The biggest offseason story last year not involving trades or free agency was clearly the controversy surrounding the positive test for performance-enhancing drugs of National League MVP Ryan Braun. The Milwaukee Brewers‘ star was immediately suspended 50 games and he quickly appealed the punishment. The test that nailed the slugger showed a very high amount of testosterone although the substance detected was not from a steroid or a drug but was indeed prohibited. A second test later revealed normal levels of testosterone. Confusion reigned for the remainder of the Winter. Finally, in February 2012 an arbitration panel (by a 2-1 vote) overruled the suspension and allowed Braun to play in the regular season starting from Opening Day. It seemed as though Braun got off on a technicality as the panel found the process by which the sample was handled was wrong. The test was taken on a Saturday and instead of being stored in a refrigerator, it was left in a Tupperware box for two days before being sent in for testing.
With all of this out in the public, how would Braun fare in 2012? Would he be given a pass due to the overturned suspension? Were his numbers legitimate? Was he really an MVP? How would he do with no Prince Fielder protecting him? As far as the on field production goes, his 2012 numbers were strikingly similar to his 2011 output. After a slow start in which he clearly was pressing, Braun went on to have a tremendous season. He hit 41 home runs this season, eight more than 2011 and drove in 112; in 2011 he knocked in 111 runs. Slugging (.595 in 2012, .597 in 2011) and OPS (.987 in 2012 and .994 in 2011) were identical and the batting average (.319 this year, .332 last year) was off slightly. Aramis Ramirez was also able to pick up the slack upon Fielder’s departure clubbing 27 homers and driving in 105. The Brewers also were down as a team although a furious finish allowed them to post back-to-back winning seasons for only the second time in 20 years.
Off the field, the jury is still out on getting his reputation back. According this article in the New York Times, fans heckle Braun in every ballpark. I am sure even if there was no question of his innocence, he still would be subjected to some sort of derogatory treatment. Clearly, if all of Braun’s tests since last year have come back negative then there are fewer doubts about his ability on the field. Will he be able to vindicate himself as times goes on? It is tough to tell since he is the only player to successfully challenge a positive test. Fairly or unfairly, there will always be a stigma attached to Ryan Braun. Maybe after he retires, he will open up about what really happened. Until then, it would be reasonable to harbor a small amount of suspicion while enjoying his tremendous feats on the field.
Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com