It was August 26th 1995, just after 8 o’clock on a balmy 94-degree summer evening in a modest southern California suburb, just outside of San Fernando. In the middle of a fresh-cut lush green backyard lawn, a boy laid flat on his back, gazed blankly into the night sky, and popped a baseball back-and-forth from his bare right hand to his gloved left. A set of wireless radio headphones wrapped over a weathered-blue Dodgers cap, and pinned tightly to his ears. The vivacious sounds of a live Dodgers game flowed through both speakers, and into the aspiring mind of a young star-to-be as he imagined his life as a Big Leaguer.
His name was Ryan, but his friends called him The Hebrew Hammer. Not because Ryan once heroically saved Hanukkah from the destructive clutches of Santa Claus’s pernicious son. They called him that because Ryan routinely stepped to the plate 4 times a game, and produced consistently scenic wonders of offense rarely seen by others his age – by others of any age – oh, and he’s also Jewish.
From his early years, to the present, Ryan has been just as much The Hebrew Hammer off the field, as he has been on it. As an academic, hammering grades – received only a single B, in high school AP chemistry. As a heart throb, hammering whom… um… displays of affection toward refined and elegant ladies in a gallant, gentlemanly fashion. As a young developing citizen, hammering any negative influences that had the potential to steer him off-course of fulfilling his ultimate dream – to one day become the Most Valuable Player of the National League.
Tragically, regardless of his natural attributes, physical disposition, and profound successes, a steady stream of adverse thought cycled through his mind, “Yeah, but how am I ever going to be THE M.V.P.?”
Even with his borderline self-defeating inner-dialogue, Ryan’s whimsical baseball fantasies as a youngster came to fruition throughout the years – for the most part.
Broke records as a senior in high school – .451 BA, .675 OBP, 25 HR.
Dropped jaws as a college junior – .396 BA, .726 SLG, 18 HR, 76 RBI, 23 SB.
Sealed the deal in triple-A – .354 BA, .726 SLG, .426 OBP, 10 HR, in 113 AB’s.
Posted arguably the best rookie year, ever – .324 BA, .634 SLG, 34 HR, 97 RBI.
Watching Ryan compete at every level generated a feeling of remorse toward his peers for any viewer. His relentless pursuit of becoming the NL M.V.P. was tangibly within reach. He was just too good. Too good – until the summer of 2010.
Ryan’s world crumbled – .304 BA, .501 SLG, .365 OBP, 25 HR, and a meager 103 RBI.
There was no explainable attributing factor to his sudden decline. Some suspect that an undisclosed injury could have been the reason leading to the drastic drop from the previous season – .320 BA, .551 SLG, .386 OBP, 32 HR, 114 RBI. Or, did he finally succumb to his pessimistic inner-demons? We may never know.
Amazing how the acknowledgement of twenty-six and a half years of human existence can abruptly shrink down to the outcome of six months of playing a game.
But, for Ryan, it did.
His identity transformed from a prolific 5-tool NL MVP leading candidate, just one-year prior, to that of an MLB cup-of-coffee-commoner, borderline intolerable to see in any professional lineup one game after the next. So much so that Brewers fans applied tremendous pressure on the front office to sit or release Braun for Jack Cust – shockingly available, affordable, and a radical offensive upgrade.
That offseason, Ryan bolted back to the drawing board. It was time to rethink every effort, reinvent an entire persona, and reset all perceptions surrounding training methods.
It worked. The 2011 season came and went. Ryan plastered disgusting numbers in the top handful of every meaningful statistical category. He dated her. The Brew Crew made it to the playoffs. Oh, and he won the NL M.V.P.
With a last name like Braun, he’s naturally bound to have more testosterone than the rest of us. If I had that kind of cash, charisma, clout, and capability, my testosterone numbers would require a yet-to-be-engineered piece of equipment in order to be read properly. Paul Bunyan stuff.
Of course, calling Jack Cust any form of upgrade from Ryan Braun is like calling falling off your second-story roof face-first an entertainment upgrade from a Six Flags rollercoaster.
The dude is a Dude. Matt Kemp is also a Dude. If it has been confirmed that Ryan Braun violated an MLB policy, and the referenced policy was created with the intent of establishing a level playing field – just take the friggin’ award away and give it to someone who hasn’t been busted yet.
The word “yet” has developed the connotation of “certainty” in the MLB.
I am certain of one thing: If at any point Ryan Braun addresses the MVP award acceptance audience by shaking an extended index finger and spewing out audible nonsense in defense of his testosterone-use conviction, I’ll poop my pants.
Unfortunately, baseball accusations in America no longer parallel this country’s principles of justice: You are guilty until proven innocent in the eye of the public. However, we should all be so thankful to FINALLY have Barry Bonds locked-up in one of his mansions for 17 days, with cocoa-suede Hush Puppies harshly binding his feet, and being limited to only Boston Market delivery while serving his house sentence – and for only $6m+ of public dollars – perceived as a bargain by most.
Oh, and the “I didn’t know” defense has already been used. You’re a multi-millionaire professional athlete with more extensive medical supervision than Kate Middleton’s reproductive organs.
Sorry Ryan. It’s a neat story, your life. You’re still The Hebrew Hammer, and I bet you look great in a pair of Wranglers. Run with that.
Is a writer on Comedic Prose
Follow him on Twitter @WeatheredSailor