Over the past two weeks, two high-profile major-league baseball players, San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera and Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon, have been suspended by Major League Baseball due to drug tests which showed elevated levels of testosterone. No doubt the Bay Area has been rocked by these suspensions, especially since it was the home base of BALCO, the company at the center of baseball’s biggest drug/steroid scandal of several years ago, the scandal which ruined the reputations of baseball players and other athletes including home-run king Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago, and Olympic sprinter Marion Jones.
Cabrera and Colon, however, share much more in common than their current Bay Area locations. Both are from the Dominican Republic, where several players have undergone “questionable” treatment methods in the past, and both, perhaps not remarkably, have seen their statistics markedly improve over the past couple of years. Cabrera, for example, went from a 2010 season in which he totaled only four home runs and a .255 batting average to a stellar 2011 campaign in which he blasted 18 homers, had 87 RBI’s, stole 20 bases and batted .305, a fifty point jump over the prior season. This year, with the Giants, he was hitting .346, tops in the National League, already has knocked in 60 runs, and was the All-Star game MVP, leading the National League to victory and ensuring them of home-field advantage in this year’s World Series.
The 39-year-old Colon, whose best days were from 1998 through 2002, totaled only 14 victories between 2006 and 2009, and then sat out 2010 before being picked up off the scrap heap by the Yankees in 2011. The seemingly rejuvenated Colon barely made the team coming out of Spring Training, but ended up starting 26 games and finishing with eight victories, a season which led to a contract with Oakland and a 2012 season in which he has already tallied ten victories.
The other common thread? Both recently played for the Yankees. Cabrera’s career in the Bronx ended after the 2009 season, and Colon did not begin playing for the Bronx Bombers until 2011. Still, it is a link that cannot be ignored. While the hope is that the testosterone suppliers did not emanate from the Bronx, the possibility still looms large. Whether or not the genesis of their drug usage can be traced back to their days with the Yankees may be revealed through further investigation, and if additional players test positive a definitive link may be drawn. Remember, many of the players listed in the Mitchell (steroids) report played at one time or another for one of the New York teams.
Hopefully history will not repeat itself and the suspensions of these two players will be an aberration rather than the start of a whole new round of drug-related suspensions and allegations. Time will tell.
Steroid quiz time – It was announced that former major-league (and Yankee, sense a pattern here?) fireballer Roger “Rocket” Clemons will be pitching for a minor-league team, with hopes of pitching later this year for his hometown Houston Astros. The reason for this “comeback” is:
a) Returning to the major leagues, armed with cups of clean urine, will be the ultimate “f#$% you” to federal prosecutors who wasted millions of dollars of taxpayer money in their futile attempt at convicting Roger on perjury charges;
b) Roger wants to be known forever not as a steroid abuser, but as the only man to pitch a major-league game at the age of 50; even if he is pitching in meaningless late September games for the team with the worst record in all of baseball;
c) Roger really is simply a ruthless competitor who wants to prove to himself and the fans that he is capable of still pitching in the majors;
d) Roger wants to delay his appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot;
e) All of the above.
The answer, of course (for our purposes), is (e). He wants to clear his name; his competitive nature is unquestioned; but, most importantly, pitching in a game for the Astros will delay his eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Clemons last pitched in the majors in 2007. As such, he will be on the next Hall of Fame ballot – a player is eligible for election five years after their last appearance. So why wouldn’t Clemons want to be on the ballot?
Steroids. True, he was never officially convicted of using performance enhancing drugs, at least not in a court of law. In the court of public opinion, however, this “rocket” was using some illegal or improper forms of fuel and, if the past couple of years are any indication, this perception will keep him from having a plaque hung in the Hall of Fame.
People with gaudy, drug-enhanced statistics such as Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire are already sitting on the side, their noses pressed to the front doors of the Cooperstown shrine with little or no prospects of ever gaining entry. And, as of now, there are a trio of alleged steroid users (Clemons, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa, all of whom testified before Congress along with the finger-wagging Palmeiro and memory-deficient McGwire), who all retired after the 2007 season and are all facing certain denial at the next election.
If Clemons does appear in a game for Houston, even if only to pitch to one batter, that would toll his eligibility for another five years, until at least 2017. By then, he likely believes, the furor over the steroid era will have abated or sufficiently waned to allow the baseball writers to elect him for entry into the Hall.
As is always the case, time will tell. Should the recent suspensions of Cabrera and Colon lead to a rash of penalties for other players for elevated levels of testosterone or other performance enhancing drugs over the next several years, however, the perception of major league baseball as a drug-riddled sport will not go away. If that happens, Clemons’ exclusion from what he no doubt believes to be his rightful place in the Hall of Fame will result, regardless of when he is first eligible for election.