Ryan Braun played for the Milwaukee Brewers for 13 seasons. During that time, the team only had six losing seasons. Technically five, since the 2020 season barely counted. Plus, they still went to the playoffs. They had a record of less than 70 wins only once.
That stat alone shows how important Ryan Braun was to the Brewers rising from the ashes. This isn’t about his suspension or banned substances usage. This isn’t about the lying or PR nightmare that followed and the amends he made since then. That is all valid. But what Braun did for the Brewers team and organization as a whole can never be denied. It’s the reason we will have his number retired some way or another and be present at American Family Field forever.
Before Braun debuted in 2007, the team hadn’t won more than 81 games or played above .500 baseball since 1992 when they went 92-70. That is a 15-year gap, and a very long time for a Brewers fan and organization to see success. Braun’s talent, along with a group of younger players emerging, helped bring Brewers baseball back to life. It re-ignited a fan base that hadn’t been seen a postseason since the 1982 World Series run.
Almost two years after Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks hit their first home runs on the same night in 2005, Braun was the missing piece to bring the team to the next level.
The California native made an immediate impact. He made his major league debut on May 25th, 2007. He hit his first home run the next night, won National League Rookie of the Month in June, and then won it again in July. Then he won the NL Player of the Month in July and the first person to win both of those awards the same month. He went on to win NL Rookie of the Year and got NL MVP votes.
By mid-2008, he was already a starting outfielder for the NL All-Star team and came in third at the Home Run Derby. He signed an 8-year, $45MM extension with the Brewers the year before, and helped bring the team to their first playoff appearance in 26 years. You may or may not remember this iconic moment. Please say you remember. It helped C.C. Sabathia close the door and finish with a complete game, where he definitely didn’t yell out a swear.
Braun would be an All-Star and win a Silver Slugger award for five years in a row. In 2009, he played for Team USA at the WBC. He joined the 30-30 club in 2011 and the 40-30 club in 2012. In 2011, number 8 won the NL MVP over Matt Kemp, and the Brewers also reached the NLCS. After winning the NL Central with a record of 96-66, they beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-2 but fell to the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2.
Up until his retirement, Braun had plenty of accomplishments most people forget. He was second in MVP voting in 2012 and was the NL home run leader. He was a six time All-Star, had 352 home runs, 1154 RBIs, almost 2,000 hits and 216 stolen bases over 6,622 at-bats. He holds the team home run record. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel named him the Brewers’ 2010’s Player of the Decade. Even with the scandal and the injuries, Braun was a key figure in making the Brewers a great team again.
As stated earlier, the reason Braun helped bring a Golden Age of Baseball to the Brewers is how the well the team did after he came up in 2007.
Even with players like Fielder, Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart and Ben Sheets already on the team in 2006, they truly didn’t make the next step until Braun joined in May 2007. In 2006, they had a record of 75-87 and finished fourth in the NL Central. By the end of 2007, they were 83-79 and second in the Central: Milwaukee’s first winning record in a decade and a half.
In 2008, they were second again with a 90-72 record and won the Wild Card. The next two years the team played at below .500 with records of 80-82 and 77-85 and third in the NL Central both years. People mostly try to forget about the Ken Macha years though, because 2011 was the big year. That year, Braun signed a five year, $105MM extension with the club, and then they went on to win the division and make it to the NLCS, which hadn’t been done since the 80s.
After losing Prince Fielder to free agency that winter, the team went 83-79 and 74-88 the next two years. The infamous 2014 collapse gave the Crew a record of 82-80, and brought on lots of changes. Braun stayed through it all.
2015 brought a record of 68-94. They weren’t last in the Central, but they did bring in David Stearns in September as the new general manager of the Brew Crew. Braun was an All-Star in 2015 and surpassed Robin Yount as the home run leader. In 2016, Braun was a little healthier and ended with a .305 average, 30 home runs and 91 RBIs. The team went 73-89. The next year, the rebuilding Brewers surprised with a record of 86-76 in 2017.
Then everything changed in 2018. The Brewers’ young talent they acquired started to join the team, while Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich entered the clubhouse. Braun was the veteran leader and quickly became close to them. Cain had been in the organization earlier in his career with Braun, so that wasn’t too hard.
Braun basically mentored Yelich into becoming the new face of the team during his last three seasons. He also had back-to-back season of over 20 home runs while battling injuries again. It will be hard to ever forget his promos for Game 6 and 7 of the NCLS at home against the Dodgers. Braun had some huge moments during that 2018 season.
The Brewers went 96-67 in 2018, tying the 2011 franchise-record for wins and were a game away from the World Series.
2019 was another solid year, going 89-73 and they almost beat the Washington Nationals in the Wild Card game. The shortened 2020 season led to a record of 29-31, but sent the Brewers to the playoffs for a third straight year during Braun’s last season. Ryan only played in 39 of those games due to injuries again.
And now, as the Brewers head into the postseason for the fourth straight year, Ryan Braun will be honored by the team on September 26th at their last regular season home game.
It’s the end of an era, but his impact is still felt with the current team. He played with most of the current roster for many seasons, including manager Craig Counsell. During his era, Braun got to be his teammate and be managed by him. Not a lot of players can say they’ve had the same experience during their careers.
There were ups and downs, highs and lows. But no one can say that Braun didn’t bring back an era of baseball to Milwaukee that hadn’t been around for years. There will never not be hundreds of people with Braun on their backs walking around Milwaukee. And all because in 2007, the current Brewers third baseman was suddenly out for the year, and the team needed a young talent to replace them.
Ryan Braun Forever.