The Milwaukee Brewers chose Ryan Braun one pick after the Nationals grabbed Ryan Zimmerman in the 2005 draft, and Braun and Zimmerman have continued to cross paths ever since. They share an agency, CAA Sports. They appeared together on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2008. They have become the public face of their respective teams, while also becoming close friends.
So Zimmerman closely followed Braun’s ordeal this offseason: from the 50-game suspension MLB dealt Braun in December for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug through yesterday’s stunning ruling in favor of Braun’s appeal. Zimmerman praised the process but worried about the blow Braun could take in the court of public opinion following the exoneration.
“I’m happy for him,” Zimmerman said. “I think there’s more to the story. I would assume, that obviously he’s had to sit back for the last three months and get beat up and not be able to say anything. Unfortunately in that system, you’re guilty until proven innocent. It’s kind of like that in America now, but it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. Obviously I think the system did its job, and there’s an appeal system for a reason.
“I’ve known him since college, and I don’t think there’s ever been any doubt in my mind that he’s ever done anything. He’s been the same player his whole career. Last year he was the same player he’s been. It’s not like anything’s changed.”
Not all Nationals players were convinced of Braun’s innocence, with one wondering if Braun had gotten away with something. While Braun was cleared of punishment, that cloud of suspicion will be difficult to shake. MLB released a statement saying it “vehemently disagreed” with the arbiter’s ruling in favor of Braun, claiming a chain-of-custody error was not enough to overturn the ruling.
Most players, though, echoed Zimmerman: The system decided Braun was innocent, and the system worked. Even players who wondered about Braun’s true innocence were happy the error overturned Braun’s suspension, saying that any drug testing protocol must be followed to perfection.
Zimmerman also considered the broad effect of baseball’s drug policy. He believes the system has ridded the ills of the steroid era, the period between the mid-1990s and early 2000s when widespread drug use tainted the sport.
“I think the most important thing is you need to look at the system and the drug testing we have in place in a positive way,” Zimmerman said. “This is one thing that’s happened in however many years. I think the drug system has done a very good job. There’s literally no drugs in the game. If you’re doing drugs, you’re taking a huge risk and you’re more than likely going to get caught, so I think the system has done it’s job.
“I think obviously this one has been a situation that hasn’t really happened and I doubt it’ll happen again, but it’s unfortunate that it had to happen to someone like Braun. Obviously he’s one of the brightest young stars in the game, looked up to as a role model, and hopefully they can get out enough information to really clear his name. I think a lot of people right now are skeptical still because of who he is and how his test got overturned and other people’s haven’t, which is just as bad as being guilty, I think. Hopefully they’ll release enough information to explain to the public why it was overturned.
“This is our livelihood. That’s the biggest thing that can be put on you that takes away your reputation and everything you’ve ever worked for. You get that once in your career, you’re screwed for the rest of your life. Everyone’s always going to remember that. That’s why these things are so important. Careers are fragile and when you work as hard as he has to be the player he is and win MVPs to have it all taken away from one, faulty test. It happens, there’s a lot of people at fault here, there’s a lot of people not at fault, it’s a bad situation but it’s just not a good situation for the players because our trust is laid 100 percent in the system and CTD and whoever does that. If they mess up, it’s not them who’ll get in trouble. Someone might lose a job or they might lose their contract with MLB but they’ll get plenty of other contracts. Ryan Braun’s not going to get his reputation back. That’s the biggest thing.”