MVP or two, slugs another 400 homers, wins a World Series, drives in 1500 runs, posts a .300 career average. And never fails another drug test. Hall of Fame material? Well, depends how you judge him — and he will be judged.
Firstly, everything Braun’s done to date is basically tainted — unless you believe he’s clean, which few Hall of Fame voters will. So you have to press restart and expect that he delivers at least a decades worth of PED-free greatness. But even then, do you disqualify him because of his alleged misdeeds, barring him from the Hall for a perceived lack of integrity? Yes, would be my guess. Just look at the growing list of players , even those who never failed a drug test (that we know of) who seem unlikely to enter the Hall. Braun’s reputation may be tarnished beyond repair, in the eyes of everyone but the sycophants who buy his jersey and sleep with his rookie card under their pillows.
If he is ever to arrive in the good graces of the media who may determine his entry into the Hall, and thereby his legacy, he must do three things:
1) Hit lots of homers, win at least one World Series, and play with the same passion and fury has since entering the major leagues.
2) Stop proclaiming his innocence and how the testing system was flawed. The sketics out there — and they are many — will call you a fraud every time your lips move. Just be thankful you escaped with your career intact and move on. The less said the better.
3) Be overly kind and courteous to every member of the media. Like Eddie Haskel, but more sincere. Ask them how their kids and grandkids are doing and send them Holiday cards each year. They take respect and courtesy very seriously. One reason Bonds will never enter the Hall.
Maybe it’s just too premature or irrelevant to engage in a discussion about Braun’s Hall of Fame creds. But I still believe he’s a special talent who plays the game at decibel higher than most — juiced up or not. He’s seems like a genuinely good person who likely made some very bad decisions that will haunt him for the rest of his days.
If only he had more brains than Braun.