MILWAUKEE — With word circulating that suspended Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun was preparing a public apology as well as admission of using performance-enhancing drugs, two reports surfaced Sunday night claiming Braun told other players the collector of his urine sample in October 2011 had agendas against him.
ESPN and Yahoo Sports reported that Braun, while waiting for the result of his appeal of a positive drug test for elevated testosterone levels, contacted players in the offseason of 2011-12 to tell them collector Dino Laurenzi Jr. was a Chicago Cubs fan as well as an anti-Semite. Braun is Jewish.
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ESPN cited three unnamed sources saying Braun called veteran players privately to lobby for their support while waiting for arbitrator Shyam Das’ verdict on his appeal. By claiming Laurenzi was a Cubs fan, Braun implied the collector might try to harm the star of their NL Central rival, the Brewers.
Sources told ESPN that when Braun made his pleas for support to other players, he did so in anticipation that he would lose his appeal. Instead, Braun became the first major-league player to win an appeal of a positive drug test.
Yahoo Sports reported the players Braun contacted included the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, whom he had beaten out for the NL MVP award in 2011, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto and Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. The report said Braun made the same claims about Laurenzi to Brewers teammates.
Braun is serving a 65-game suspension for evidence of PED use uncovered in Major League Baseball’s investigation of the notorious Biogenesis clinic. Braun accepted that ban without appeal, saying only at the time that he had made “mistakes.”
A person “close to Braun” forwarded this statement to ESPN: “Ryan isn’t currently commenting on anything — rumor or reality — related to his arbitration process or his suspension. He has acknowledged his mistakes, accepted his punishment and is beginning to make amends and will comment at an appropriate time.”
Yahoo Sports said a “source close to Laurenzi” said the anti-Semitism allegation is untrue and that his fan allegiance is unclear. That report also said a member of Braun’s camp had leaked the name of Laurenzi to Yahoo Sports via email in the spring of 2012 after the appeal.
Those reports dovetailed with the news Friday that a former friend, Ralph Sasson, filed a defamation lawsuit against Braun in Milwaukee County. Among the allegations in that lawsuit, Sasson claimed that Braun and his agent, Nez Balelo, paid him $5,000 to do a background check on Laurenzi, who lives in the Kenosha area.
In a news conference at the start of spring training in 2012 after winning his appeal, Braun — without mentioning Laurenzi by name — strongly attacked the motives of the collector in delaying shipment of his urine sample for two days, suggesting that tampering was a strong possibility.
“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 in his compelling speech at Maryvale Baseball Park.
Braun is expected to make his public apology and admission of PED use any day. USA Today reported he had begun apologizing to baseball officals but it was unclear whether Laurenzi was included. Braun placed telephone calls to Brewers manager Ron Roenicke as well as certain teammates over the weekend to provide details of his apology and admission of guilt.
Earlier in the day Sunday, Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said he wasn’t expecting much in the way of sincerity from Braun’s apology.
Speaking with reporters before the Diamondbacks’ game in Pittsburgh, Gibson said, “I got a question for him, right to his face. Is he about rehearsed by now? About ready to come out? He’s probably been practicing at theater school somewhere.”
Gibson said the topic of Braun and PEDs came up when he was talking recently with his wife about Gibson’s legendary home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers against Oakland in the 1988 World Series. He said his wife noted how that changed the course of Gibson’s life and wondered how Braun’s use of PEDs might have affected the 2011 National League Division Series between the Brewers and Diamondbacks.
The Brewers defeated Arizona in five games in the 2011 National League Division Series, when Braun batted .500 (9 for 18) with four doubles, a home run, four runs batted in and five runs scored. It later was revealed that Braun tested positive after Game 1 for elevated levels of testosterone.
As for any admission of guilt by Braun at this stage, Gibson said, “I said this a long time ago. I think that people should have an opportunity to ask him some questions and have him answer them unrehearsed. Something tells me he’s getting really prepared for just about anything that they could throw at him.
“I’m not surprised he hasn’t addressed people. He probably doesn’t give a (expletive) about me. He’s got it really good. I was one of the guys who went through many things — work stoppages, etc. — so that he could do that. I would hope that he respects me and everybody who stood up for him before he played the game.”
“Everybody looks at it differently, but if he thinks he’s giving back to the game, he has a different idea of how to give back than I do.”