My first thought was to contact Stephen Glass. Or Lance Armstrong. Or Pinocchio. Or other people whose lives have been ruined by lying and a public eye that won’t grant them mercy. On Opening Day of a baseball season that actually started 10 nights earlier in Australia and the previous night in San Diego, which is a lie in itself, Ryan Braun walked to home plate for the first time since he was revealed as a cheating, lying, performance-enhancing-drug-taking miscreant. He should have been booed vigorously, having used a successful drug-test appeal in 2012 to concoct a story that blamed a Milwaukee urine-sample collector who supposedly sabotaged Braun because he was anti-Semitic and a Cubs fan.
He was, like Alex Rodriguez, a double liar. We waited for the barrage of dissent in his return to Miller Park after serving a 65-game suspension last season. And waited. And waited.
Until suddenly, disturbingly, there was nothing but a standing ovation for Braun, this from a town that should have a grip on Midwestern values not to mention a stronger perspective about athletes who abuse integrity. They could have let months, weeks, even a few days pass before showering him with warmth. Instead, in his first game back, they supported him. Wildly.
“It was special. It was an emotional moment for me,’’ Braun said. “I kind of allowed the adrenaline and the emotion of the moment to take over.”
Said Brewers teammate, Jonathan Lucroy, per USA Today: “It was good for him, he needed that. It was important for him to know that he’s still loved here, and wanted. This isn’t New York. The fans here are pretty forgiving. He screwed up, acknowledged it, and that’s all you can do.’’
When the passion of civic and team allegiance overwhelms the common-sense rationale of what’s right and wrong ethically in America, you wonder about the state of fandom in the 21st century. What the hell is wrong with those people, anyway? Why pardon the local sports drug cheat when they won’t pardon anyone in society else who lies? At least Braun, the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2011, has a history of good performance in Wisconsin. Mind explaining how new Baltimore slugger Nelson Cruz, Braun’s partner in crime in the Biogenesis scandal, was greeted with chants of “Cruuuuuuuuz!’’ at Camden Yards every time his name was announced? When Cruz, who served a 50-game ban, hit a go-ahead home run in a 2-1 victory over Boston, Orioles fans treated him like he was Cal Ripken Jr.
“It was really neat, it was special,” Cruz said. “I made the right call to come and be part of this organization, be part of this town.”
Even Barry Bonds, despised in Pittsburgh when he left for San Francisco in 1992, heard his share of cheers mixed with boos at PNC Park, where some brainiac invited him to present Pirates star Andrew McCutchen with his 2013 NL MVP award. When even a few folks are cheering the all-time PED rat in Pittsburgh, something clearly is askew with the human condition.
And we’re not done. Wait until the Cardinals return to St. Louis and new shortstop Jhonny Peralta, also suspended in the Biogenesis case, is cheered at Busch Stadium. I’m not sure five minutes passed at the start of free agency before the Cardinals, known for their organizational dignity, handed Peralta a $53 million deal. It’s stunning, if also inexplicable, how the public can hold Rodriguez in such disdain during his season-long suspension while other disgraced players are forgiven.
In granting reprieves to tainted players, the public is sending the wrong message about a sport that shouldn’t be trusted for a long time, given the complicit relationship between players and ownership during the most egregious periods of the steroids era. In his final year as commissioner, Bud Selig truly should be ashamed for not trying harder to curtail steroids use 20 years ago. But when he sits in the ballpark in his hometown and watches the ovation for Braun, it lets Selig off the hook. And that should never, ever happen.
“Fans are fans. That’s the way it’s supposed to be,’’ said Selig, per the Associated Press. “He’s their hometown player and it was a wonderful reaction. I wish everybody well.’’
A wonderful reaction?
Excuse me while I hurl.