Ryan Braun still has the support of the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If ever there was a time for righteous indignation, this was it.

Matt Kemp could have — and arguably should have — been the National League most valuable player last year. Ryan Braun, who won the award, subsequently tested positive for a banned substance.

Kemp could have declared himself the just and proper winner. Instead, in perhaps the single most significant step in his journey from a Dodgers problem child to a team spokesman and statesman, Kemp held fire.

He lent his support to Braun, publicly and in private conversations between the two. He said he would not want the award even if Braun were stripped of it. And, when the Milwaukee Brewers star won his appeal, Kemp said he was happy for his friend.

Braun, who replaced the injured Kemp in the NL starting lineup for Tuesday’sAll-Star game, said he never would forget how Kemp stood by his side.

“That he supported me spoke volumes about his character, for who he is, for what he represents,” Braun said.

“I think, at this point, he is almost becoming the face of baseball. His opinion is relevant to me. It’s relevant to everybody. The fact that he supported me really meant the world to me then, and it continues to mean a lot to me today.”

Kemp’s opinion did not extinguish the controversy, but it dampened what could have been a raging inferno. After an arbitrator cleared Braun, Major League Baseball executive vice president Rob Manfred issued a statement saying the league “vehemently” disputed the decision.

Braun tested positive for a suspiciously high level of testosterone; the arbitrator threw out a 50-game suspension reportedly because Braun demonstrated his urine sample had not been properly handled.

Had Kemp echoed Manfred in dissent, the league and one of its marquee players would have been on the record questioning the effectiveness of baseball’s drug policy in at least one significant case. That could have undermined public confidence in a drug-testing program that baseball adopted only after years of skirmishes among the commissioner’s office, the players’ union and Congress.

“Matt showed an appropriate respect for the process,” said Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Assn. “Matt recognized that both he and Ryan had MVP-caliber years.”

Braun went one better than that.

“I think the main reason I won the award last year was because we had a better team than the Dodgers had,” said Braun, who grew up a Dodgers fan in Granada Hills.

“I honestly thought Matt had a better season than I did.”

Kemp hit .324 with 39 home runs, 126 runs batted in, 40 stolen bases and a .985 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) for the third-place Dodgers. Braun hit .332 with 33 homers, 111 RBIs and 33 steals for the NL Central champion Brewers.

Not that Braun is apologizing for winning the award, since the Brewers won their division.

“I think it should make a difference,” he said. “For all of us players, the goal is to win. When you get there, your best players should be rewarded.”

After Braun’s test result was revealed and his MVP award was debated once again, Angels star Torii Hunter said he spoke with Kemp.

“I talked to him about it and said, ‘Don’t say something stupid,’ ” Hunter said. “If you complain, you look foolish. You look like you’re jealous.

“Matt didn’t complain. If you didn’t vote for him the first time, you didn’t want him to win. He didn’t want it on a technicality. He wants to earn it. He’s not going to beg for it.”

While Kemp has sat out more than half of the Dodgers’ games because of injury, Braun has thrust himself into contention for a second consecutive MVP award.

Although Kemp and an arbitrator absolved Braun, boos in ballparks outside of Milwaukee indicated that many fans had not. Yet, Braun put up better numbers in the first half this year than he did last year, without the departed Prince Fielder hitting behind him and under the scrutiny of fans that would have taken a subpar season as proof that he cheated last season.

Yes, he considers himself vindicated.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Yeah, of course. This year I dealt with some things I hadn’t dealt with before, which made it that much more challenging. It’s definitely something I’m proud of.”

Kemp is proud of him too, although he declined to discuss why he reacted the way he did to Braun’s positive test.

“The page has already been turned,” Kemp said. “That’s not anything we need to discuss any more. It’s over with. He’s having a great season. He’s leading the league in home runs. I’m happy for him. He’s doing great.

“There’s not much else to say.”