Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player, postponed his eventual suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s banned substances policy by casting doubts—even aspersions—on his urine collector when a urine sample turned up positive after the 2011 season. And indeed, a panel did find there were improprieties associated with that specimen, temporarily getting Braun off the hook. Even so, many felt Braun took a step too far when he actually attacked the urine collector, Dino Laurenzi Jr., in vague terms and with no evidence, more than a year ago: “There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector,” he said at the time, “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.” As Slate’s Josh Levin pointed out, this was a kinda crappy thing of Braun to do, since, after all, “It’s hard to fathom a larger chasm in the world of sports than the one separating athletes from the people who collect and label their excreta.”
Last month, Braun accepted a season-ending suspension based on documents from the Miami-area clinic Biogenesis of America implicating him in the use of illicit performance-enhancing substances. And over the weekend, we learned, via ESPN’s Buster Olney, just how strenuously Braun urged his fellow players to stand with him more than a year ago, when he was fighting the positive urine sample. “According to sources, Braun called veteran players around baseball privately at that time to lobby for their support,” Olney reports.
In the calls—confirmed by three sources—Braun told other players that in the preparation for his appeal, some information had become known about the collector of his urine sample, Dino Laurenzi Jr., including that he was a Cubs fan—with the implication he might work against Braun, who played for a division rival of the Cubs.
Braun, who is Jewish, also told the players that he had been told the collector was an anti-Semite.
That last sentence potentially opens onto a whole other level of narcissism. Jews have a long, storied history in baseball—in fact, the first professional baseball player ever, Lip Pike, was Jewish. But there is a shorter but still very real history of resistance to Jewish ballplayers. It wasn’t all everyone fawning over Sandy for sitting out Yom Kippur. Chicago White Sox players called Detroit Tigers star Hank Greenberg various slurs and spiked him. When Cleveland Indians slugger Al Rosen was starting out, he too faced such things.
I don’t know if Dino Laurenzi Jr. is anti-Semitic. It would certainly be a significant coincidence, but that doesn’t make it impossible. (After all, the cop on whom Mel Gibson unleashed an anti-Semitic tirade actually was, coincidentally, a Jew.) But for Braun to make the allegation without providing any evidence is shameful: On the one hand, arguably slanderous; on the other hand, cheapening of whatever anti-Semitism actually still does exist in baseball, in sports, and in the world.
It feels peculiarly ugly coming from Braun, son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother, who has always seemed ambivalent toward his Jewishness. That ambivalence is his right. And if somebody did him harm out of anti-Semitic motives—that is, if an anti-Semite decided to act against a Jewishness Braun himself might deny—then to point to that in his own defense is also Braun’s right. But, again, absent even the attempt to provide proof, the allegation comes across as just a manifestation of a massive martyrdom complex.
One gets the impression that Braun just thought up the laundry list of vendettas the collector may have against him. I am Jewish, and he is anti-Semitic! I am a Brewer, and he is a Cubs fan! What else is there in the grab-bag of Braun’s identity? The fact that he is from California? The fact that he is righty? Braun is not only spitting on the legacy of anti-Semitism’s actual victims. He is inadvertantly revealing the utlitarian way he views his heritage. There are good reasons to accept one’s Jewishness, and there may be good reasons to reject it or to feel ambivalent about it. But it is not a shield to pick up or drop to the ground at your convenience.