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Ryan Braun Eyes Bathsheba

December 12, 2011


Bill Simmons once described Milwaukee (or maybe all of Wisconsin) as a time warp, that the city's buildings and parking lots were pretty much the set of That '70s Show, and having visited the city a handful of times since reading that article, I can see his point. Despite a few urban retail centers, nestled against the shores of Lake Michigan, the city is, for the most part, still full of the warehouses with their steel beamed ribcages that supplied two coasts, the sweaty hearts that loaded the trucks and the boats, and the fat-bellied beer breath that conquered the cold center of the continent and made America great.

I bring this up because last night's revelation that Milwaukee Brewer, Ryan Braun, tested positive for a PED also feels like a time warp, only not the kind that brings about nostalgia for the working class and classic rock, but rather it is the kind of news that returns the baseball dialogue back to shadowy accusations and calloused calculations about whether dollar bills can drip from a syringe into the bloodstream. With nostalgia, we want to go back and relive the glory, but with what we have here, we will wind up wanting none of it; and because we will want nothing to do with it, this story will most likely fall on deaf ears, disobey Dylan Thomas, and go gently into that good night. Case closed. Another ballplayer gave into temptation and pricked his unblemished legacy.


The quest for perfection breeds out the ugly insecurities that make all of us so desperately human and intricately connected. A perfect baseball player would not need steroids, nor teammates to help him score runs for his team. A perfect baseball player would launch monster home run after monster home run, because a well hit home run doesn't even flirt with the outfield wall, eliminating all doubt that the hitter will round the bases safely, leaving nothing up to chance.

But no player has ever hit a home run in every at bat, and no pitcher has ever gotten every batter out; so there is no perfect ball player, which leaves a lot of ball players to be tempted by steroids, especially when one considers how much perfection means to the game of baseball. After all, as Michael Chabon observes in Summerland, baseball is the only sport that calls attention to an individual's imperfections by tracking errors on the scoreboard, visually weighing a team or individual's lack of perfection on par with the score of the game. And because baseball players are measured against an impossible rubric, it is no wonder that Ryan Braun joins a whole school of salmon swimming upstream in search of the unattainable, only there is (besides gills, scales, and fins) a small difference between extremely driven baseball players and incredibly pink salmon: most salmon who conquer the current die shortly after spawning, having sacrificed themselves for the next generation, while a baseball player on steroids is, in fact, trying to eliminate the need for sacrifice and is therefore severing the bonds between teammates. No longer needing or having to be advanced by his peers along the base paths, the perfect ball player is a run unto himself.

Make no mistake about it, the act of taking steroids is a selfish one, but in a sports world that has seen whole generations of baseball players wash up on shore with syringes in their biceps, Ryan Braun is just another casualty in a war that America isn't interested in fighting. Plus, while the Hebrew Hammer was part of a supposedly incorruptible wave of young players, born and bred on a standardized testing method that preached with nationalistic fervor against the immorality of steroids, greater evils were encroaching upon the sports world by way of locker room showers and hotel rooms.

When allegations of molestation and rape are being made against college coaches, how are sports fans to consider PEDs and a few extra home runs truly evil? Or, to a lesser extent of evil than pedophilia, how big of a fall is Ryan Braun's reputation going to take in a sports universe that has already seen Tiger Woods crash and burn and Brett Favre's penis wearing Crocs? I guess what I'm asking is: if the truth about Ryan Braun turns out to be that he really did use PEDs, then who cares beyond a dwindling number of baseball purists? The sports landscape is not what it was when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa pretended to be Atlas; sports fans have an understanding of gravity now, that every hero is destined to fall.

The first Brewers game I ever went to was in Braun's rookie year. My friend Dan and I rode a bus from his apartment near Marquette's campus to Miller Park. On the bus were two older ladies with purple hair and too much cheese in their veins. They may have been knitting, and they reminded me of what Laverne and Shirley must be up to. They wore matching Brewers t-shirts, had on big blue and gold beaded necklaces, thick glasses, and hats emblazoned with the old blue and yellow Milwaukee mitt logo. The whole way to the stadium they yapped back and forth with each other, the bus driver, everyone about the improved stakes of the team, Prince Fielder, and especially about the new kid, Ryan Braun. They liked him, thought he was going to be special. They also liked that he was Jewish, because they wanted their sports stars to have a sense of right and wrong, but mostly because they, too, were Jewish. He was going to be their Hank Greenberg--they said it themselves. They were looking forward to the future, and until yesterday, their hopes had mostly been fulfilled. Ryan Braun's career got off to a Hall of Fame worthy start, the Brewers became a regular threat for the postseason, and by introducing the world to Beast Mode this past fall, they made it all the way to the NLCS.

And like those two ladies on the bus, there was something warm and inviting about the Milwaukee Brewers. Even if you were a fan of another team, it was okay to root for the Brewers; they were the innocent underdog that introduced mascot races; the little engine that could; the little midwestern city chesting up to the big boys; a team full of promising homegrown talent. But now, what are the Milwaukee Brewers other than tainted in the same way as every other somewhat successful team of the late '90s and early' 00s?


My heart goes out to those two old ladies. Beast Mode isn't so cuddly anymore. Prince Fielder is Chicago-bound. And Ryan Braun, having wooed Bathsheba, is facing a possible fifty-game suspension that has to have all of Milwaukee wondering what did trying to catch up with the present wind up costing them (other than the $145.5 million that the team owes Braun through 2020). Most of us probably won't even think about it, because all our teams did steroids when steroids were sheik and we're still trying to forget about it, avoiding the nasty reminders that we don't see everything off the field, numbing ourselves to the fact that the folklore we use to define ourselves is just that: a story we hope is more real than the person telling it.

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