Results tagged ‘ Ryan Braun ’
By Nathan Petrashek
Ryan Braun’s long awaited statement on his suspension has finally arrived, and it’s a doozy. Literally. The most remarkable thing about the statement is that it took him 943 words to say what could have been said in 17:
- He’s sorry.
- He’ll never do it again.
- He did it only that one time.
- He’s really sorry.
At the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter what Braun had to say. He destroyed every shred of credibility he had with his victory speech, so I won’t hold it against anyone if they believe he started doping at the University of Miami, or whenever. His story has a lot of loose threads.
And what is Braun’s story, you ask? Hampered by a calf strain in the summer of 2011, Braun said simply that he used “a cream and a lozenge” to speed his recovery. Of course, he failed his test in October, so that must have been some strain. And we don’t know how Braun hooked up with Tony Bosch and Biogenesis in the first place, though that’s probably (hopefully?) of greater interest to MLB in its quest to rid the sport of PEDs than to Braun’s ever-dwindling fan base.
Braun explains his actions following his failed test as “self righteous” and stemming from his belief that he was “wronged and attacked.” This part of the statement I take at face value. I’m sure in the months following his positive test, he did convince himself that he was in the right. That even though he brazenly flouted the Joint Drug Agreement, Dino Laurenzi’s decision to store his sample in a plastic tub in his basement for days was somehow so much worse. I’m sure Braun rationalized, diminished, even denied his own drug use until, encouraged by the false confidence he had instilled in others, Braun somehow believed he stood on the moral high ground.
And so Braun’s most grievous sin is not his drug use, it’s his arrogance. He believed he could beat a system in which he had been caught red-handed. And he did, for a time, but not before smearing Laurenzi who, even if he didn’t exercise the best judgment in handling Braun’s sample, certainly didn’t deserve the inference of tampering Braun tried to create. Notably, Braun did not say he had “privately expressed” his apologies to Laurenzi, as he did to MLB and Players’ Association officials.
Braun’s ego was the problem, and it may still be. But he can’t dodge the cameras and questions forever. And when they finally catch up to him, he’s going to wish a calf strain was his biggest worry.
Every year spring blooms eternal and nowhere is this more apparent than in Major League Baseball. Opening Day means a clean slate on which everyone is equal and anything is possible. Just ask your average Brewers fan.
On April 1st, Milwaukee set the stage for their 2013 campaign with an extra innings victory over the Colorado Rockies in the friendly confines of Miller Park. While not the prettiest of wins (with Gallardo showing some signs of a post WBC hangover and incumbent closer John Axford unable to pick up the save), a win was a win was a win.
The lineup was one that Brewers fans had become accustomed to over the last several seasons:
1) RF Norichika Aoki
2) 2B Rickie Weeks
3) LF Ryan Braun
4) 3B Aramis Ramirez
5) C Jonathan Lucroy
6) 1B Alex Gonzalez
7) CF Carlos Gomez
8) SS Jean Segura
9) RHP Yovani Gallardo
The win however, came with a certain sense of discomfort. There was a palpable sense of unease in Milwaukee that afternoon, but no one could quite say why. The Brewers, now 1-0 on the young season had just sent the Opening Day crowd happy, or should have if not for the lingering sense of dread that many, myself included, left the park with that afternoon.
Was it the absence of Corey Hart, the right fielder turned 1st baseman, who had become a regular fixture in Brewers lineup over the years, who was recovering from knee surgery? Was it that Hart’s backup, Mat Gamel, had already fallen victim to the injury bug with a season ending injury to his ACL? Or what about the fact that Gamel’s backup Taylor Green, was also on the DL with hip issues? Maybe it was a lingering sense of doubt from the end of 2012, a season in which Milwaukee was in the hunt for the Wildcard until the final weekend of the season?
It wouldn’t take long for the sense of dread that we all felt to become something much more tangible, the kind of thing that stuck to your ribs and followed you around for months on end.
By April 5th, Ryan Braun was suffering from neck spasms. On April 6th, 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez sprained his knee. April 7th saw Jean Segura leave the game with a bruised left quad and pitcher Chris Narveson sprain his middle finger. By the time that Alex Gonzalez suffered a hand contusion on April 12th, Milwaukee found itself with a 2-7 record on the season and there was no doubt that the time to worry was now.
For the Brewers, the idea that the team had become “snake-bitten” (a sentiment expressed by skipper Ron Roenicke on August 3rd) was quickly becoming the teams reality. From March 20th to July 21st, the team would see 18 different players befall injury, some with just minor maladies, others with injuries that would require extended trips to the DL.
Then there was the afternoon of July 22nd. After sending Segura and Gomez to the All-Star Game, and finally receiving Braun back from an almost month-and-a-half long DL stint, the elephant in the room finally materialized as the team’s worst fears came to be. Ryan Braun, the team’s perennial All-Star and face of the franchise, was being suspended for the remainder of the season for violating the league’s drug policies.
Could things really get any worse? The answer was a resounding yes.
Soon, Opening Day starters Rickie Weeks and Yovanni Gallardo would find themselves added to the list of injuries. For Weeks, this would mean season ending surgery to fix his left hamstring. Gallardo, who also suffered an injury to his left hammy, escaped with a strain and a trip to the DL.
As of this morning (August 17th), the Brewers hold down last place in the NL Central with a record of 53-69. It’s enough that most fair-weather fans packed it in weeks ago letting their attention drift on to the newly dawning NFL season. Their loss. You see, for those of us that continue to stick it out until the bitter end, we are getting a glimpse into the teams potential future, and frankly, the future looks bright.
Since July 22nd, the Brewers have been playing .500 baseball (12-12) and they’ve been doing it with players that your casual fan probably had never heard of prior to this year. Names like Khris Davis, Scooter Gennet and Tyler Thornburg are showing the Milwaukee faithful inspired performances which fly in the face of those pundits who claim that the Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in the MLB. So who are these fresh faces?
Khris Davis – #18 LF
Called up to replace Braun on the active roster, the power hitting Davis wasted no time proving to fans and the front office that his slow start in 2013 (.188/.235/.313 in April) was an anomaly by turning on a pitch and crushing the first of five homers in his return to regular duty. Davis, who now sports a slash line of .278/.344/.630, is living up to the potential that he showed in Appleton in 2010 when he set the Timber Rattlers single season homerun record with 22 bombs.
Scooter Gennett – #2 2B
Originally brought up earlier in the season as part of a platoon with the struggling Rickie Weeks, Scooter found himself in the role of human yo-yo, being bounced back and forth between the majors and minors as needed. When Weeks’ season ended on August 8th, the role of everyday second baseman transferred to Gennett who has taken to the role admirably. In his 29 at bats in August, Scooter carries a slash line of .448/.484/.862 proving that he can hit for both power and average.
Tyler Thornburg – #63 P
Originally utilized this season as a member of Milwaukee’s renovated bullpen, Thornburg grabbed opportunity by the horns when he was given the chance to start in late July. Since July 30th, Tyler has only allowed 1 earned run in 19 innings pitched. He currently carries a 1-0 record with a 1.76 ERA on the season.
It’s also worth noting that so far in August, Milwaukee’s pitching staff carries a team ERA of 2.51, good for 3rd amongst all MLB teams.
So, despite all of the doom and gloom that has surrounded this season, it’s reassuring to see that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. A light being shone brightly by several talented young Brewers.
Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes and read about some his latest adventures in the pages of the September issues of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Sportscard Monthly.
By Nathan Petrashek
With those words, the Ryan Braun PED saga finally reached its conclusion on Monday, as Braun accepted an unpaid 65-game suspension from MLB and will sit out the remainder of the season.
For more than a year, Braun has steadfastly maintained his absolute innocence, denying any connection to banned substances after a failed 2011 drug test. That test was thrown out in a 2012 appeal, and Braun went on to declare himself vindicated, claiming, ”If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and say, ‘I did it.’” Many wanted to believe him. It was an unbelievable performance.
But as I’ve written previously, his spring training presser raised plenty of questions. Braun attacked the character of the sample collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr., saying, ”a lot of things we learned about the collector, the collection process … made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened.” That Braun was attempting to create an inference of tampering was undeniable. But what motive could Laurenzi have possibly had? And what about MLB’s claim that the sample arrived at the testing agency sealed, intact, and undegraded? Braun only made matters worse when he declared there was a “real story” known only to his friends and family.
Braun, of course, did not offer any evidence to support those strong statements, and they so infuriated MLB that when Braun’s name was linked to an alleged doping clinic in Miami, it left no stone unturned in its subsequent investigation. It made a sweetheart deal with the clinic’s drug-peddling owner, Tony Bosch, and ponied up cash to get testimony and documents from employees with equally dubious backgrounds. And even though this mafia-style “investigation” looked like payback for Braun’s victory, there’s no doubting this: it was effective to the point that the union virtually conceded during the All-Star break that it would not put up much of a fight should MLB decide to issue suspensions.
That doesn’t make it right, though. For those of us who defended Braun’s procedural rights throughout his appeal and the Biogenesis saga, Braun’s admission is a bit of a slap in the face. Not because we thought he was innocent, but because he, and any other player, deserved the protections built into the Joint Drug Agreement. I recognize that many knowledgeable baseball minds will disagree, but I wholeheartedly endorse strong discipline, including the possibility of a lifetime ban, for PED use. But such strong punishment – depriving a player of his livelihood – deserves equally strong procedural safeguards. Unfortunately, “effective” is now all anyone will remember about the MLB investigation.
As for Braun, he deserves what he has coming to him. To anyone with a skeptical mind, it isn’t much of a surprise that he’s guilty; too many connected dots, and too many incomplete explanations. I hope his acts of contrition include apologies to the teammates and front office personnel he personally deceived, and Laurenzi, whose name he publicly dragged through the mud.
And hopefully that’s the way one of the longest, most-scrutinized off-field dramas in Milwaukee Brewers history will end.
By Nathan Petrashek
Bud Selig has been on a whirlwind public relations tour over the All-Star break, but he just can’t seem to keep focused on the All-Star game. Instead, everyone wants to know when the other shoe will drop in the Biogenesis investigation, a wide-ranging probe in the now-defunct anti-aging clinic that baseball believes supplied banned substances to some of the game’s brightest stars.
“This sport is cleaner than ever,” declared Selig at a POLITICO-sponsored breakfast interview. It’s common to hear Selig speak of baseball’s drug agreement as the “toughest drug-testing program in America,” with harsh penalties and strict enforcement.
You have to wonder: if that were true, why is Biogenesis even a thing?
Keep in mind what baseball is desperately trying to do here. They’ve doled out loads of money to consultants, private investigators, and drug peddlers in an effort to come up with something, anything, tying players to PEDs. And there are apparently a lot of players caught up in this fishing expedition; if you believe media reports, anywhere between 20 and 100. And though Selig has declined to say how many players might be suspended, he confirmed David Letterman’s hunch that a “day of reckoning” was on the horizon. Those aren’t exactly words you use if you’re talking about a couple of fringe players.
And yet, as far as we know, not one of the players whose head is on the chopping block has actually failed a drug test. Well, excluding Ryan Braun. But even that test was thrown out because it was handled improperly – which is, by the way, evidence that the “toughest drug-testing program in America” really isn’t.
Is it really a clean sport if you have a huge segment of your playing population implicated in a drug scandal and yet can’t produce one positive test to corroborate circumstantial evidence of use?
By Nathan Petrashek
I intended to sit down last night after the game and write about the controversy that divides Brewer nation: Rickie Weeks vs. Scooter Gennett. Instead, just before I arrived at the game, an even more controversial topic was revived by an ESPN report claiming that MLB “will seek to suspend about 20 players connected to the Miami-area clinic at the heart of an ongoing performance-enhancing drug scandal,” including Ryan Braun.
As Kyle Lobner over at Brew Crew Ball observes, that isn’t really news. MLB has been “seeking to suspend” Braun for over 1 1/2 years. What is news is that the former head of the now-defunct clinic has reached an agreement with MLB and will cooperate with MLB’s investigation. Presumably, this includes providing information and documents about his clinic’s activities; according to ESPN, Bosch will provide “anything in his possession that could help MLB build cases against” players. In exchange, MLB will drop a lawsuit it filed against Bosch, a suit that could have had legs but was pretty clearly intended to use the judicial process to obtain the documents Bosch has now agreed to provide. Bosch also gets indemnification for his clinic’s potential liability and personal security. But it seems the thing Bosch fears most is federal prosecution; his attorneys, who checked in with the Department of Justice during negotiations, also bargained for MLB’s promise to help with any future criminal charges. Which isn’t a small benefit, because MLB was the one attempting to bring federal authorities into this mess in the first place.
Bosch hasn’t yet sung; word is he’ll meet with attorneys and officials on Friday, and it’s not clear when any document disclosures will take place. The ESPN report seems to project a pretty ambitious timeline, then, in anticipating that suspensions will be levied in just two weeks. Probably not going to happen. And since we have virtually no facts about the clinic, Bosch, MLB’s investigation, or what might be revealed about individual players, including Ryan Braun, it makes little sense to speculate whether a suspension is justified at this stage. What I want to do here is outline the process of Braun’s inevitable appeal should he be suspended.
Section 2 of the Joint Drug Agreement prohibits players from “using, possessing, selling, facilitating the sale of, distributing, or facilitating the distribution of” any prohibited substance. This means that the complicated testing process we’ve all come to know is just one aspect of enforcing the JDA; a positive test will indicate the presence of a banned substance in a player’s body, but MLB can’t prove commission of any of the other offenses by virtue of a chemical test.
So how much evidence does MLB need to punish a player for possession, sale, or distribution of a banned substance in the absence of a positive test? We have no idea. The JDA doesn’t specifically say. The “Discipline” section appears to gives the Commissioner pretty much unfettered discretion to prosecute players for these acts. With respect to sale or distribution, the Commissioner only needs evidence of participation. Absent a criminal conviction or positive test, the Commissioner only needs “just cause” to suspend for use or possession. We have no idea what “just cause” is because the JDA doesn’t say.
This obviously leaves substantial room for Braun and the union to argue against any non-analytical suspension. The process for challenging a suspension will look familiar to those who followed Braun’s earlier appeal. An arbitration panel consisting of an impartial arbitrator (and perhaps two party arbitrators) will be appointed. The panel will decide independently (i.e. without deference to the Commissioner) the appropriate level of discipline and whether that discipline was supported by “just cause” – again, whatever that means. There are special rules governing the timing of these “just cause” appeals. The panel has to convene a hearing as soon as practicable but no later than 20 days after the appeal. The panel then must make “all reasonable efforts” to finish taking evidence, close the hearing, and reach a decision within 25 days. It then has 30 days to reduce that decision to writing.
What this should tell you is that, even if MLB levies a suspension against Braun within the next two weeks, it will be months before there is any definitive resolution of the matter. The legal issues-like the meaning of “just cause”-arising from the JDA’s poor drafting could elongate that timeline even further. In short: there isn’t going to be a quick resolution, and Braun could well have another lengthy fight on his hands.
By Nathan Petrashek
The Brewers finally ended a three-game skid on Sunday, but not before recording a franchise-worst 32 scoreless innings. That’s right; before Ryan Braun’s 8th inning dinger, the Brewers hadn’t scored a run since the 2nd inning in Chicago on Tuesday. The Brewers (specifically, the much-maligned Yuniesky Betancourt) managed to tie the game in the 9th, and might have taken the lead if not for some (attempted) bunting foolishness. Still, Jonathan Lucroy hit his first home run of the season to put the Brewers ahead for good at the top of the 10th. The Brewers have their third win, and all is right with the world.
Well, not so much. For fans who like to see runs scored (basically, if you’re not Old Hoss Radbourn), there was plenty of bad news to accompany the victory. Aramis Ramirez, who jammed his knee sliding into second base early in the season, isn’t likely to come off the DL when he’s eligible for reinstatement. I know, it’s a little cringeworthy when Ron Roenicke uses a phrase like “play it safe.” After all, this is the manager who just days ago-down a run in extras, with men on, and no other position players due to Roenicke’s own poor roster construction-declared Ryan Braun unfit to appear as a pinch hitter, and batted Kyle Lohse(!) in his stead; Braun would go 3-for-4 the next day and play nearly the entire game. But given Ramirez’s age and the lack of any other suitable options defensively at third base, it’s probably a good thing that Ramirez take whatever time he needs to get right.
The good news is that, offensively, the team has been fairly productive, even with Braun, Ramirez, and 1B Corey Hart missing time. To date, the 2013 Brewers have scored 36 runs. That’s just 3 shy of the number they scored as of this time last year, when the Brewers showcased the National League’s best offense. That those runs have come with some of the team’s best hitters (Rickie Weeks, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Gomez) enduring mini-slumps is a testament to the team’s offensive potential. With those players returning to form, and Ryan Braun healthy again, it’s not unreasonable to expect this team’s offensive output to increase significantly in the coming days, even with prolonged DL stints for Ramirez and Hart.
I don’t, of course, mean to suggest that this team couldn’t use Ramirez or Hart in the lineup. Even at 36 runs scored, the Brewers’ offense ranks as one of the worst in the National League, down there with the lowly Pirates and Marlins. Although I’m certain that having Ramirez and Hart in the lineup would make the Brewers more dangerous, it’s hard to quantify how much. I love Ramirez’s bat, but (even if not entirely true) the notion that he’s a slow starter persists, and last season provided ample evidence to support that theory. That same concern doesn’t exist for Hart, but some of his lost production has been offset by Jean Segura’s and Norichika Aoki’s stellar runs, and Hart can be prone to prolonged slumps.
Bottom line: we all know that when this offense is finally healthy, it will be great. But it is fully capable of treading water for the next month or so until that happens.
By Nathan Petrashek
Let me put this out there immediately: I have no idea whether Ryan Braun used performance-enhancing drugs. It’s entirely possible that he did. As much as we think we do, we (fans) don’t know who professional athletes really are. While everything in Braun’s public persona suggests to me he didn’t, I simply don’t know. And neither does anyone else except Ryan Braun.
That didn’t stop a ton of national reporters from generating clicks with misleading headlines.
Here’s one from SI’s Tom Verducci: “As Braun’s name surfaces in PED scandal, another sad day for sports”
The Miami Herald writes: “Braun releases statement on PED link to Miami-based clinic”
Even the Journal-Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt gets in on the fun: “Ryan Braun attributes PED link to Research for 2011 drug appeal”
The problem: Recently discovered documents don’t link Ryan Braun to PEDs.
Let’s recap what we know. Less than a week ago, the Miami New Times published a report linking some of baseball’s biggest names, including Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, and Melky Cabrera, with a Miami anti-aging clinic that also supposedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs. The New Times obtained the records from an employee who worked at the clinic, Biogenesis, before it closed in December 2012. The records contained numerous references to the University of Miami baseball team, including conditioning coach Jimmy Goins, which I said at the time spelled bad news for Braun after his successful appeal of a positive drug test in 2011.
It got much worse for Braun yesterday. Yahoo’s Tim Brown and Jeff Passan found Braun’s name in the Biogensis records. In some people’s minds, this meant an immediate link to PEDs and guilt. Yet Brown and Passan specifically stated:
Three of the Biogenesis clinic records obtained by Yahoo! Sports show Braun’s name. Unlike the players named by the Miami New Times in its report that blew open the Biogenesis case, Braun’s name is not listed next to any specific PEDs.
Which is why the New Times didn’t report his name in the first place, incidentally. In a blog post, the Mami New Times’ Chuck Strouse clarified:
Yahoo!’s story raises an obvious question. If Braun and Cervelli’s name appear in the Bosch records at the heart of New Times‘ investigation — and indeed, Yahoo!’s report does appear to match New Times records — why didn’t we report them in our first story?
Simple: An abundance of caution.
As Yahoo! notes, the records do not clearly associate either Braun, Cervelli or a third player who this morning denied all ties with Bosch (Orioles third baseman Danny Valencia) with use of supplements. Yahoo! apparently obtained copies of just these page of Bosch’s notebooks independently of New Times.
So what did the Biogenesis records reveal? The Yahoo! story identifies three documents with Braun’s name:
1) A list that includes some players linked to PEDs (Rodriguez, Cabrera, and Cesar Carrillo) and some not (Francisco Cervelli and Danny Valencia).
2) A document which lists Braun’s name along with “RB 20-30k.” A picture of this document was not included in the Yahoo! report.
3) A letter to an associate apparently congratulating Melky Cabrera on his MVP and referencing something called the “‘Braun’ advantage.”
Braun issued a plausible explanation after the story broke, claiming his attorneys consulted with Tony Bosch, a Biogenesis employee, while preparing for his successful appeal. Braun stated Bosch answered questions “about T/E ratio and possibilities of tampering with samples.” According to Braun, there was a dispute over compensation for Bosch’s work, which was why Braun and his lawyer were listed under “moneys owed” and not on any other list.
This is at least consistent with the “RB 20-30k” notation and multiple references to one of Braun’s lawyers, Chris Lyons, later in the documents. David Cornwell, another Braun attorney, released a statement saying he was introduced to Bosch early in Braun’s case and “found Bosch’s value to be negligible.”
While the reference to a “‘Braun’ advantage” is somewhat troubling, it amounts to nothing more than an obscure and ambiguous reference in a letter that could mean almost anything. Nothing in the newest documents directly links Braun to PEDs or gives any more clarity to the circumstances surrounding Braun’s positive test in 2011 (for which I found Braun’s explanation last year wanting).
In short, we don’t know much more now than we did in 2011. As with his statement last year, Braun’s most recent pronouncement almost raises more questions than answers.
So if you read anything proclaiming Braun definitively guilty or innocent, don’t believe it. We just don’t know.
By Nathan Petrashek
This will be the first year I’m participating in the Brewers Blogosphere awards, run by Jaymes Langrehr at Disciples of Uecker. This sort of works like the team awards every year, with each writer allowed to make three selections in each category—team MVP, best pitcher, and the like. The first selection is worth 5 points, the second 3, and the third 1. The winner in each category is the player with the most points when the votes are tallied.
The results are tallied, and it seems I’m an outlier in a few categories. You can find the results here. My explanation for my votes is below.
1. Ryan Braun
There’s no real debate here. Braun should be the National League’s MVP this year, so he’s an obvious choice for the top spot in team voting.
2. Yovani Gallardo
This one was a really difficult choice. The WAR folks are going to hate this pick, as Yo was a 2.8 bWAR pitcher while Rami knocked the ball around to the tune of 5.4 wins above replacement. Nonetheless, Gallardo was the only starter on the team to eclipse 150 IP. He anchored a rotation that made a real run at the postseason even after its best pitcher was traded away, going 11-1 to finish the year while accumulating 76 K’s over 79 innings. Most of all, Gallardo proved that his outstanding 2011 campaign was no fluke and gave the team confidence that Gallardo can hold serve as a viable ace in the future.
3. Aramis Ramirez
No way could Ramirez fall any lower than number three in MVP voting. A .300/.360/.540 season was just what Doug Melvin ordered for the heart of the Brewers’ order after Prince Fielder departed last offseason. Ramirez clubbed 27 home runs and a league-leading 50 doubles, the latter challenging the franchise record of 53. Ramirez, never known for his defense, also flashed some serious leather at third base and even chipped in a career-best nine(!) steals. Ramirez even bested our pretty optimistic projection for him in spring, though we nailed his HR and RBI totals.
1. Zack Greinke
Grienke was flat-out ridiculous as a Brewer in 2012. His home run rate plunged from 2011, as did his walks per nine, and somehow Greinke managed to maintain an outstanding 8.9 strikeouts per nine. So pretty much the Zack Greinke we all know and love.
2. Marco Estrada
Quick: who was the only Brewers pitcher to top Greinke in K/BB ratio in 2012? Yep, it was Marco Estrada, with 4.93. It might seem strange to peg Estrada as a better pitcher than Gallardo given the MVP honor for Gallardo above, but let me explain. Gallardo was a workhorse for the Brewers this year, tossing over 200 innings. Estrada was a reliever for part of the season and missed a month, but, when pitching in the rotation, actually performed better than Gallardo. Though Estrada ended the season with a 5-7 record, his 3.54 ERA, 1.14 WHP, and 113 ERA+ all topped Gallardo (albeit narrowly in ERA and ERA+). In essence, Estrada gets the nod at best pitcher for much better command, while for Gallardo gets credit at MVP for actually being on the field and in the rotation.
3. Yovani Gallardo
I don’t intend to take anything away from Gallardo’s excellent 2012 campaign, but let’s face it, walks will haunt. Gallardo was an ace in every sense except one: his unacceptably high 3.6 BB/9, a significant regression from 2.6 BB/9 a year ago and a return to his erratic ways. The frequent free passes elevated his pitch counts, a big reason Gallardo never made it out of the eighth inning this season.
1. Aramis Ramirez
An easy choice given his strong season.
2. Norichika Aoki
Doug Melvin’s 2-year, $2.5M Ryan Braun insurance policy paid off even though Braun wasn’t suspended. Aoki produced a .288/.355/.433 line mostly in right field, as Corey Hart shifted to first base. Aoki was good for a 3.3 bWAR and was only paid $1M. Though Aoki is a rookie of the year candidate, at age 30 his ceiling might be limited. Still, I think there’s room for improvement, as Aoki played sparingly initially, and expecting anyone to fully adjust to MLB pitching in only a partial season is a tall order.
3. Wily Peralta
I’m probably Peralta’s biggest critic, but he piqued my interest in the majors after a pretty crappy year at AAA. While Peralta had a good year in 2011, I was skeptical that he had put his command issues behind him. They again reared their ugly head in 2012; over 146 AAA innings, Peralta walked 4.8 batters per nine and amassed a 1.58 WHIP. Somehow – I’ve heard a minor mechanical tweak – Peralta again managed to contain his wild ways over 29 innings for the big league club at the end of the season. We’ll see if it sticks.
1. Marco Estrada
Even though he’s been mentioned a lot, I think he would get more attention for his stellar 2012 if he weren’t Marco Estrada. I get the sense that people feel Estrada is a known quantity, and they don’t get excited.
2. Shaun Marcum
This may be a bit of a homer pick, because I feel like I’m constantly on the defense about Marcum. I know he came up short in the 2011 postseason, but you have to let it go. 124 innings of 3.70 ball this year, and the only time I’ve heard Marcum mentioned is when (1) he gets an injury timeout; or (2) people talk about dead arm. Fact is, we paid a lot to get him and he did reasonably well for us. We shouldn’t be so quick to shove him out the door.
3. Carlos Gomez
I feel like I’m beating a dead horse with this pick, too. Much has been made of his last-season surge in 2012, but he’s quietly put up consecutive 2+ bWAR seasons.
1. Rick Weeks
Worked through a severe slump to start the season with poise, never shifting responsibility or taking to Twitter to bash anyone (see #3 in this category). By the end of the season, was pretty well back to the old Rickie.
2. Nyjer Morgan
We all kind of wanted to see him start trouble, but he managed to avoid it despite being benched. Team player gets a vote.
3. Anyone but John Axford
New rule: No Twitter at least 48 hours after a blown save.
By Nathan Petrashek
“I stood up to the plate, I swung my bat as hard as I could. Ballgame’s over, guys.”
This weekend I buried a man I have known since childhood, one of my best friends. It was one of the hardest days for me, but not an entirely unexpected one. Eric McLean had been battling leukemia basically his entire adult life. After his initial diagnosis in 2003, Eric lived cancer-free for about 4 1/2 years until he relapsed in 2007, then again in 2009. The time between relapses grew shorter but Eric kept fighting. Eventually doctors discovered evidence of the disease in his brain. Eric tried one last time to battle back, to survive, but he was unsuccessful. Out of options, he received hospice care at his parents’ house for about two weeks. He uttered the words above in his final video journal made just days before he died on August 23. He had just celebrated his 28th birthday the month before.
That means Eric didn’t get to see the Brewers finish off a sweep of the free-falling Pirates yesterday. He didn’t get to see the near-sweep of the Cubs in Chicago. And he didn’t see the Brewers take 2 out of 3 in Pittsburgh the series before that.
It might seem pretty trivial, of all the things Eric won’t get to experience, to mention a handful of Brewers games in what may be a lost season. In perspective, a lot of things appear trivial right now (among them Perez Hilton’s thoughts on my friend’s final days). And yet, I can’t quite bring myself to place sports – and I speak particularly of baseball – in that category of “life’s meaningless distractions.”
I would have no problem doing so if I was a strict adherent to my philosophy on professional sports. The phrase “bread and circuses” is a good starting point. The phrase refers to efforts by ancient Roman politicians to win votes by offering the masses free bread and entertainment. The general idea was to discourage regime change by encouraging complacency; it was premised on the theory that a fed and distracted populace would view its leaders favorably. As one of my law school professors used to say, “Think about what you could accomplish without sports.” We spend hours and hours watching, writing, and talking about “our teams.” That’s by design; franchises want us to identify with them, to feel emotionally invested in their success. So we pack stadiums, often publicly financed, to watch millionaires hired by billionaires play games. Kids look up to sports stars as role models. We buy $200 jerseys and $8 beers. If we as a society spent as much time, energy, and resources on disease as sports, we’d have probably cured cancer.
I know all this, and yet I am still a willing participant. I have season tickets, my closet is filled with jerseys, and I have autographed memorabilia scattered all over my apartment. I give the Brewers and Major League Baseball free marketing on this blog every single day.
I do this because baseball offers far more than the pleasure of victory and the agony of defeat. Eric and I had season tickets with a few friends prior to doctors telling him he was terminal in 2009. His brother Mike, wanting desperately to brighten Eric’s dreary hospital days, contacted the Brewers to ask if there was anything they could do. The Brewers sent Larry Hisle.
Larry Hisle was a very good baseball player. He played for nearly a decade with Philadelphia and Minnesota before signing a 6-year deal with Milwaukee in 1978. He had his best statistical year that first season, hitting 34 round trippers and knocking in 115 en route to an All-Star berth and 3rd place MVP finish. Unfortunately, that season would also be the last full one Larry would ever play. He struggled with injuries over parts of the next four seasons; a torn rotator cuff eventually forced him into retirement. He played his last game on May 6, 1982. And although it was painful, Larry forged ahead, eventually becoming a successful hitting coach for the world champion Toronto Blue Jays.
Larry is one of the most humble, selfless, caring people I’ve ever met. His current title is Manager of Youth Outreach for the Brewers, but his real job is mentoring, not marketing. Put simply, Larry tries to give at-risk kids a better life. And he does this by inserting himself into theirs, making himself available nearly 24/7 to his troubled youth. Spend any amount of time with Larry and you’ll see him pull a gold MLB alumni card from his wallet. The card is given to veterans with 10 or more years of MLB service. It will get him into any baseball game he wants, any time, for free. He has never used it. There’s always a chance that one of his kids will call for help while he’s at the ballpark. “I don’t like doing anything halfway,” he told Adam McCalvy in 2005. “I tell these kids that I’m going to be in their lives the whole way. They had better get ready, because I’m going to be there.”
So it was with Eric. Because of our shared appreciation of baseball, Eric wanted me there for Larry’s first visit. Larry brought a playbook, baseballs, and a demeanor forged through struggle. Orphaned at 11, Hisle overcame extreme adversity to find success in the game and in life. Larry once took us for a personal tour of Miller Park and introduced us to a few players-an honor usually reserved only for his kids, to show them that hard work and determination breed success. He talked of those traits during that first meeting with Eric, and again when he came back the next day. Larry never stopped visiting. He was with Eric the day he died. At Eric’s funeral, Larry would say that although he knew Eric the shortest time, they had forged a friendship second to none. I think that’s because Eric was a living example of the message Larry tries so hard to instill in his kids: Never give up.
What is it about baseball that could bring two absolute strangers of different generations together to form a bond until death? What is it that could bring two close friends since childhood even closer? And what is it that could bring a dying man to, in his final days, analogize the game to his own struggle to survive?
When longtime Brewers groundskeeper Jeff Adcock passed away a few months ago, Ryan Braun responded to a question about his All-Star selection by saying, “I think there’s constant reminders in life that there’s things that are far more important than this game that we play.” There’s no doubt truth to that.
But let’s not also forget that our lives are better for having this wonderful game in it. I’m going to miss Eric very much. I’m sad he didn’t get to see that sweep of the Pirates. I’m sad he won’t be with us at Opening Day next year, or the year after that. But if he had to miss these things, at least I know that I will never forget him. The game is a reminder of good times and friendships that thrive under blue summer skies lazily stretched above grass-ringed diamonds.
And if you have these kinds of memories, too, know that your time wasn’t wasted making them.
By Nathan Petrashek
Ryan Braun has a dream. That dream is to make the playoffs in 2012:
“There’s no reason to give up. Why are you going to give up, ever? I think until you’re mathematically eliminated, you’re going to continue to believe you have a chance. There’s a lot of crazy things that have happened throughout the course of the history of this game.”
There is enough truth to Braun’s last point. Exhibit A is last year’s St. Louis Cardinals, a team both Braun and Doug Melvin like to cite as proof of the impossible. The Cardinals were 10.5 games out of first place as late as September 5, but managed to win 8 out of their last 12 games en route to a wild card berth and eventual World Series victory. They were helped by a faltering Atlanta team that lost its last 5 games.
History definitely isn’t on the Brewers’ side, though. At 15.5 games back, the Brewers will need a comeback of epic proportions.
To my knowledge, no team has ever made the kind of comeback Braun seems to believe in. The 1914 Boston Braves at one point trailed the front-running New York Giants by 15 games. That was on July 4, 1914, and the Braves were in last place. By October 1, the Braves would lead the National League by 11 games. They would go on to sweep the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1914 World Series, earning the “Miracle Braves” moniker.
A miracle would be about what the Brewers need right now: an extraordinary event that surpasses all known powers. What once rivaled the best rotations in baseball has been left in shambles with the injuries to Shaun Marcum and Chris Narveson and the Zack Grienke trade. The same players that have contributed 26 losses to the 2012 club still haunt the Brewers’ bullpen. And an offense that lost its starting shortstop and first baseman is still putting it all together.
The odds are made all the worse by the fact that three different teams will need to go on prolonged losing streaks. St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati all have significantly better records. The Brewers’ best hope is a wild card berth, but they’re even 11.5 games out of that.
I see where Braun’s optimism comes from. The Brewers’ will undoubtedly play better baseball in the final months, because they couldn’t get much worse. He’s trying to motivate a team that looks like it has little left to play for. But don’t dare hope for a playoff spot. Not yet. The Brewers need to show me more than a sweep of the lowly Astros to make me believe in miracles.