Ryan Braun's betrayal busts Milwaukee Brewers' baseball buzz
The faith of the good folks of Milwaukee will be tested after they were duped by a handsome, charming but lying cheat
America's dairyland - it says it right on the state licence plate. Folks in Wisconsin are downright proud of their farming ancestry and while they tend to be predictably conservative on some issues, they are somewhat more enlightened and accepting on others. "People in Wisconsin will give you the benefit of the doubt because they trust and believe in people's good intentions," says my friend Nate, a native of Wisconsin working in Hong Kong's frantic finance sector. Part of his gig is staying tight with the doormen at the hottest clubs. He can get you access; it's his thing.
But when you try to engage him about the local glitterati he routinely shows you a video clip on his phone of him riding the family's antiquated John Deere tractor back on the farm. And this is one of the more worldly residents of the state. It's easy to see how the good folks of Milwaukee and Wisconsin could have been duped. Of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers play in the smallest market and although Miller Park seats 42,000, it seems like family and friends occupy every seat.
The face of the franchise for those folks has been a handsome and charming young man from southern California. Ryan Braun is a five-tool player, he can do it all on the baseball field. He is also a marketing dream who said and did all the right things and seems to have embraced playing in the heartlands at a time when most stars in US sports yearn for a big-market home.
Braun is also full of the vilest excrement known to man. He is a pathological liar and cheater and in a game that has known its share of dubious characters, he now sits at the very top. After leading the Brewers to the play-offs in 2011 and winning the National League's Most Valuable Player award, Braun shockingly tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone and was suspended for 50 games.
However, he became the first player in baseball to successfully win an appeal when it was shown there were errors in collecting his urine sample. And then he went on a pious crusade that would make Lance Armstrong envious. He screamed his innocence from the mountaintop while legions of Brewers fans, despite evidence to the contrary, scoured chat rooms and talk shows in support of their hero. "The truth shall set me free," said Braun, and last week it did when he admitted his guilt and was suspended for the remaining 65 games of the season for his involvement in another drug scandal.
He's now free to spend his summer any way he wants, outside of playing baseball that is, and the scorn he has engendered from both fans and players is unprecedented. Sadly for the small-market Brewers, Braun will be hogging most of their payroll for a long, long time. His contract runs to 2021 and he is guaranteed close to US$130 million. That's guaranteed.
Braun will head back to Malibu as he does every off season and when his contract is finished he will permanently return to live his life amongst the sea and surf as just another ridiculously wealthy young man in a colony of privilege and prestige. But for Wisconsin, the scars will not soon heal. It's one thing for New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez to be thoroughly and completely disgraced by being exposed as a lying cheat who has made hundreds of millions thanks to his misdeeds. New York City will shrug and move on because there is so much more to the place than Rodriguez.
But Braun was Milwaukee and along with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers he was basically the face of the city and state to the rest of the country. He was a guy who went out of his way to extol his own virtues, to tell one and all he did things the right way because the people of the great state of Wisconsin expected nothing less from him. This hurts more than most of us will know and while it doesn't make Braun's transgressions any more diabolical than Rodriguez's, it just makes it a whole lot sadder.
For many in the state, it really is the end of innocence. There is a layer of cynicism in America's dairyland that didn't exist one week ago. In a place where they are rightfully proud of their generosity and sense of community, we will soon find out if the good folks of Wisconsin can forgive as well when Braun returns to play next season.
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