Last week, Eric Freeman asked aloud on Tablet, why Milwaukee Brewers star slugger Ryan Braun had–despite his array of accolades including the National League MVP Award–failed to capture the hearts of Jewish baseball fans everywhere. Freeman wrote:
Yet Braun has not become an icon for Jewish baseball fans in the same way as past stars. Unlike Greenberg, Koufax, and Green, all of whom received heavy cultural and mainstream-media attention for their status as high-profile Jews, Braun has typically discussed his heritage only when prompted. His heritage is a note in his biography, not a primary fact of his career. His Jewishness has never been a major topic of discussion in a Sports Illustrated profile, as it was for Green in 1999. Instead, it gets attention on the blogs of rabbis.
It could be that Braun has not achieved this lofty status among Jews because he’s a controversial figure. Last week, ESPN revealed that Major League Baseball is likely to suspend Braun and other players with connections to the Miami-based Biogenesis of America clinic. While baseball fans are free to argue over whether this evidence damns Braun and other involved players—suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs have only ever been handed out for failed tests—Braun has quickly become one of the usual suspects in MLB’s fight against PEDs. In December 2011, shortly after Braun became the first Jewish MVP since Sandy Koufax in 1963, ESPN learned that a supposedly confidential test from October 2011 indicated an elevated level of testosterone, which would have forced Braun to observe a 50-game suspension to start the 2012 season and possibly compelled the Baseball Writers Association of America to strip him of his trophy. Although Braun was eventually cleared—on what MLB called a technicality, although proper chain of custody is essential to any functional testing system—a cloud of suspicion has followed him ever since. For those who believe that the Greatest Jewish Ballplayer must be a squeaky-clean role model for those not yet bar mitzvahed, Braun doesn’t seem like the best candidate for the job.
While the Freeman’s first point about Braun’s reluctance to trumpet himself as the Hebrew Hammer may be true, his second point about the cloud of suspicion following Braun has just transformed into a fog. Just minutes ago, Major League Baseball announced that it would be suspending Braun for the remainder of the season for violating the league’s drug policies.
Braun is the first chip to fall in baseball’s historic Biogenesis probe, and his ban is likely to be seen as vindication for the commissioner’s office, which tried unsuccessfully to suspend the leftfielder in 2012 after a urine sample he submitted during a playoff run showed radically elevated levels of testosterone.
“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect,” Braun said in a statement released by the league. “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it is has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization.”
Having successfully appealed his suspension the first time around, vehemently declaring his innocence the whole way, it’s going to be difficult to see fans rally behind him this time.