Winter of discontent shows no effects on Braun
Brewers All-Star outfielder retains high favorability among fans and peers
The 2012 All-Star balloting was, in part, a referendum on Ryan Braun. The result was neither a rejection nor a total affirmation, but one way or another, Braun is once again an All-Star.
Braun has been an extremely popular All-Star choice, and justifiably so, given his accomplishments. He led all National League All-Star outfielders in votes each of the past four years. In 2011, in fact, he led all NL All-Stars in votes with 5,928,004.
Braun won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 2011. Again, the honor was richly deserved based upon the season he produced and the value he represented for the Milwaukee Brewers. Braun's club enjoyed its best regular season in franchise history, winning 96 games and a division title for the first time in 29 years.
However, the news of Braun's subsequent positive test for elevated levels of testosterone was shocking to say the least. The results, publicly leaked to the media during the winter, became a matter of hotly-contested discussion and debate.
Braun appealed the test result, claiming there had been irregularities in the chain of evidence. With a 2-1 vote, an arbitration panel deemed the test results to be invalid and Braun became the first player in the current era of Major League Baseball's drug testing program to successfully appeal a positive drug test.
With that decision, Braun was cleared from serving a 50-game suspension. But some gray area remained, at least for those who chose to believe that Braun -- despite his protestations to the contrary and despite the arbitration ruling -- had done something wrong. The argument for those holding that view was that being not guilty was not the same as being innocent.
What impact did this episode have on Braun's 2012 All-Star candidacy? Braun was hardly spurned by the entire baseball public. His vote total did decline, although not dramatically, from more than 5.9 million in 2011 to less than 5.4 million this season. As a result, though, he dropped from first among NL outfielders to fourth. He finished about 107,000 votes behind the NL's third-place finisher, the Dodgers' Matt Kemp.
Kemp's placement might have been considered surprising, considering the fact that despite his astounding start to the season, he played in only 36 games due to a strained hamstring. Kemp has not played since May. If Kemp cannot play in the All-Star Game, Braun would be his replacement.
The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. (EDT)/6:30 p.m. (CDT). ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Kemp has said that he probably will not play in the All-Star Game, although he still plans to compete in the Home Run Derby. Braun would be in line as a starter because he finished third among NL outfielders on the Players Ballot. Carlos Beltran of the Cardinals and Melky Cabrera of the Giants, the two players who finished ahead of Braun on the Players Ballot, have already been elected as starters by the fans. The support Braun had in this phase of the election indicates that his peers have not turned on him, either.
Braun's overall performance this season is also on his side of the argument. Through his first 72 games, Braun was ahead of his performance at a comparable point in 2011 in home runs (22 to 15), RBIs (55 to 51), slugging percentage (.611 to .562) and batting average.(313 to .311). Braun leads the NL in home runs.
There was also considerable speculation that Braun's performance would suffer this year without Prince Fielder protecting him in the Milwaukee lineup. That hasn't happened. And the continued, consistent production from Braun also doesn't do anything for the argument that he was getting illicit pharmaceutical help last season.
The All-Star voting is not a scientific sampling, not a definitive measurement of public opinion, but it offers some suggestions about how this entire episode has played in the minds of many. Ryan Braun was no longer the most popular choice as an NL outfield All-Star. But he wasn't exactly shut out by the public, either. And with his peers, he was still an All-Star. His performance in 2012 suggests that is a status he deserves.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.