In his first official game back from last year’s 65-game suspension, superstar Ryan Braun received an overwhelmingly positive reaction, proving Milwaukee Brewers fans to be ultimately forgiving. Braun, winner of the Rookie of the Year award in 2007 as well as the Most Valuable Player award in 2011, appeared in just 61 games last season while posting the second worst OPS (.869) of his career.
It was a tough season for the Milwaukee Brewers, as Braun’s team finished 74-88 without him after finishing 83-79 the year before and 96-66 the year before that. Until Monday, Braun had not appeared in a game since July 21 of last year. While Braun managed just one hit in four trips to the plate on opening day, the Brewers were victorious over the Braves 2-0 and won another victory just by getting their best player back.
While the Milwaukee Brewers fans were widely derided for being so forgiving, their behavior is pretty defensible. After all, how else is the fan base expected to react when a player that already ranks high on the list of the franchise all-time leader boards in several offensive categories despite having just turned 30 in November? Braun is currently the top hitting Brewer of all-time based on batting average alone (.312) and ranks highly in other categories as well, including fourth in on-base percentage, first in slugging percentage, first in OPS, seventh in runs scored, seventh in hits, and fourth in home runs. He has a lot of work to do still, but chances of him retiring as one of the greatest players to ever don a Milwaukee uniform are pretty good.
That said, crowds at other ballparks are not likely to be as forgiving. Braun is one of the most noteworthy names to receive a performance-enhancing drug suspension, behind perhaps only Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, and odds are that fans of opposing teams will be paying attention when he steps up to the plate on their home turf, ready to shower him with boos and various insults.
The trouble for Braun and the Milwaukee Brewers first began in Dec. 2011, shortly after the offensive dynamo was awarded his MVP. Having been selected for a random drug test back in October, the results came back indicating he had been using performance enhancing drugs. While Braun would go on to appeal this ruling and get his 50-game suspension overturned, the decision was based off a technicality, and the general consensus largely seemed to be that he had gotten away with it.
Using strong language would later come back to haunt him, Braun vehemently denied the results of the test, claiming he would bet his life the substance did not enter his body. The investigation continued, however, and Braun was eventually caught in his lies and forced to accept a suspension for the remainder of the season last July. After spending the entire off-season apologizing, he now gets to face the result of his actions.
In Milwaukee, these reactions are less than surprising, as the Brewer fans have proven to be very forgiving in the matter. They gave him a standing ovation in his first appearance and would continue to cheer him on wildly the rest of the game. Elsewhere, the response will be a little less pleasant. While the suspension and public disgrace may not stop him from going down as one of the best Brewers of all time, the incident will forever follow him wherever he goes, and no one outside of Milwaukee will be nearly as forgiving.
Commentary By Spencer Hendricks