This week Ryan Braun accepted the National League MVP award amidst perhaps more controversy than has ever before been associated with a postseason award. Quite obviously Braun has let down a great deal of people if he is indeed proven guilty of knowingly abusing illicit drugs to enhance his performance on the field. While there is wiggle room within that last sentence to suggest that Braun did nothing wrong even if he is found guilty of abuse, his reputation is forever tarnished. There is a very realistic chance that his name will be left off of ballots in the future for single season awards as well as Hall of Fame ballots upon Braun’s retirement.
We at The Sombrero certainly side with our generation in retaliation against the tyranny of the elderly BBWAA members, but their hold is not likely to be relinquished for over a decade. Braun’s ethical failure obviously casts the game in a dark shadow that seemingly has shrouded the game for two decades now, but is there anything positive that young players can take from these years of shame that has bettered the game for the long term? We think so.
Every time I return home to Farmington for a break from school, I lift on a near daily basis at one of two local gyms on my side of town. I have never been to either without seeing a teenage player or one in his early 20s working out as well. Whether these players are professionals home for the offseason, collegiate players home on holiday break, high school kids fresh off of fall or winter practice, club guys on off nights, or middle school kids new to high school athletics and familiarizing themselves with the weight room for the first time, these players all are utilizing reasonably advanced physical training techniques specifically geared toward baseball athleticism. Rare is it nowadays for any kid to succeed on the field without training on the track or in the weight room both in and out of season.
I am not attempting to suggest that the reason these players are training athletically is an attempt to emulate steroid abusers of today and of yesteryear, but even offseason workouts were less developed in the days before PED abuse. Watching guys like Jose Bautista and Prince Fielder go very long without prototypical bodybuilder frames should come as encouragement to young hitters.
Prince and Bautista are quite noteworthy for their specific workout regimens within the game, and while neither looks like Jose Canseco did in the late ‘80s, they still represent an end to hard work in the gym. Both players have had to spend their entire careers attempting to overcome genetic slighting, and they both have done so magnificently. These players are less of the model and more like today’s young players. We all spend our lives both fighting and attempting to enhance our own genetic makeup within the game, and the steroid era in baseball, which I prefer to think of as the fitness revolution in baseball, demonstrated the lengths that players can go legally and illegally to do so.
While today’s game is policed much more thoroughly and the rules are enforced far more harshly than in the past, the hard work training in the gym and at the track hasn’t left the game and likely never will. While we cannot thank steroids for that, we can thank many steroid abusers as well as quite likely many more non-abusers who were forced to train alongside those cheaters simply to share the same field. Today’s young players carry that desire with them in greater frequency than ever before, and it is very refreshing for former players like myself and the other writers here at The Sombrero.
Editor’s note: If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Dee’s other work: Today’s Prospect Landscape: Hitters vs. Pitchers, The Connie Mack World Series vs. Area Code Games, and How Division III Players Become Draft Prospects.