In July of 2013, Ryan Braun admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. His initial positive test, from October of 2011, had been overturned after Braun, and his legal team, waged a successful battle against the drug collector, Dino Laurenzi Jr. Laurenzi had waited to deliver the specimens to the lab, instead of delivering them right away per his instructions. Braun and his lawyers painted Laurenzi as incompetent and even insinuated that he purposefully tampered with Braun’s urine sample because he was a Chicago Cubs fan and possibly anti-Semitic. Then, in July of 2013, Braun came forward in the middle of Major League Baseball’s BioGenesis investigation and owned up to his initial positive having been correct.
We’re years removed from any of the above being relevant. At least, we were until the Milwaukee Brewers launched an ad campaign urging folks to play by the rules and stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Brewers chose Ryan Braun as the poster boy for their ad campaign. Naturally, some portions of the baseball world reacted negatively to this decision. Their reaction was understandable, Braun did use lies to successfully damage the life of a fellow human being to try and save face. While the derision of the rest of the baseball world, Cubs fans specifically, towards the campaign is understandable, it’s also quite misinformed.
To people outside of Milwaukee Braun is a pariah. He is regularly booed at visiting stadiums and opposing broadcasts are quick to go to his negative past. This is not the case in Milwaukee where Braun is still revered by fans. The former National League Most Valuable Player has a complicated legacy, except for in Milwaukee where his legacy is that of being an all-time fan favorite. Where the rest of the baseball world sees a dirty cheater, Milwaukee fans see someone who owned up to his mistakes and has done more good than bad for the city, on and off the field.
The ad from the Brewers may seem misguided to people in Chicago or New York. For Milwaukee fans, it is right in line with the way that Braun’s past actions are treated these days. He did what he did so why not have a laugh over it? What better way to use Braun’s past misdeeds than to contribute more good to the community by getting people to stay at home during a pandemic? In this sense, the Brewers campaign, and Braun’s involvement, is marketing at its best.
Baseball is a global game with local roots. The case of Braun presents this in rather stark contrast. To the majority of baseball fans across the globe, Braun is a villain who can do no good. In Milwaukee Braun is an aging hero, who, warts and all, presents the same sort of damaged hero image that also made Brett Favre so popular throughout Wisconsin. Those of us who aren’t Brewers fans are justified in our take on Braun. At the same time, we need to allow that our worldview isn’t the same as the view of Braun in his adopted home city.
There’s no excusing Braun’s cheating or what he did to Laurenzi. Unless you live in Milwaukee and are a Brewers fan. In that case, his cheating and reprehensible treatment of Laurenzi aren’t just a thing of the past but something long forgotten. When Braun wears a shirt telling people to play by the rules it riles up the outside world but Milwaukee fans fall even more in love with their self-deprecating hero.
Note: A previous version of this article said that Braun admitted to using PEDs in August of 2013 rather than July. It has been updated to fix the error.