Ryan Braun’s All-Star Appearance and Baseball’s Big Chill

It was refreshing to see four icons of baseball in the 1990s enter the Hall of Fame this weekend. Seven players have been inducted by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America over the past two years, as many as were voted in between 2008 and 2013. Especially after 2013, when players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, and Tim Raines were passed over, I started wondering if the Hall of Fame had any purpose other than chastising the players my generation grew up watching and loving.

Maybe Major League Baseball is understanding the inevitable, that eliminating a whole generation from its history would also push away many of the young fans on whom its future depends. Maybe a younger generation of Hall of Fame voters and the rise of alternative journalism are finally making their voices heard. Maybe the seven men who made it in the past two years were just the few unassailable beacons of the steroid era (although that certainly wasn’t the case with Biggio, despite a significant lack of hard evidence). Maybe baseball is dying. Maybe all of it.

I was shocked when I heard Ryan Braun would be replacing Matt Holliday in the All-Star Game. Braun had a quality first half, but ultimately a mediocre one by his standards. His .835 first-half OPS would be his second-worst mark over a full season, better than only last year’s injury-ridden .777 mark. It’s not to suggest that Braun wasn’t deserving — only Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton have a better TAv among National League right fielders — as he boasted a pretty good resume. But I figured he would need to do better than pretty good to get back in baseball’s good graces.

Baseball’s relaxed morality was something of an unavoidable theme over the All-Star break, with Pete Rose’s stubborn, bloated visage hovering over Cincinnati the entire week. But it wasn’t just Rose and Braun on hand. Two other Biogenesis players wore All-Star uniforms two weeks ago: Nelson Cruz, American League starting cleanup hitter, and Jhonny Peralta, National League starting shortstop. Fans voted in Cruz and Peralta, while venerable Giants manager Bruce Bochy selected Braun. It showed a level of chill I wasn’t sure baseball had.

The Cincinnati All-Star weekend, combined with the fortuitous timing of the justice department dropping its prosecution of Barry Bonds, showed that the sort of visceral anger that is supposed to justify the ways we police and punish PED users is unsustainable. With remove from the constant moralizing of the news cycle, the nation’s baseball fans have stepped back and announced, with surprising consistency, that they just don’t care. Sure, Braun was booed by Reds fans as he was introduced. But so were Yadier Molina and the rest of the St. Louis Cardinals’ All-Stars. Pete Rose was vehemently cheered. And the Brewers other All-Star, Francisco Rodriguez, was warmly received despite a history of domestic abuse.

The collective freakout over Biogenesis looks sillier and sillier the farther away it gets in the rearview mirror. The inconsistent — at best — morality of the crowd in Cincinnati should make it clear how absurd it is to write sport history for the sensibilities the people who boo the loudest at the stadium. People don’t have to love Ryan Braun to put him in the All-Star Game, they just have to acknowledge what’s happening on the field, in the real world.

It makes me hopeful the baseball powers that can be come to the same realization with Bonds, Clemens, and the rest of the steroid era stars who have been barred from the Hall of Fame. If the Biogenesis aftermath has proved anything, it’s that very few people have the energy to maintain the kind of anger necessary to justify the campaigns waged against these players. Meanwhile, Pete Rose is proving efforts to erase history will be fought viciously and are often futile. Here’s hoping baseball realizes this is a losing battle in the case of the 1990s greats and continues to grow up and acknowledge the real world over the next few years.

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