By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) We love cheering for steroid guys when the circumstances work out just right, with the right player in the right uniform in the right place.
White Sox fans don’t care that Jose Quintana was suspended for the entire 2007 season for a positive PED test in the minors. Nor does it matter that Tyler Flowers served a 50-game rip in 2006, and we can recall the upbeat response when Manny Ramirez joined the team for his ill-fated stint in 2010.
It doesn’t really matter to any of us that the majors are littered with such guys. We’ve reconciled that. Your team’s roster either has one or more now, or did before, or will soon.
Another situation will involve the simple passing of time, as the trickle of once-disgraced sluggers and power-pitchers continues into their middle age. They’ll reappear in front of fans weary and forgetful enough of pharmaceutical scandal to revert to polite, reflexive behavior. Some will have been through a cycle of practiced public apology, others stubbornly not, but most of them will stand again for a home crowd, harmlessly, draped in a familiar uniform top.
But the standing ovation yesterday for Ryan Braun at Miller Park was a shock.
What is the message being sent by Brewers fans, and more importantly, what are the underlying emotions that caused such a misguided response? Braun isn’t returning from injury or illness, nor did he serve a stint in the Marines overseas. The disconnect here is jarring, and it’s not really about the fact that he used steroids.
I’m having a difficult time accepting the superficial explanation from some corners that Wisconsinites are just pleasant, forgiving types, leaning more toward the idea that those celebrating Braun are just stupid saps.
This guy lied and lied and lied to these fans, and they love him for it. If they’re saying, “We still adore him because he’s ours,” then the rest of us are entitled to our opinion about anybody who could possibly think that.
Of all of baseball’s ‘roiders, Braun is the only one who went out of his way to impugn the collector of the first evidence – the positive urine sample – both professionally and personally, saying, “There were a lot of things we learned about the collector” without ever mentioning a single one of them. Privately, he went so far as to initiate a whisper campaign in the locker room that Dino Laurenzi planted the offending substance because he was an anti-Semite or even worse, a Cubs fan. Sammy Sosa pretended he couldn’t understand English, Mark McGwire was conveniently foggy and Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger at congressmen and lied through his teeth, but none of them tried to ruin the life of a specific, innocent person to protect themselves.
That’s Lance Armstrong stuff, from the major league PED-fraud playbook. Braun is closer to that level – not just a cheater who got busted, but a genuinely bad guy.
If these cheesers are really so nice, that should matter more to them than the chemicals.
It’s natural for sports fans to embrace the usual spoon-fed stories of redemption or successful return from adversity created by outside forces. It’s the ubiquitous television treacle of soft focus, swelling strings and tinkling piano designed to make us feel a different kind of human connection with a mega-millionaire who hits a ball with a stick.
For a piece of garbage like Ryan Braun who brought everything on himself, never stopped lying about it and casually attacked people as he felt necessary, this was way too much, way too soon and completely wrong.
Milwaukee didn’t think this through.