Longtime Brewers slugger Ryan Braun formally announced his retirement as a player Tuesday, thanking Brewers fans and the organization in a video announcement shared by the team (on Twitter). Braun didn’t sign with a club last offseason but hadn’t formally retired prior to today.
Now 37 years old, Braun was selected by Milwaukee with the No. 5 overall draft pick out of the University of Miami back in 2005. He was immediately tabbed as one of the game’s top-ranked prospects and would go on to make his big league debut not even two years after being drafted.
Braun hit the ground running, as he led the National League in slugging percentage as a rookie and batted .324/.370/.634 overall en route to narrowly edging out Troy Tulowitzki for National League Rookie of the Year honors. Braun hit 30-plus home runs in each of his first three big league seasons, despite not making his MLB debut until late May in 2007, and received All-Star nods and Silver Slugger Awards each season from 2008-12.
It’s impossible to look back at Braun’s career without remembering the controversy surrounding his 2011 MVP Award. Braun batted .332/.397/.597 with 33 home runs, 38 doubles, six triples and 33 stolen bases that season, eventually being named Most Valuable Player over then-Dodgers superstar Matt Kemp. It was a clear two-horse race, with Braun receiving 20 first-place votes and Kemp, who’d posted a very similar .324/.399/.586 batting line, receiving 10. (Prince Fielder and Justin Upton each received lone first-place votes as well.)
At the time, “Braun or Kemp?” was the type of spirited debate sports fans have relished for years: two elite players at the top of their game posted similar seasons… who was better? Who was more valuable? Not even two months later, that changed. An ESPN report revealed that Braun had tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, and he was reported to be facing a 50-game suspension.
As with the majority of players who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs, Braun appealed the suspension and fought the punishment. In an extreme rarity, however, he indeed had the suspension overturned on something of a technicality. The test collector who’d picked up Braun’s urine sample did not deliver the sample to the lab on time, prompting Braun to question the legitimacy of the result and the collection process.
“There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked, that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened,” Braun said following the appeal.
The identity of the collector, Dino Laurenzi Jr., was leaked and his reputation tarnished — even in spite of a lengthy, detailed statement explaining the delayed nature of the delivery which Laurenzi claimed was in line with MLB protocols.
Less than two years later, Braun was again linked to performance-enhancing drugs — this time for his involvement with the infamous Biogenesis clinic scandal in 2013. Braun eventually received a 65-game suspension — down from the original 100 the league reportedly sought — and did not appeal. He later apologized both privately and publicly to Laurenzi, stating that he “deeply” regretted his comments and his actions in light of the original positive test.
Braun’s production following his suspension notably remained strong — albeit not at its prior levels. Detractors will naturally point to the PED correlation, although Braun would hardly be the first high-level slugger to settle in as an above-average but no-longer-elite bat in his early to mid-30s. From 2014-20, Braun batted .276/.338/.492 and tacked on another 141 home runs to his career totals.
All told, Braun will be remembered fondly by many Brewer fans who were willing to move past the PED scandals but will of course be viewed in a different light by the majority of other fans. He spent 14 years in a Brewers uniform, batting .296/.358/.532 with 1963 hits, 352 home runs, 408 doubles, 49 triples, 216 stolen bases, 1080 runs scored and 1154 runs batted in. Baseball-Reference valued his career at 47.1 wins above replacement, while FanGraphs pegs him at 43.9 WAR.