How Long Will It Take Baseball Fans to Forgive Ryan Braun?

This past winter, Milwaukee Brewers left-fielder and reigning 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun became the first player in Major League Baseball history to successfully appeal a drug-related suspension. Last February, a three-man arbitration panel ruled against the 50-game suspension handed down by commissioner Bud Selig in early December, vindicating Milwaukee’s most cherished player since the turn of the century.

But in the eyes of many baseball fans, however, Braun still remains far from vindicated.  The suspicion surrounding the Brewers’ preeminent slugger has installed doubt in the minds of many baseball fans around the globe — enough so that many aren’t likely to forgive him for his connection to performance-enhancing drugs, legal vindication notwithstanding.

Braun, who last season led the National League with a .597 slugging percentage, .994 OPS, 77 extra-base hits and 8.92 runs created per 27 outs, claimed — among other things — that he was “a victim of a failed process” in a nationally-televised press conference from the Brewers’ spring training complex in Maryvale, Arizona late this past February, saying:

“I will continue to take the high road because that’s who I am, and that’s the way that I’ve lived my life. We won because the truth is on my side. The truth is always relevant, and at the end of the day the truth prevailed. I am a victim of a process that completely broke down and failed the way it was applied to me in this case.”

While there were plenty of those to believed in Braun’s innocence throughout the entire ordeal, there were just as many if not more who objected the arbiters’ decision to overturn the 50-game suspension. It didn’t take long for Braun’s doubters to chime in and distribute their thoughts on the matter, which by no means was a surprise given the nature of the situation.

Following the breaking news that Braun had successfully appealed his suspension, Jason Stark, a senior baseball writer for ESPN, cited that MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred “vehemently” disagreed with the verdict in Braun’s case.  He wrote:

“Over on that side of this fence, we have MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred, whose duties required him to serve as a member of the arbitration panel, “vehemently” disputing this verdict in a statement of his own. Wow. He didn’t merely disagree, friends. He “vehemently” disagreed. Hmmm.”

Now well over a week into the regular season, and — as expected — the unambiguous hostility directed toward Braun persists. With every at-bat away from the friendly confines of Miller Park, Braun is subjected to incessant jeering and heckling, and that isn’t likely to change as the season progresses.

Last week, new Brewers third-baseman Aramis Ramirez told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he expects Braun to booed mercilessly throughout the regular season, saying:

“I think it’s going to be ugly for Braun everywhere we go,” Ramirez said. “On the road, it’s going to be tough for him. He knows it. That’s no secret. Plus, he got a taste of it in spring training. Everywhere we go, he was getting booed.”

We’ve seen this before in baseball.  A player somehow connected to performance-enhancing drugs is never wellreceived by the general public. Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro all suffered for their connectivity to performance-enhancing drugs and are quintessential examples of how badly a player’s reputation can be tarnished if they are in way or another linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

The obvious difference, however, between their individual links to PEDs and Braun’s is that we still have no conclusive evidence on Braun’s situation. The only thing baseball fans can base their opinions on is the fact that Braun’s suspension was overturned.  The fact is, we don’t know what actually happened, which begs the question: How long will it take baseball fans to forgive Braun?

Baseball has always been a game of honesty and integrity and it’s fans have upheld that quality since before the turn of the 20th century. Those who deliberately cheat the game for their own personal benefit live in infamy forever. Those who are proven not-guilty, as in Braun’s case, are usually forgiven with time.

But, while Braun remains exonerated and his name should in theory be cleared from the contemptible list of those who have actually cheated the game, it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit more reserved on the matter, especially when talking about his doubtful fans. Saying that “no one else’s opinion is relevant” won’t earn him any brownie points in the hearts of opposing fans.

“I’ve already been exonerated. Nobody else’s opinion is relevant to me, I’ve got to be honest with you. The people that are close to me – my friends, my family – know the truth.”

Whether Braun knows the truth or not won’t solve his dilemma with fans. Baseball fans will always have their opinions, and that’s something that he’ll have to deal with if he expects to earn the respect from fans anytime soon.

It will be a rough season for Braun as he tries to combat the venom spewed from the mouths of opposing fans, without question, and fan-forgiveness is a long ways off at this juncture.

With time, though, forgiveness will come — hopefully.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report.  Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

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