Brewers' Braun duped many

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Michael Hunt
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tuesday, July 30, 2013

MILWAUKKE--I've been around these parts long enough to have covered or seen Robin Yount's 3,000th hit, a couple of Packers Super Bowl titles, a handful of Rose Bowls, the Bucks' run within a game of the NBA Finals, two Brewers playoffs, Final Four appearances by Marquette and Wisconsin, the Mark Chmura trial and the divisive summer of Brett Favre.

A whole lot of sporting history has gone down in Wisconsin these last two decades, memorable, infamous and otherwise, but nothing has quite matched the pathos, the outrage, national impact and the historical significance of the rise and fall of Ryan Braun.

Even with the passage of eight days to let some of the raw emotion subside, I'm still astounded at how strange, sad and precedent-setting Braun's case continues to be.

After spending a weekend with the Brewers in Denver, I came away convinced that Braun confided his secret to none of his teammates. That suspicion was reflected in the measured, insightful words of Zack Greinke, who said the closer Braun got to anyone, the more he used them.

It also became apparent that Braun's farewell address to his teammates a week ago Monday included no emotion, no apology, no explanation, just a “See ya next spring.”

How could that be?

If there was ever a time for contrition, that would have been it. But again, Braun chose arrogance over humility.

What I saw during the first road trip after Braun's suspension was a hurt, saddened and betrayed clubhouse.

Everyone thought they knew Braun when, in truth, no one knew the guy.

Supposedly Braun's best friend, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, had some insight into his restaurant partner. But Braun fooled him like he fooled everyone else. By the time Rodgers offered his candid and admirable words, he had to get in the back of a long line of people Braun had cunningly misled.

His owner, general manager, manager, teammates and fans believed him. At first I believed him. We were all played for suckers. Even then, the backlash against Braun would not have been as severe had he not thrown innocents under the bus during his sanctimonious, convincing spring training speech last year.

No one wants to be made the fool, which leads us to the other remarkable, unprecedented byproduct of the Braun scandal.

Never, at least in my memory, have other players so viciously turned on one of their own. MLB rank-and-file's harsh criticism of Braun has been more widespread, pointed, severe and judgmental toward a peer than at maybe any other in baseball history.

That, of course, is very good for Bud Selig's game. By making Braun an outcast, they have circled the wagons around the commissioner's get-tough drug policy. Finally, thanks in part to Braun, there is something approaching consensus on performance-enhancing drugs from the players and the union. That advancement alone makes the Braun story one of the biggest ever to come out of Wisconsin.

Taking another positive from this lamentable tale, it was good to see how Rodgers freely and sincerely spoke his mind without being controlled by public-relations people.

I had expected a PR guy to announce that Rodgers would only take football-related questions at the risk of ending his first training-camp interview. Instead, his comments on what seems to be his former pal were heartfelt and genuine and human, standing in stark contrast to Braun's cold and heartless words.

Goodness knows Braun's high-powered Hollywood handlers have botched this situation, but maybe they, too, felt betrayed by their client.

Could there have been one person Braun confided in during the last year and a half? To maybe say that, “Hey, I had these nagging injuries and we were in a pennant race”?

If not, this story gets even weirder.

Michael Hunt is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Send email to mhunt@journalsentinel.com.

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