COMMENTARY | It was nearly 13 months ago -- Dec. 12, 2011 -- when news first leaked about Ryan Braun's positive test for elevated levels of testosterone, and it was a shock not only to the Milwaukee Brewers but also to the sport of baseball as a collective whole. Braun was perceived to be one of the most naturally gifted athletes in Major League Baseball, having the rare ability to hit for power and average while displaying plus speed on the basepaths.
Over two months later, Braun's test was overturned thanks to a successful appeal when his sample was deemed to be handled incorrectly, wiping out the 50-game suspension Braun would have been forced to serve. In 2012, Braun's production arguably increased from a year before when he won the 2011 National League MVP, as he hit .319 with 41 HRs and 112 RBIs, finishing second to Buster Posey in the MVP voting.
There's no doubt that Braun's suspected PED use cost him some votes for MVP last season, but since this story is rather old news, what makes it prevalent today?
Well, on Jan. 9, it was announced that not one player was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame for just the second time in the past four decades. Alleged steroid users Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa didn't even earn 40 percent of the vote, and a 75-percent success rate is required to make it to Cooperstown.
It appeared that all the players on the ballot were punished in some variation, as Craig Biggio (68.2 percent) and Mike Piazza (57.8 percent) seem to be surefire Hall of Famers because of their numbers and "clean" images. Baseball writers as a whole are still trying to figure out what to make of the Steroid Era, and until they do, the mass confusion will continue.
This begs the question: Will a similar predicament present itself when Ryan Braun's career is all said and done? This is still (hopefully) a long way down the road as Braun is only 29 and still in his prime, but there's no denying that the Brewers' left fielder is currently on a Hall of Fame pace. Braun sports a career .313 AVG with 202 HRs and 1,089 hits, and his combined 32.9 WAR is the best among players who entered the league in 2007, a group that includes Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, Evan Longoria and Joey Votto.
Assuming Braun's name will one day appear on the ballot placed in front of sportswriters, his numbers should be Hall of Fame worthy, but is his reputation? Braun arguably entered The Show at the tailend of the so-called Steroid Era and depending on how you look at it, this could play in or against his favor.
Someday, there may be a consensus among Baseball Hall of Fame voters when it comes to letting in those who used performance-enhancing drugs during the time period which a black eye was cast on the sport. Since Braun isn't part of that era, he isn't grouped in with the drug and assumed-drug users, and some would argue he shouldn't be either way since he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
But here's the flip side of the coin: With Braun playing post-Steroid Era, he could be singled out by voters as one of the few players who was "proved" to be a user of PEDs since the time he entered the league. Players have likely found ways to beat the system and use undetected performance-enhancers, but for the most part, baseball is perceived to be a much cleaner sport than in the late-'90s and early-2000s.
For that reason, Braun's "use" could be singled out by voters who would rather not recognize that his positive test was overturned, and that his production remained consistent the season following the controversy surrounding his tainted sample. Braun keeping up his staggering career pace in 2012 was the best way for him to possibly earn vindication, but the positive test alone figures to be enough for at least a few voters to keep Braun off of their final ballot.
And that's the key -- Braun stepping up last year and having another MVP-caliber season was crucial in patching together his reputation, and therefore, improving his Hall of Fame chances down the road. In fact, considering how early this controversy occurred in Braun's career, it could be 15 years down the road when he first becomes HOF eligible, almost rendering the test irrelevant.
With that, the question is answered. Because of the way Braun responded to the hoopla, how it came early in his career and looking at his career as a whole, the announcement of Braun's positive test back in December of 2011 won't cost him a spot in Cooperstown.
Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ryan Braun
- Baseball Hall of Fame