Braun’s failed test signals baseball fans’ need for a new attitude

In the summer of 1998, I was a young, impressionable sports fan. That summer also happened to be when Sammy Sosa joined Mark McGwire in the best home run race in baseball history.

Little did I (or anyone else, for that matter) know, the offensive onslaught that was displayed that year, as well as over the next decade, was fueled not by the hot dogs and hard work of Babe Ruth’s day, but by steroids and performance enhancing drugs.

As the truth began to emerge from the shadows of locker rooms across the country, fans did not know how to react. Could it be true that the heroes we had watched hit 450-foot home runs were cheating?

In hindsight, there are plenty of things that point to players abusing drugs to gain an illegal advantage over their opponents. At the time, however, ignorance was bliss. Nothing was more thrilling than watching Sosa hit 60 bombs on an annual basis or Barry Bonds chase down Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record.

In the last 10 years, however, fans have been subjected to more disturbing developments than exciting competition. The government became involved and dozens of players have been accused or rumored to have used PED’s. The fallout has been demoralizing and embarrassing, and the sport has only just begun to recover.

Certain things are keeping the recovery on hold. Numerous players linked to PED use have only recently retired or are still playing the game, forcing the baseball community to scrutinize the players’ actions and take results with a grain of salt. The same principle applies to former players who now, or will soon, reside on the Hall of Fame ballot. The stars of the so-called “Steroid Era” will frustrate not only the baseball writers who vote on the Hall of Fame, but the fans who will try to judge for themselves if they deserve baseball immortality that accompanies entrance into the Hall.

Thankfully, the last few seasons have offered a respite from the turmoil brought about by allegations of PED use. A new generation of stars has brought back the same level of excitement that I remember as a young fan, except this time without the suspected rampant levels of steroids. Baseball has just started to experience a rebirth and is winning over the interest of millions of young athletes. That might be why the recent failed drug test of Ryan Braun cuts straight to the heart of baseball fandom.

News of the positive test from October was leaked Dec. 10 and immediately set off a firestorm. Braun, 28, is one of the brightest rising stars in the game. Voted as last year’s National League MVP, he has also been an All-Star each of the last four seasons. Now, you can add “accused of cheating” to his resume.

Braun’s audience now has reason to doubt his innocence and diminish his accomplishments. That is simply the baseball world in which we live. And I cannot stand it.

I believe two things with every fiber of my being. The first is that baseball experienced an unfortunate era during which players used drugs to cheat, and fans may never know how to perceive events that took place during this time. The second is that this era has passed, and with it needs to go the attitude that success of players warrants suspicion of drug use.

Braun’s positive test is not cut and dry. While details may never be known to be absolutely true, sources have been quoted as saying that his test was “insanely high, the highest ever for anyone who has ever taken a test, twice the level of the highest test ever taken.” It doesn’t make sense that someone who has undergone drug testing for his entire career would suddenly begin using banned substances at rates that sent results off the charts.

Additionally, once Braun learned of the positive test, he immediately took another, which reflected normal testosterone levels. Even if the first was caused by a drug that was ingested with the intent of improving on-field performance, how would a second subsequent test show no physical difference from a normal human?

While Braun is appealing the ruling that would force him into a 50-game suspension, he faces an uphill climb. Whether he appeals on grounds of a false positive test or an accidental ingestion of a drug meant to treat a specific medical issue, he will forever remain the victim of suspicion because of the timing of allegations against him.

Near the end of the 2009 season, a little-known utility man named Jose Bautista enlisted the help of a hitting coach and slightly changed his approach at the plate. The results were immediate, as he hit 8 home runs in the month of September alone. The next year, he continued his success and hit 54 home runs, the most since Alex Rodriguez hit 54 in 2007.

As he was tearing the cover off the ball during that 2010 campaign, he also was continually victimized by skeptics who saw the home run totals and immediately assumed the worst. Had Bautista hit 54 home runs in 1999, no one would have batted an eye. After all, Luis Gonzalez hit 57 home runs in 2001. Yes, Luis Gonzalez.

Unfortunately, as baseball ushers in the post-steroids era, fans presume players to be guilty before being proven innocent. It destroys the sanctity of the sport, and it needs to stop.

While it is true that Ryan Braun needs to provide answers at some point, it is also true that he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Just as Bautista should not automatically be accused of cheating after a successful alteration of his mechanics, Braun cannot be crucified for what might amount to nothing more than a misunderstanding.

If Braun fails his appeal and serves his suspension, I can only hope the truth is eventually made known. He has seen stars guarantee innocence before suffering a long fall from grace after guilt was proven. I find it impossible to believe that he would attempt to uphold his name if he had in fact cheated.

Regardless of the results of Braun’s current situation, it is only a small part of the underlying issue. There was a time when kids went to baseball games and worshipped the men who played their hearts out on a daily basis without wondering if those hearts were powered by banned substances. Now, the game is moving on, and now the fans need to as well. The players once again deserve respect for their accomplishments without a sense of suspicion surrounding their every move. Then maybe, one day, we can take our kids to a game and truly believe they are idolizing hard workers, not cheaters.

_Ed is a senior in Engineering. He can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @cubsfan2310._