The list of non-clean players grows ... by just a little

Patrick McDermott

This morning, I woke up at 5:45. This is unusual. It's almost as if my spider-sense was tingling. But in case you just woke up, Miami's New Times has just published a blockbuster report about a shady character whose main business seems to have been supplying various "anti-aging" drugs to foolish people, but also did well selling "performance-enhancing" drugs to various professional athletes. Including (egads) some famous baseball players! Read on!

Open the neat spreadsheet and scroll past the listing of local developers, prominent attorneys, and personal trainers. You'll find a lengthy list of nicknames: Mostro, Al Capone, El Cacique, Samurai, Yukon, Mohamad, Felix Cat, and D.R.

Then check out the main column, where their real names flash like an all-star roster of professional athletes with Miami ties: San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland A's hurler Bartolo Colón ... and Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz. There's even the New York Yankees' $275 million man himself, Alex Rodriguez, who has sworn he stopped juicing a decade ago.

--snip--

Read further and you'll find more than a dozen other baseball pros, from former University of Miami ace Cesar Carrillo to Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal to Washington Nationals star Gio Gonzalez. Notable coaches are there too, including UM baseball conditioning guru Jimmy Goins.

What do Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, and Yasmani Grandal have in common? Well of course they've already been busted and suspended by Major League Baseball. So please don't tell me this proves that MLB's drug-testing regime isn't working ... It might not have been working perfectly, but I don't know of anything that works perfectly.

As for Alex Rodriguez ... It would have been incredibly naïve for anyone to believe that Alex Rodriguez really stopped juicing. He just never seemed like the type to a) be honest about something like that, or b) give up an edge he thought he could get away with. And with his physical problems mounting, I can imagine him doing just about anything to become a premier athlete again; without that, what would he have? His education? His winning personality? He would be left with only his looks, and his money. Which might seem like plenty to you or me, but there's a reason so many professional athletes are unhappy when their careers are over.

In a semi-related story, Cesar Carrillo's lone major-league win came in 2009; since then he's gone 13-32 in the minors, and spent part of last season in Class A. He'll turn 29 this spring, and hardly qualifies as an HGH success story.

And you might say something similar about Nelson Cruz. He's 32, and last season was the first in which he'd played more than 128 games in the majors. Also last season, he was essentially a league-average hitter, and his poor defense made him essentially a replacement-level right fielder. If that's what drugs do for you, I'll stick with my fruit smoothies, thanks a lot.

Now, the appearance in the report of Gio Gonzalez does qualify as big news:

There's also the curious case of Gio Gonzalez, the 27-year-old, Hialeah-native, left-handed hurler who won 21 games last year for the Washington Nationals. Gonzalez's name appears five times in Bosch's notebooks, including a specific note in the 2012 book reading, "Order 1.c.1 with Zinc/MIC/... and Aminorip. For Gio and charge $1,000." (Aminorip is a muscle-building protein.)

Gonzalez's father, Max, also appears on Bosch's client lists and is often listed in conjunction with the pitcher. But reached by phone, the Hialeah resident insists his son has had no contact with Bosch.

"My son works very, very hard, and he's as clean as apple pie," the elder Gonzalez says. "I went to Tony because I needed to lose weight. A friend recommended him, and he did great work for me. But that's it. He never met my son. Never. And if I knew he was doing these things with steroids, do you think I'd be dumb enough to go there?"

Gio Gonzalez has been one of the best young pitchers in the major leagues for three years running. If he's suspended, the Washington Nationals will miss him terribly, although the math suggests that a 50-game suspension would cost them just a couple of wins. Of greater concern, in the short term, is the possibility that Gonzalez owes some significant measure of his success to banned drugs.*

* by the way, is Aminorip even a banned drug? What about Zinc/MIC?

Last week, in the wake of Lance Armstrong's admissions -- they could hardly be classed as revelations -- Joe Sheehan's newsletter carried this title:

There Is No "Clean"

Joe didn't mean to suggest there aren't any clean players. Rather ... well, I'll let you see for yourself what he meant. Here's his big finish:

The biggest lie of the so-called "steroid era" -- and the intellectually bankrupt way in which the media has convicted the approved villains of that era -- is that we know who didn't use. We do not and we never will. Assumptions that Thomas or Maddux or Jim Thome or Ken Griffey Jr. or Derek Jeter are "clean" are as meaningless as assumptions that Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza or Sammy Sosa are not. We don't know. We don't know because no one ever looked so deeply into those players as they did into Bonds, as they did into Armstrong. You can't read sports-drug use by looking at a person's body, and you can't read it by looking at a stat line, and you damned sure can't read it based on who's answering questions in front of his locker after a tough loss. Too often, though, that's how those decisions have been made.

We don't know. We'll never know. To grant the presumption of innocence to some and not to all, though, is to ignore just how hard and how expensive it has been to gain the minimal knowledge we have about the people who have been the primary targets of investigation. It's time to stop designating some players as "clean", because the gap between "clean" and "dirty" is really just about who pissed off the wrong people.

We don't know everything. We'll never know everything. But we do know and will know some things. Joe might argue that if we can't know everything, we should ignore the some things. I can sort of see his point. But I have this pesky impluse to know whatever things I can know. Maybe it's the same impulse that drives people to read People.

I do agree with Joe that it's impossible to know which players did not use drugs. It's also impossible to know which people have not driven a car, at some point in their lives, while legally intoxicated. That doesn't mean we don't prosecute those we know have driven while intoxicated.

No no no I'm not saying these two crimes are morally equivalent. What I'm saying is that we routinely judge people based on the information that we've got, even while tacitly acknowledging that we'll always be missing information.

My guess is that there will be suspensions levied against some of the players involved in this scandal. And there should be. No amount or severity of suspensions will wipe out drugs; baseball will never be clean. But as long as there are rules prohibiting the use of some drugs, they should be enforced. If only to protect the clean players. Even if we don't know who they are.

Update: From Mr. Irrelevant's Chris Mottram, regarding that list of happy substances next to Gio Gonzalez's name ..

UPDATE: As our esteemed colleague Jack Kogod points out, NONE of the ingredients in AminoRip are on the MLB’s banned substances list, nor is Zinc and MIC (Methionine, Inositol, Choline).

Which isn't to suggest Gonzalez is in the clear, at all. But there's no smoking gun here yet.


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