Farewell to Ryan Braun. It seems a little weird to be writing this as he has yet to announce his retirement. That being said, we are a week into the 2021 baseball season and Braun is still a free agent. The Brewers declined his mutual contract option back in October. Therefore, it is time for me to bid farewell to Ryan Braun on behalf of Brewers fans everywhere.
Since his major league debut in 2007, Braun has been a fixture in the Brewers lineup. It has been weird watching Brewers games for the last week and not seeing shots of Braun in the field or at the plate. During broadcasts, there has hardly been a mention of the Hebrew Hammer. It would appear as if everyone has moved on. Not quite what many of us would have imagined for Braun’s departure from the Brewers and baseball. Such is life when a storied career comes to an end in a world still very much upended by 2020.
Youngster to Leader of the Crew
The Brewers selected 21 year old Ryan Braun fifth overall in the 2005 draft. Prior to 2007, Braun played a total of 355 games in the minors (includes fall league, according to Baseball-Reference.com). It is astonishing for a player to rise through the ranks as quickly as Braun did. This was certainly a sign of things to come.
Ryan Braun broke into the big leagues as a third baseman. Throughout his career, he would also spend time playing all three outfield positions, first base, and DH in games in American League parks. This versatility and willingness to play wherever the Brewers needed him is a testament to Braun’s desire to win and be a good teammate.
Back in 2016, then Brewer’s teammate Scooter Gennett said the following: “Ryan Braun is a great teammate. He isn’t the loudest guy or yelling at his teammates, but he leads by example. It’s truly amazing how he consistently prepares and how he goes about his business. Braun plays the game with respect.” (quote from sports.cbslocal.com September 1, 2016- DJ Sixsmith) Braun and Milwaukee were truly the perfect match.
The way that Braun approached the game also endeared him to the local fan base (and made himself an enemy of the opposing fans). Ryan Braun was always well received by the Brewers home crowd, as well as the large contingent of Brewers fans that attended road games. The road crowds opposing the Brewers were not nearly as kind (I follow the Brewers from Colorado and attend many of their games at Coors Field).
Following Braun’s suspension in 2013 for violating MLB’s drug prevention and treatment policies, the opposing fans began to give Braun the “Barry Bonds” treatment. This continued at Coors Field until the NLDS playoff game in 2018 (the last time I saw Braun play in Denver). It was always humorous to hear the fans boo Braun louder than they would cheer for some of their hometown players. The congregation of Brewers fans at these games was usually able to drown out the boos with raucous cheering. Through the ups and downs, we always stood behind Ryan Braun.
The reasons for the boos at Coors went beyond the suspension. Many Rockies fans are still bitter about the 2007 Rookie of the Year Voting. Braun edged Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies by two first place votes to win the award (that was for you Bryan). I am certain no other fan base is sad about the farewell to Ryan Braun. Whether people were cheering on Braun or rooting for him to fail, one thing was certain: all eyes were on him when he stepped to the plate.
Ryan Braun has an easy to recognize batting stance and practice swing. It is not easy to describe but from any angle you could tell when Braun was stepping to the plate. He took a uniquely slow practice swing and then made himself at home at the very back edge of the batter’s box. He slightly wiggles his massive 35 inch bat that weighed a ridiculous 33 ounces (he used one the longest, heaviest bats in baseball) to ready himself for the pitch. I doubt pitchers are shedding any tears over this farewell to Ryan Braun.
Despite the large lumber, his swing appeared effortless. Graceful even. This swing led to Braun becoming the franchise leader in home runs with 352. He is among the career leaders in nearly every offensive category (he is number three in pretty much everything trailing only immortals Robin Yount and Paul Molitor). Braun’s status as a top three Brewer is locked for quite some time.
It would take many more great seasons in a Brewers uniform for Christian Yelich to catch him on a stats level. One of the categories where Yelich has the edge is batting average. Braun sits at a career average of .296 and Yelich is currently at .307. “Yelly” would need to put a bunch of .300 seasons to maintain this. Not impossible, but as players age, they lose out on those in-field hits that boost this.
Hall of Fame?
Ryan Braun will surely be in the Brewers hall of fame, but what about Cooperstown? It is always fun to speculate on how a player’s resume stacks up to those already enshrined. Braun’s 352 home runs are more than Hall of Famers George Brett and Edgar Martinez. He has scored 1,080 runs, which are more than Kirby Puckett and and Mike Piazza. His .296 average is higher than Frank Robinson’s and Lou Brock’s. These are just a few examples of the type of company that Ryan Braun is in when looking at his career. Unfortunately, defensively, he does not make much of a case for himself. The hall honors the most well rounded players. Braun falls short in this regard. There is also that suspension that will always hang over his head.
We still have yet to see any player inducted into the hall of fame that has any sort of tie to performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). I doubt Braun would be the first player voted in under these circumstances. The voters would need to start making exeptions for players like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds for Braun to have a realistic chance.
Ah the Memories
Even if Ryan Braun does not make it into the hall, he will forever be remembered in Brewers lore. The Hebrew Hammer provided a a lot of clutch moments that are forever ingrained in my memory. Here are some of my favorites:
We now bid farewell to Ryan Braun aka the Hebrew Hammer. Sometime in the near future that famous number 8 will be honored at American Family Field (still weird saying that). Thank you for everything Ryan. We faithful Brewers fans were lucky to have had the opportunity to watch you over the last 14 years or so. It has been quite the ride.
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