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Ryan Braun and Brewers fans: a primer

Brewers fans are still going to cheer when Ryan Braun does baseball-related things. This will seem confusing. Maybe this will help.


Welcome, Brewers fans.

/checks team off list

Here, here, have a seat. Can I get you some cocoa? Lemme get you some cocoa. With little marshmallows, or without? Of course, sure, you're a red-blooded American. I didn't even need to ask. Let's talk about what the future holds for you.

You're going to continue cheering Ryan Braun, and people are going to think you're stupid for it.

It's okay. People also have opinions on celebrity divorces and royal babies. People sure like to have opinions. And you'll cheer for an admitted cheater, and that will make people think you've failed as a human being. It will take some getting used to.

When Barry Bonds was the personification of performance-enhancing drugs, when he was breaking the home-run record and people were debating whether or not to shoot the record-setting ball into space, people couldn't needle Giants fans enough. Jay Mariotti called Giants fans unconditionally glorifying sheep. Gene Wojciechowski called Giants fans myopic. People on message boards were really, really rude to us! Boy some of those Internet comments, I'll tell you what …

And let me tell you what Giants fans thought about Bonds after a few seasons of reflection:

Bonds, who did jumping jacks on his way out of the dugout, was cheered loudly and heard chants of his name at AT&T Park.

Barry Bonds could jump out of the stands in the middle of a 1-1 game in the ninth inning tomorrow, and he would still get BA-RRY BA-RRY chants until he decided to leave or until security took him down.

Let me try to explain why. But before I do, note that great players don't have to be inextricably associated with the franchise with which they got busted to get raucous cheers and whoops. Here's how Dodger fans reacted to Manny Ramirez's first home game after being reinstated:

Manny wasn't a Dodger for life. The fans could have been lukewarm toward him after the suspension and moved on. Instead, they stood and cheered. And here's a modest Yankees-fans reaction for Alex Rodriguez after his admission, before he helped them win a World Series. I'm not sure how many Alex Rodriguez giveaways there will be at Yankee Stadium in 20 or 30 years, but he's probably not going to be eternally linked with the Yankees like Bonds is with the Giants or Braun will be with the Brewers.

Braun is different. Braun is the Milwaukee Brewers. For the past seven years, almost everything good related to Brewers baseball had to do with what Braun did on the field. He made All-Star teams, won an MVP, led the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time in 26 years, and then he took them back three years later.

And when he accepted his MVP at home, it almost felt like there was a little bit of a stickin'-it-to-the-man ring to the cheers. There were copious whoops and whistles. Just like there will be next April. And it's okay. You're not a bad person if you want to join in, even if some of the lippier people will tell you so. There are two things you need to accept before you understand why you're still going to cheer for Braun ...

1. Being a fan is inherently irrational
You chose a team because of where you were born or because you liked Rollie Fingers's mustache as a kid. You chose a team because it was the team your dad liked, or you chose a team because the nickname reminded you of beer and everyone likes beer and you just want to be liked. It doesn't matter why. But you did it, whether consciously or not, and unless you have a durned good reason (read: Jeffrey Loria-associated), you aren't switching.

And once you've accepted that you're an irrational agent in an irrational universe, there's no sense in trying to be rational when one of your guys gets busted. Double down. Tack an extra minute to that ovation to give the world a throaty middle finger. And then remember the second thing:

2. It's really, really, really hard to reverse that irrational attachment
It takes murder. Or Jeffrey Loria. Seriously, the transgressions that make fans roll back those endorphins, roll back those good-time feelings, roll back those cheers and whoops? They're few and far between. And when the player's transgression is to get better at baseball? To make your body shoot out more endorphins? To make you cheer after a tough day at work, time and time again? Why, he practically did you a personal favor.

Barry Bonds has never held a door open for my pregnant wife, and he's never loaned me an umbrella in the middle of a rainstorm. There is no rational reason for me to like him on a personal level. When he shows up at AT&T Park, though, I scream like it's 1964 and he's George Harrison. It's kind of an icky feeling if I stop to think about it. But I rarely do. Do you know how often I've cheered for Barry Bonds? Let's see ... from 1993 to the present ... 1,976 games as a Giant ... 586 homers ... 2,287 runs scored ... times RBI ...

A billion. I have cheered for Barry Bonds a billion times. Give or take. And when faced with the thought of giving back all of those cheers because of a scandal, my brain starts feeding me the moral ambiguity, the everyone's-doing-it. It's real easy to overlook the yucky parts when you start thinking about it in terms of a player looking for a competitive edge. Or a player jealous of the attention and accolades of his peers. Or a player just looking for more money. I want more money. I'd eat Neyer's socks if the price were right, especially if they made me write better. Humans gonna human.

None of which is to excuse performance-enhancing drugs. PEDs are still a way to get a competitive edge by way of illegal and unsanctioned health risks. Players who don't take them are at risk of being at a competitive disadvantage in an industry that pays less for players with a competitive disadvantage. That's the ethical problem. And it's substantial. Don't take this for an argument that Bonds and Braun didn't do anything immoral or unethical. I don't want to excuse those decisions.

But I understand them on some level. And if I can understand them, I'm not going to crusade behind a good-human/bad-human dichotomy. And if I'm not going to crusade, maybe the next time Bonds shows up to throw out a first pitch, I'll put my hands together the same way I used to. It's the muscle memory, I promise. I ... can't help it. Look, there they go. They have a mind of their own.

Brewers fans will get there. There will be backlash. And then the face of another team will fall. That team will get crossed off the list, and the fans will cheer. Then another will fall. Those fans will cheer. And another will get busted, only to return to a raucous ovation. This will happen when players snort muscle-repairing nanobots, and it'll go on for a lot longer than that. Eventually fans of every team will have some idea what I'm talking about. It's not the right thing. But it's not the wrong thing, either. The only thing I know is that it's the rational thing. It's the irrationally rational part of this whole mess, unless it's rationally irrational. Whatever it is, it's not going to stop. It takes too much for fans to stop cheering.

Welcome, Brewers fans. It's been lonely here. I've seen a guy in a Ken Caminiti jersey yell at Bonds until he was asked by an usher to sit down. Maybe he'll show up at a Brewers game, and we can laugh at him together.