With two suspensions of PED users in the last two weeks including Friday mornings announcement of the 2015 NL Batting Champion Dee Gordon, PED use is back in the conversation around Major League Baseball. Chris Colabello was suspended the previous week and the two seem to share the same PR firm, both coughing up the same weak excuse that they didn’t knowingly take anything that would qualify as a banned substance. More interesting was how both of their team spokespeople responded to these positive tests. What is going on?
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Colabello didn’t call into the question the test itself ala Ryan Braun. He simply was baffled by the reasoning behind it: “I don’t know where it came from. I’m still trying to figure out how it got there. It’s all I can do.”
Similarly Gordon released a statement, saying that “Though I did not do so knowingly, I have been informed that test results show that I ingested something that contained prohibited substances.”
Now the Marlins are in a bit of a tricky situation on this one. Steroid users are supposed to be bad guys. Big, muscular cheaters who could never make it without the illegal substances. So Dee Gordon, a speedy contact hitter, doesn’t fit the bill. Not to mention they just made a multi-year investment in him. I refuse to make any connection to Bonds being their hitting coach and the Gordon suspension, but he was the type of guy you expected to fail a test. He never did, by the way.
The Tigers Justin Verlander seems to suspect that PED use is almost as rampant as it was a decade ago, just people are getting smarter about it. He said recently after a player passed a MLB test but was caught admitting use by an undercover video, “If you want to cheat, there is a window to do it. Guys are finding ways around the system. It’s pretty evident, pretty well-known that the people who are making these illegal substances are ahead of the testers.”
The Padres Everth Cabrera was suspended for his involvement with BioGenesis and the team welcomed him back in 2014. Chase Headley was quoted in 2014 as saying “I don’t say I agree with it or I like it by any means. But having said that, I think guys make mistakes. And when you own up to it and pay the price for it, what more can you ask?”
Similarly, Gordon and Collabelo’s team seem to be expressing similar sentiment now. Sorry it happened, but you know, people make mistakes and we’re excited for them to come back. If they come back at anywhere near the same level.
Cabrera was never the same for the Padres, and if I had to bet my hunch would be Gordon will likely be closer to the hitter struggling to maintain a batting average about .250 than the hits leader who has turned into the last couple of years. Collabelo? Good luck getting back to the major leagues.
Except the culture seems to be changing. Players with PED suspicions were initially spurned by teams en masse. The Hall of Fame is still mostly shunning suspected PED users, though admitting Mike Piazza with Jeff Bagwell on the doorstep show that is changing too as time advances from the direct Steroid Era. Yet last time I checked though initially maligned, Melky Cabrera and Nelson Cruz are still making their living in as Major League starters. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Though Mark McGwire will likely continue not wanting to talk about the past, after a few years of him disappearing from baseball, he apologized for his steroid use and is now the bench coach for the Padres after several seasons as a hitting coach for the Dodgers and Cardinals. Bonds of course this year is back in MLB with the Marlins as their hitting coach after he said he was blacklisted by teams in staying in baseball when he says he could of have added to his home run record.
So now teams seem to be moving to accept these suspensions and simply move on. The Mets lost Jenrry Mejia permanently after his third failed test, but many wondered why they would even hang on to him after two failed tests! Are players figuring out ways to beat these tests and just gambling they can secure big paydays until they get caught? Is ownership fully aware that any player they sign could be rung out for steroids at any time but winning some games with them in the meantime make it worth it?
Last night Dee Gordon sparked his team to a victory and after the game was suspended for 80 games. Should his performance count? Should the Marlins have to forfeit all the games he played in this season? No – of course not. That is not how it works.
Steroids are still part of baseball, but now they have taken a different form. Now it’s not just the big boppers and beefed up Jeff Kent middle infielders you have to worry about, but even the skinny stolen base hit machines. No one is above suspicion. How MLB deals with it will continue to be interesting and an evolving story.