There are different varieties of the performance-enhancing drug suspension. There’s the “gotcha”, where the player in question was always a little suspicious, like Manny Ramirez. There’s the “wait-what?”, which is the preferred category of little fellers like Neifi Perez and Dee Gordon. Then there’s the “ah-makes-sense”, which goes with the extremely large human beings like Michael Morse and Nelson Cruz, as well as pitchers who came back from serious injuries, like Bartolo Colon. The most impressive variety is definitely the all-caps “HOLY-CRAP” suspension, which is reserved for superstars like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez.
Cano is at least two of these at the same time, depending on your mood. He’s definitely been in the suspicious category if you were paying attention in 2012, because even when that story was retracted, it was hard to get the jury to un-hear the remarks. He’s mostly an all-caps HOLY-CRAP qualifier, though, perhaps the biggest since Ryan Braun. Considering that Cano has Hall of Fame numbers, he’s probably the biggest since A-Rod.
But Cano deserves a brand-new category, just for him. Call this one the Human Infomercial category, in which a star player uses performance-enhancing drugs to thrive beyond all expectations and becomes filthy rich in the process. This category is where you put the living billboards that read, “PLEASE DO STEROIDS. IT WORKED FOR ME!”
Let us count the ways that Robinson Cano is the perfect player to push a young player on the fence into the wondrous world of PEDs. Consider that ...
Cano was never a top prospect
It doesn’t do us a ton of good to guess when Cano started taking PEDs. Maybe it was when he was older and staring decline in the face. Maybe it was when he was a teenager, and he wanted to sign with a major-league club. Maybe it was somewhere in the middle.
But if we’re forced to guess, the earlier parts of his career make more sense. Cano was 18 years old when he signed with the Yankees as an amateur free agent, which is ancient for a true prospect. Most of the best 15-year-old players for this signing season are already linked to a team or two, and it’s hard for a future big-leaguer to get overlooked for two years after that. Prospects who aren’t signed by the time they’re 18 are like nine-year-old dogs at the pound. Maybe there’s a chance. Maybe.
Cano’s career slash line in the minors was .278/.331/.425, and he never made a Baseball America top-100 list. While he kept climbing the Yankees’ lists — peaking at No. 2 after a breakout season in 2004, but always behind Eric Duncan — he was never considered a can’t-miss prospect. Never forget the legend of the Rangers passing over Cano and choosing Joaquin Arias to complete the Alex Rodriguez trade.
Four years after waiting until he was 18 to sign with a team, Cano was in the majors. Immediately after a modest minor-league career, he was hitting even better as a major leaguer. In his second year, he was an all-star hitting .342 and picking up MVP votes. He hasn’t really slowed down ever since, building the foundation for a Hall of Fame career.
Steroids and PEDs aren’t supposed to work like a can of spinach. Here, though, we at least have the illusion of them working exactly like that. One second he’s an overlooked teenager signing for $150,000, and the next he’s a Hall of Famer. What happened in the middle? Wink. Wink, wink, wink.
And if I were a fringe minor leaguer, I would find that story compelling as hell, even if the truth is probably not that simple.
Cano played 162 games almost every year until he was in his mid-30s
It’s not just that Barry Bonds got huge. It’s that he was able to recover quicker from the dings and bruises that every baseball player has to fight through. It’s that his body felt daisy-fresh in August, when the opposing pitcher’s felt like it had been chewed by a St. Bernard that was six stories tall. The 162-game season is murder on a player’s body.
And here’s Robinson Cano, playing 160 games as a 24-year-old and not dipping below 150 games until he’s hit in the hand with a pitch, more than a decade later.
Wouldn’t you like to bounce back from minor injuries, career minor leaguer or enfeebled major leaguer? Wouldn’t you like to speed past your expected decline on a hoverboard and flip it off, deep into your 30s?
It worked for Cano, after all. Sure, part of that was luck. Considering his position, all it would have taken was one sloppy feed from Derek Jeter on a double play attempt, with Chase Utley running the bases. But even if avoiding the calamitous injuries isn’t a skill, avoiding the minor injuries very much is. Especially if you subscribe to better living through chemistry.
Cano has made $180 million in his career so far, and the Mariners still owe him $120 million more
Picture me in a vat of millipedes, all of them writhing around my body, crawling in and out of my mouth. Someone lowers down a box of tarantulas and screams at me to juggle them, which I do, immediately. In the background, a video of all my most embarrassing moments as a human being plays on a loop, with a heavy focus on the high school years. This whole ordeal is beamed into every home in the country.
I would let this happen for $5 million. Maybe a few hundred thousand. Hell, start the GoFundMe and see what we get up to. I’m in a bargaining mood.
Which is to say that for $300 million, I would have Tide Pods surgically implanted into my breasts. It would take far less for me to consider injecting drugs into my butt and working out a lot. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t — I’m probably too much of a hypochondriac to take anything stronger than ibuprofen — but I haven’t been faced with a choice that remotely resembles this one.
The lesson for all you young kids at home is that injecting drugs into your butt might make you $300 million. It’s easy to see why people keep taking this risk. Especially when you consider ...
It took years and years and years for Cano to get caught
Again, this is assuming he didn’t really just start using, which is possible. Cano says he had issues with high blood pressure, and this is the medicine he was prescribed. Sure, it cost him several million dollars not to run this prescription against the list of 50-plus banned substances, but we all cut corners in our own way, I guess.
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Cano’s performance has been enhanced for a long time. And during that time, he’s peed into an awful lot of cups and lived to see another game almost every time.
Almost every time. Still, this is proof there’s a way to beat the system most of the time. Who knows what the problem was that tripped Cano up this time, but it can probably be explained in milliliters. Those are pretty good odds, right?
None of this takes into account the downside of performance-enhancing drugs. By relying on pharmaceutical aid, a player might be jeopardizing his health. Players shouldn’t have to jeopardize their health to compete with players who are willing to take those risks, illegally. It’s about ethics in the workplace, actually.
(You can probably live with yourself, though, especially when you still have to work hard to succeed. Don’t forget that your brain will do a tremendous job telling you that your hard work is the main component of your success.)
By taking PEDs, players risk a fall from grace, a tarnished legacy. Cano was Cooperstown-bound just yesterday, and now he’s a cautionary tale. That’s an awful fate.
(Eight All-Star Games and $300 million, though.)
Is it worth it? Having to look your kids in the eye and explain how you were sanctioned for breaking the rules? How you cheated?
(If you get caught. Most of the users probably won’t get caught.)
This rosy scenario doesn’t apply to all users. Melky Cabrera looked like he was going to get an $80 million payday before he was busted. Alex Rodriguez’s stock went down immediately, and it’s taking an awful lot of work to even partially repair his image. I’m still morbidly curious about Neifi Perez getting busted twice in the same season, if only because I wanted to see just how much it would have helped him.
But if you offer a minor leaguer Cano’s career, eventual disgrace and all, at the push of a button, you’ll have an awful lot of players pushing that button. That doesn’t make it right. Please don’t misconstrue this. It does explain why it keeps happening, though. It also explains why it will continue to happen.
Cano won’t be the last player to be suspended for PEDs. Not when he’s a shining example of why PEDs makes so much sense for ballplayers everywhere, even if they’re fraught with physical and moral peril. Just look at how much Robinson Cano has benefited. There just might be a whole lot of advantages to this stuff, even if you’re worried about your conscience and circulatory system screaming at you the whole time.