Ryan Joseph Braun (born November 17, 1983, in Mission Hills, Los Angeles, California), nicknamed The Hebrew Hammer, is an American right-handed Major League Baseball All-Star left fielder with the Milwaukee Brewers.
He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2007, and led the National League (NL) in slugging percentage. He also won the Sporting News NL Rookie of the Year, the Baseball America Rookie of the Year, the Baseball Prospectus Internet Baseball NL Rookie of the Year, and the Players Choice NL Most Outstanding Rookie Awards. Over the previous decade, the only other NL hitter to win all five awards was Albert Pujols, in 2001.
Braun was a starting NL All Star outfielder in both 2008 and 2009, won the 2008 and 2009 NL Outfielder Silver Slugger Awards, and was the starting left fielder for the USA team at the 2009 World Baseball Classic. In 2009 he was named to the Sporting News' list of the 50 greatest current players in baseball, ranking No. 32 on the list, and led the NL in hits for the season.
Heritage and early life
Braun's father, Joe, was born in Israel and immigrated to the United States at age seven. Braun is Jewish, and said "It's something that draws a lot of interest and something I take pride in." His nickname is "The Hebrew Hammer," which references his Jewish heritage, former Brewer Hank Aaron (whose nickname was "Hammerin' Hank"), and the movie The Hebrew Hammer, starring Adam Goldberg.
Braun is one of the highest-drafted Jewish ballplayers in the history of professional baseball. The New York Yankees made Ron Blomberg the number one pick in the 1967 draft. Braun was considered the best Jewish minor league baseball prospect in 2006, and became major league baseball's first Jewish Rookie of the Year the following season. In each of 2007 and 2008, Braun hit more home runs (34 and 37) than all but three of the top 10 career Jewish home run hitters had hit in their best seasons. Only Hank Greenberg (58), Shawn Green (49), and Al Rosen (43) hit more in a single year. Through the 2009 season he is seventh on the all-time list, directly behind Mike Epstein, for home runs by Jewish major leaguers.
"Braun" was, coincidentally, the family name of Sandy Koufax, until his mother remarried and he took his stepfather's name. "There's no [family] connection that I know of," Braun said, "but it's kind of cool." In another coincidence, Braun lived for a time with his maternal grandfather in a house that previously belonged to Jewish Hall of Fame outfielder Hank Greenberg. Braun's grandfather has lived in the house for over 40 years.
In December 2007, Braun was the only Jewish athlete invited by President George W. Bush to the annual Hanukkah Dinner at the White House, where he talked baseball with the President. Braun was later featured in the 2008 Hank Greenberg 75th Anniversary edition of Jewish Major Leaguers Baseball Cards, published in affiliation with Fleer Trading Cards and the American Jewish Historical Society, commemorating the Jewish Major Leaguers from 1871 through 2008. He joined, among other Jewish major leaguers, Ausmus, Kevin Youkilis, Ian Kinsler, Brian Horwitz, Gabe Kapler, Jason Marquis, Jason Hirsh, John Grabow, Craig Breslow, and Scott Schoeneweis. Braun was one of three Jewish players in the 2008 All-Star Game, joining Kinsler and Youkilis, and one of three Jewish players on the Team USA 2009 World Baseball Classic team, joining Youkilis and Grabow. "There aren't too many Jewish athletes at the highest level," said Braun. "It's something that I certainly embrace."
Braun was a four-year letterman on the Granada Hills High School baseball team, and three-year team captain and MVP. He played shortstop, and until his junior year he also pitched. As a sophomore in 2000 he recorded the highest batting average of his prep career (.456), while posting a .654 on base percentage. During his junior year he hit .421, with a .668 OBP. Braun capped off his high school career by batting .451 as a senior, with an OBP of .675, and breaking the school record for career home runs (with 25).
He was a two-time all-area selection by the Los Angeles Times, and a three-time choice by the Los Angeles Daily News. Braun was rated the sixth-best shortstop prospect in the country by Team One Baseball as a senior, and rated among the top 100 overall prospects by Baseball America. He graduated in 2002, but went undrafted as he told teams that he intended to go to college.
Offered scholarships to Stanford University and UC-Berkeley, he instead attended the University of Miami. He chose Miami for its academics, its athletics, and its social scene, noting: "I think the girls were the deal closer on the recruiting trip." There, Braun was named "National Freshman of the Year," as well as a first-team "Freshman All-American," by Baseball America in 2003. He was also named first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball. He clinched the awards by batting .364 with 76 RBIs and 17 home runs. As a sophomore shortstop/DH, Braun hit .335 and slugged .606, stealing 21 bases.
During his junior year, his final and most successful at Miami, Braun batted .396 with 18 home runs, a .726 slugging percentage, 76 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases. He was ninth in slugging, and 10th in RBIs, in NCAA Division I, and was named to Baseball America's 2005 College All-American Team as the DH. He moved from shortstop to third base during the year. His performance earned Braun a spot as one of the finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, the most prestigious individual award in college baseball, and the Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Player of the Year award.
The Milwaukee Brewers drafted Braun in the first round (fifth overall) in the 2005 major league draft as a third baseman, and Braun signed for $2.45 million.
Assigned to the Helena Brewers in the Advanced Rookie Pioneer League in 2005, Braun batted .341/.383/.585 in 10 games. He was then promoted to the West Virginia Power in the Class A South Atlantic League, where he hit .355/.396/.645, and was rated the fifth-best prospect in the league. His most memorable moment there was when he hit a walk-off grand slam to lead the Power into the playoffs. Following the 2005 season, he was rated by Baseball America as the Brewers' Best Minor League Hitter for Average, the fifth-best prospect in the South Atlantic League, and the third-best prospect in the Brewers organization.
Braun began 2006 playing for the A-Advanced Brevard County Manatees, where he earned a spot in the Florida State League All-Star game, and played in the All-Star Futures Game in Pittsburgh. He was rated the top third base prospect in the FSL, and Baseball America rated him the best batting prospect in the league. On June 21, Braun was promoted to the Class AA Huntsville Stars (Alabama) of the Southern League. In July he was voted the Brewers' Organizational Player of the Month, and at the end of the season he was voted the sixth-best prospect in the Southern League. Collectively between Class A and Class AA, Braun finished with a .289 average, 22 home runs, 77 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases. He received the 2006 Robin Yount Performance Award as the Milwaukee Brewers Minor League Player of the Year.
In 2006 in the Arizona Fall League he hit .326/.396/.641 in 92 at-bats for the Scottsdale Scorpions, and was rated as one of the top three prospects in the league. He led the AFL with 16 extra-base hits, tied for tops with nine doubles, ranked second in slugging percentage and HR/AB ratio (1/15), tied for second in home runs (6), tied for third in RBIs (25), and was voted to the AFL All-Prospects Team.
Baseball America rated Braun the Brewers' #2 prospect for 2007. He began the year with the Nashville Sounds of the AAA Pacific Coast League. Before being called up to the majors in late May, in 113 at bats he led the PCL with a .726 slugging percentage while batting .354 (6th), with 10 home runs (T-2nd) and a .426 on base percentage (5th). At the same time, Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino were batting a combined .214 while playing third base for the major league club.
2007: Rookie of the Year
The Brewers brought Braun to spring training in 2007. Their regular third baseman Corey Koskie, suffering from post-concussion syndrome, missed all of spring training, and ultimately missed the entire season. While the Brewers intended to platoon veterans Counsell and Graffanino to start the season, they also gave Braun an extensive look. In his first game, Braun went 4–5 with a grand slam, a three-run home run, a double, a single, and a stolen base, along with seven RBIs. In 11 spring training games he batted .353 with a .912 slugging percentage, tying for 10th in the majors in home runs (5), and second in RBIs (15), despite having missed seven games. He also committed four throwing errors. Sending him to minor league camp on March 20, Brewers' manager Ned Yost commented: "He's really done a nice job offensively, but he still needs to polish some of his defense. He knows what he needs to do. He's really, really close."
In 2007 Braun had one of the most dominant rookie seasons in the history of the game.
Called up on May 24 by the Brewers, he hit his first major league home run two nights later, off Padres' starter Justin Germano.
Braun was voted the NL Rookie of the Month for June, after leading all NL rookies with 21 RBIs. He hit six home runs, tying him for first among NL rookies, while recording a .716 slugging percentage and a .435 on base percentage. In July he was voted the National League Rookie of the Month for the second straight month, as well as the NL Player of the Month (marking the first time a player won both awards in the same month). He hit a league-leading 11 home runs, with 25 RBIs, while batting .345.
In mid-August, Yost moved Braun from third in the lineup to cleanup, switching him with Prince Fielder. The move was expected to allow Braun to steal more, because when he batted in front of Fielder, it did not make sense for him to run and risk getting thrown out on steal attempts. In addition, if he were successful stealing, teams could simply counter by walking Fielder. The switch also allowed Yost to move left-handed Geoff Jenkins up in the batting order, behind the right-handed Braun. At the end of August, however, Yost reversed the switch.
In September, as the Brewers sought in vain to capture the pennant, Braun was third in the NL in runs (27) and RBIs (29), and tied for 5th in home runs (9), while batting .308 with a .644 slugging percentage.
For the season, he played in 113 games and had 492 plate appearances, Braun led the National League with a .634 slugging percentage. He set a new all-time major league rookie slugging percentage record, breaking the record set by Mark McGwire, who slugged .618 for Oakland in 1987.
He was also fifth in the league in at bats per home run (13.3; behind Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Barry Bonds, and Adam Dunn) and OPS (1.004; behind Bonds, Chipper Jones, Fielder, and Matt Holliday), tied for fifth in home runs (34; behind Fielder, Howard, Dunn, and Holliday), and eighth in batting average (.324) among hitters with at least 490 plate appearances. In addition, he had extra base hits in 13.4% of his plate appearances (more than the league leader), was tied for third in at bats per RBI (4.6), and was tied for fifth in "bases taken" with 19 (advanced on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, etc.).
He also led the Brewers in batting average and slugging percentage, and was second behind Fielder in home runs, runs (91), and RBIs (97), tied for second in triples (6), and third in obp (.370) and steals (15), despite not having played in the first 48 games of the season. Braun obliterated the club rookie records of 28 home runs and 81 RBIs, set by Fielder in 2006. A projection of his statistics over 162 games put him at 49 homers and 139 RBIs.
Against Lefties. Braun had even greater success against left-handed pitchers. He had the best batting average (.450), obp (.516), and slugging percentage (.964; over 200 points ahead of the second-best SP) of all major league hitters with at least 125 plate appearances against lefties, and was tied for second in the major leagues in home runs (15). "I like those guys," Braun joked. Braun credits his father. "I see the ball pretty well off lefties," he said. "My dad is left-handed, so growing up, the majority of time, I took batting practice off of him."
Home Run Pace.
On July 7 Braun became the fastest in Brewer history to hit 10 major league home runs, hitting his 10th in his 38th game, shattering the previous record of 61. He hit his 15th home run in the 50th game of his career, and his 20th in his 64th game, making him the fastest to 15 and 20 since Pujols reached those milestones in the 49th and 63rd games of his career in 2001. He was also the fastest to 20 home runs in Brewers history. He hit his 25th home run in his 82nd game, quicker than any major leaguer since Mark McGwire in 1987, becoming just the 21st player ever to hit that many homers as a rookie. He broke the Brewer rookie record of 28 home runs on September 9. Braun hit his 30th home in his 94th game. No player had hit as many homers in so few at-bats since McGwire hit 30 in 84 games during the 1986 and 1987 seasons. His 34 home runs for the season were just 4 behind the NL rookie record of 38 home runs, shared by Frank Robinson (1956) and Wally Berger (1930), and were the fifth-highest total ever for an NL rookie.
While he was hitting home runs, he wasn't taking many walks. He is one of only six players to have concluded a 30-homer season with more homers than walks (34 HR, 29 BB), the others being Alfonso Soriano (39–23 in 2002), Garret Anderson (35–24 in 2000), Pudge Rodriguez (35–24 in 1999), Joe Crede (30–28 in 2006), and Jose Guillen (31–24 in 2003).
NL Batting Title Race. Braun had the eighth-highest batting average in the National League in 2007 among players with 490 or more plate appearances. He finished with 492 plate appearances, 10 short of the number needed to qualify for the NL batting title. Though he didn't have a high enough batting average to take advantage of it, an exception to the qualification rule allows a player to be awarded the title if he falls short of 502 plate appearances, but would still have the highest batting average if enough hitless at-bats were added to his total to enable him to reach the 502 mark.
Regular season batting
- June 7, 2005: Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1st round (5th pick) of the 2005 amateur draft. Braun signed June 18, 2005.