Long before the sign-stealing Astros got over on the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series, Ryan Braun did the same, to L.A.'s Matt Kemp.
In 2011, Matt Kemp played out of his mind. The then 26-year old outfielder hit .324/.399/.586, with 39 home runs to pace the National League and 126 RBIs, which led all of baseball. He recorded 195 hits, scored an NL-leading 115 runs and stole 40 bases.
Kemp was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner that season. By every conceivable measure, Matt Kemp was the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player. Except he wasn’t. Kemp lost the award to a Milwaukee Brewers' outfielder (and a Southern California native, no less) who posted some pretty decent numbers himself.
Ryan Braun hit .332/.397/.597, with 33 homers and 111 RBIs. The .597 slugging percentage led the NL, as did the .994 OPS. And for good measure, he swiped 33 bases ... for a division winning team. The 2011 Dodgers barely broke .500 (at 82-79) and finished third in the NL West, 11 1/2 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. If Kemp versus Braun feels like an early edition of Belli vs Yelli, well, that might seem like an apt comparison.
Braun won the MVP by a margin of 388 votes to 332, with the consensus at the time being that a guy on a division-winning team gets the edge over a guy with similar stats on a third-place team.
Then came the kicker. In October of that year, Braun tested positive for elevated testosterone. The drug collector stored the samples at home and dropped them off at a Federal Express office a couple of days later, rather than sending them off immediately, as per the testing protocol. As a result, the 50-game suspension Braun should have immediately faced was overturned.
A sanctimonious Braun held a news conference, announced that he had been vindicated and allowed his lawyer to slime the drug collector. He then proceeded to have another monster season in 2012 (.319/.391/.595, 41, 112.)
The following year, Braun was injured and his name surfaced in connection with Anthony Bosch and the Biogenesis Lab scandal. Later that summer, he fessed up to using performance enhancing drugs during his 2011 MVP season and accepted a 65-game suspension through the end of the 2013 season. “It was a huge mistake for which I am deeply ashamed and I compounded the situation by not admitting my mistakes immediately,” Braun said at the time.
“It was important to me to begin my suspension immediately to minimize the burden on everyone I had so negatively affected — my teammates, the entire Brewers organization, the fans and all of MLB.”
Presumably he meant to include Matt Kemp in “all of MLB” but we’ll let that pass. And no, “minimizing the burden” for Braun did not include returning the MVP trophy. Before we shed too many tears for Kemp, it’s worth noting he got paid big time for that 2011 season, signing an eight-year $160 million extension, a contract that, given his subsequent injuries and production falloff, became an albatross for about four different teams.
Nonetheless, Matt Kemp's performance in 2011 was something to see. Not sure another Dodger position player has had anything like that prior to, well; prior to Cody Bellinger in 2019. In 2011, Kemp was a runner-up for the MVP, and a cheater took home the prize. For the Dodgers, it seems like there's been a lot of that going around.