THE HAMMER TO FALL: A-Rod, Braun, and the Ghosts of the PED Era

Manny Ramirez (pictured here during his time with the Dodgers) boasts 555 career home runs, a .312 career batting average, 1831 career RBIs, 12 All Star Game appearances, and two suspensions for the use of performance enhancing drugs. Ramirez, 41, is attempting a Major League comeback as controversy once again swirls around the league about the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs and links between more than 20 players and a Biogenesis clinic in South Florida that may have given those players an unfair competitive advantage. (Image source: http://seantgreen.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Manny-Ramirez.jpg)

The era of Performance Enhancing Drugs in baseball is not, in fact, over.  The era of PEDs has, in fact, reared its ugly head again.  And if word from Major League Baseball is accurate, for northwards of twenty ballplayers, there’s about to be hell to pay.

Alex Rodriguez, a confessed user of PEDs, now faces more questions and a possible 100 game suspension in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal. Rodriguez, once considered a Hall of Fame lock with his 647 career HR (5th all time and only 13 behind Willie Mays,) .300 career average and 1,950 career RBIs (good for 7th all time,) finds himself going from discussions of whether or not he will catch Barry Bonds at 762 career home runs to whether or not he’ll ever play the game of baseball at the professional level again. (Image source: New York Daily News at http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/i-team/mlb-meeting-a-rod-suspensions-loom-article-1.1394132)

Hell in the form of ruined reputations.  Hell in the form of 100 game suspensions.  The kind of hell that makes a ballplayer seemingly untouchable, or at least highly questionable, when the issue of free agency rolls around.  Even if the player never takes another drug or supplement the rest of their career, their reputations will be tarnished.

Ryan Braun found himself at the center of controversy after his 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Award win when Major League Baseball announced that Braun would be suspended for 50 games for violating rules regarding the use of banned substances and performance enhancing drugs. Braun appealed and was reinstated when it was determined that the urine sample containing his specimen was mishandled by the person who was in charge of taking it to the proper testing facility. Braun may have a harder time explaining away the link to performance enhancing drugs and Biogenesis and Tony Bosch. (Image source: http://popculturehasaids.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/ryan-braun1-e1330330593929.jpg)

Look at Mark McGwire.  Look at Rafael Palmeiro.  Look at Sammy Sosa.  Look at Barry Bonds.  Look at Manny Ramirez.  Look at Roger Clemens.  All of these men are players who found themselves at the center of scandal because of the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs.  Players who based on stats alone belong in the Hall of Fame.  Great heroes or antagonists of the game who made their names on their ability to hit a baseball a long way.  Players who found themselves at the center of fan adoration.  Multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts.  The guys who took the sport from what seemed like the brink of fan popularity extinction after the 1994 strike and brought baseball back to prominence.  Ballparks were packed.  Sports pages had stories following home run chases.  Baseball wasn’t just sports page news, it was front page news.

Current Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire engaged in a fierce-but-friendly competition with Sammy Sosa for National League Home Run Supremecy during the 1998 season, with McGwire winning the battle 70-66. McGwire would best Sosa again in 1999 with both players again hitting over 60 homers, and Sosa would put up 60+ again one more time in his career. Both players later found their reputations marred by allegations of steroid use. (Image source: http://www.totalprosports.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/samme-sosa-hugging-mark-mcgwire-disgraced-sports-heroes.jpg)

Some ballplayers have even paid the ultimate price for using PEDs.  Ken Caminiti, a well-liked and well-respected third baseman who played 15 seasons, mostly for the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres before a final season that included stops with the Texas Rangers and the Atlanta Braves, put together a monster season in 1996 in which he hit 40 HR and drove in 130 runs while batting .326 for the Padres while leading the Padres to the National League West divisional crown and winning the National League Most Valuable Player award.  Caminiti continued his stellar performance into the 1998 season when he helped contribute to a World Series runner up team in San Diego before fading out with injuries and regression in play from 1999-2001 back with the Astros followed by the Rangers and the Braves.  Between the effects of performance enhancing drugs, alcohol, and abuse of other substances, Caminiti died of a heart attack in 2004.  He was only 41 years old when he died.  While use of other substances certainly contributed to his death, there is little doubt that the use of performance enhancing drugs contributed to Caminiti’s pattern of substance abuse and unfortunate early death.  At the time of his death, Caminiti was only five days removed from serving a jail sentence for a probation violation related to his substance abuse and it was determined that there were drugs in his bloodstream at the time of his death.

Ken Caminiti was a fan favorite in Houston and San Diego, winning the 1996 National League MVP Award with a .326/40/130 line while helping the Padres win the National League West. Caminiti was also a major contributor to the 1998 Padres squad that made it to the World Series. 8 years after winning his MVP award, Caminiti was dead at age 41 of a heart attack after years of substance abuse, including performance enhancing drugs. (Image source: http://i.ebayimg.com/t/KEN-CAMINITI-SAN-DIEGO-PADRES-VINTAGE-ACTION-8×10-/00/s/MTAyNFg4MTU=/$(KGrHqV,!jcFBltMyT+BBQiyUyGQn!~~60_35.JPG)

Even with the fates of men, both in terms of mortality and immortality, possibly forever altered by their use of performance enhancing drugs, the Biogenesis scandal now comes along to bite several players who may have believed that they could cheat the system by using specialized drugs or substances that could avoid detection by Major League-sanctioned drug tests.

Barry Bonds, baseball’s All-Time Home Run King at 762 career homers, has found himself convicted of a Federal Perjury charge for having lied about his use of performance enhancing drugs before Congress.  Bonds, like many players who were suspected of using performance enhancing drugs during his era, has had a difficult time gaining support on Hall of Fame ballots despite his career achievements. (Image Source: The Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/files/2012/11/barrybonds.jpg)
Roger Clemens, considered by many to be the greatest strikeout pitcher of his generation and one of the greatest of all-time, found his reputation destroyed as others gave testimony that indicated he had used performance enhancing drugs extensively throughout the second half of his Major League career. (Image Source: ABC at http://cdn.abclocal.go.com/images/ktrk/cms_exf_2007/_video_wn_images/8780125_600x338.jpg)

One of baseball’s biggest stars, Alex Rodriguez, finds himself in the center of the controversy even as he attempts to rehabilitate from an injury and make a comeback this year with the New York Mets.  Rodriguez, who is only 13 career home runs behind Willie Mays’ 660 for 4th on the all-time list, will be answering questions from Major League Baseball on Friday regarding the Biogenesis lab to which he has been tied.  The question Rodriguez now faces isn’t whether he’ll play again this season, but whether he’ll play again at all in light of the recent scandal.

Rodriguez has encountered a great deal of social media backlash as he has attempted to get back in shape and resume his career with the New York Yankees.  Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has seemingly indicated a desire to find a way to move on from Rodriguez and the five years remaining on his contract through a Tweet in which he told Rodriguez to “shut the (expletive) up” in regards to his doctors clearing him to play and start a rehab assignment.  Cashman later apologized for his words and stated that the Yankee organization wants a healthy A-Rod back as soon as possible.

For his part, publicly, Rodriguez has spoken enthusiastically about rejoining the Yankees and his willingness to take on any challenges that a return to the organization may present, while up to this point avoiding questions by the media in regards to the Biogenesis scandal.

Dodger fans can well-remember the distraction that Manny Ramirez became after his first 50-game suspension in 2009.  While Manny appeared to initially take the suspension in stride and even received some praise in the media for how he handled his suspension, between his worsening attitude and plummeting batting average, it all came to a head when, in his final Dodger at-bat, Ramirez seemed to fully cave in to the pressure and the criticism and was ejected for arguing the first pitch of a pinch-hit at-bat against Colorado on August 29th, 2010.

By the time that Manny Ramirez walked off the field in a Dodger uniform for the last time, he had gone from a hero to a shadow of his former self, the controversy surrounding him rising while his on-field performance suffered.  Manny Ramirez came to L.A. with a flourish, came back from his suspension saying the right things, but went out with a whimper.

Yankees fans should be cautioned that even with Alex Rodriguez’s “right attitude, right words” approach, it might not be too long before they find themselves watching A-Rod burn out in a similar fashion.  The Biogenesis scandal might just be the nail in the coffin that makes his otherwise-stellar career line of .300/647/1950 suddenly not seem so Hall of Fame worthy.

Meanwhile, a thousand miles away from the bright lights of New York City, Ryan Braun finds himself facing controversy over the Biogenesis scandal as well.  Braun, the National League MVP Award winner in 2011, already has faced down one 50 game suspension (which he was able to get overturned upon appeal.)  Winning his appeal did not answer all questions, however, and Braun did not even appeal on the grounds that the science or test results were wrong.  Rather, he argued that protocol in handling the specimen was not followed.  According to the ESPN article, “Braun didn’t argue evidence of tampering and didn’t dispute the science, but argued protocol had not been followed. Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn that Braun questioned the chain of custody and collection procedure.”

Further, the article states:

“(M)ultiple sources said the sample was not shipped for testing as soon as possible, as required by the drug testing policy, and instead was kept in a cool place in the sample collector’s home. Sources told ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson that the collector left Braun’s sample on a desk in a Tupperware container and left it there for two days.

Sources also told Munson that there was doubt over whose urine was actually being tested. Braun offered to take a DNA test to confirm whose urine was in the sample, but Major League Baseball declined. However, an MLB source told ESPN’s Mike Golic that Braun’s side backed off of the offer to take a DNA test.”

It’s very likely that Braun’s suspension was overturned due to technicalities, and not due to Braun actually being innocent of what he was accused of.  The inclusion of Braun  on the Biogenesis list appears to only further the likelihood that Braun has used and perhaps continues to use performance enhancing drugs.

Major League Baseball is very interested in the testimony of Tony Bosch, who was running the Biogenesis clinic linked to this latest scandal and has information about the names of which ball players are involved.  Bosch’s testimony may determine the fate of over twenty Major League Baseball players, Rodriguez and Braun among them.

Tony Bosch, the director of the Biogenesis Clinic at the center of the current Performance Enhancing Drug controversy in Major League Baseball, may give testimony that determines the baseball fates of several ballplayers, including Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun. Bartolo Colon, a one-strike offender under baseball’s current policy against the use of performance enhancing drugs and a member of the 2013 American League All Star team, may also be on the list of players. Colon could find himself banned from the sport for life if baseball elects to cite him for two violations as has been speculated to be the case for other players. (Image source: ESPN at http://a.espncdn.com/media/motion/2013/0430/dm_130430_otl_tony_bosch_long/dm_130430_otl_tony_bosch_long.jpg)

Word is that Bosch is going to speak up, and that suspensions may begin to come down beginning right after the All Star Break.

When one thinks of Tony Bosch, one cannot help but think of former Dodgers and Mets catcher Paul LoDuca, who’s name appeared multiple times in the Mitchel Report not only as a user of performance enhancing drugs, but as a known distributor and a main source for the substances for teammates such as Eric Gagne and Matt Herges.

In addition to catching many of Eric Gagne’s fastballs during his historic 84 consecutive save streak, including a 2003 season when Gagne was a perfect 55 for 55 in save attempts, LoDuca was alleged by the Mitchell Report to have provided Gagne and others with Human Growth Hormone. (Image source: http://i111.photobucket.com/albums/n125/lbrownie/LBS1/eric-gagne-paul-lo-duca-dodgers1.jpg)

Of course, one also must think of Victor Conte and the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) which was also tied to several players, including Barry Bonds.  Here is a timeline of BALCO-related events that show there is some precedent in terms of how Major League Baseball has handled scandals involving performance enhancing drugs and their use and distribution in the past.

Victor Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), found himself at the center of baseball’s initial Performance Enhancing Drug scandal, including many alleged links between his co-operative’s services and all-time home run king Barry Bonds. (Image Source: http://www.thesweetscience.com/images/stories/boxing/victor-conte-steroids.jpg)

One of the casualties who may find themselves out of baseball as the first three strike offender of Major League Baseball’s policies against Performance Enhancing Drugs is the Oakland Athletics’ Bartolo Colon.  Colon has experienced a resurgence the last two seasons, but found himself serving a 50 game suspension last season after testing positive for a banned substance.  Colon returned from the suspension strong and has a 12-3 record and a 2.65 ERA this season at age 40, showing flashes of the American League Cy Young Award Winner of 2005 when he was with the Angels.  Between Colon’s suspension last year and inclusion on the Biogenesis list, Colon’s age-defying performance suddenly seems to ring a little hollow.

Bartolo Colon (12-3, 2.65 ERA) is experiencing a rebirth in Oakland at age 40, showing the sort of mettle that earned him the American League Cy Young Award in 2005 when he pitched for the Anaheim Angels. However, allegations of performance enhancing drug use may tarnish Colon’s performance this season. It is speculated that Colon will not be given a lifetime ban, but as a player with a prior offense, it cannot be ruled out as a possibility. (Image Source: San Francisco Chronicle/Examiner website at http://ww3.hdnux.com/photos/14/17/04/3207458/7/628×471.jpg)

While MLB Trade Rumors reported in June that it was unlikely that Colon will face a lifetime ban and that the league will not add two strikes to players who already have faced suspensions such as Colon and the Toronto Blue Jays’ Melky Cabrera, until the league announces otherwise, it cannot be ruled out as a speculative possibility.

Melky Cabrera was the 2012 All Star Game MVP, but watched his San Francisco Giants win the World Series from a comfortable seat rather than on the field with his teammates due to a 50 game suspension after a positive test for performance enhancing drugs. Cabrera, now a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, may face a second suspension and an outside chance at a lifetime ban after being named on the list of suspected recipients of performance enhancing drugs through the Biogenesis clinic in South Florida. (Image Source: San Francisco Chronicle/Examiner website at http://ww3.hdnux.com/photos/13/52/42/3057838/5/628×471.jpg)

It is not known yet when Major League Baseball will hand out suspensions to the players on the list, whether all players will face 100 game suspensions, or how well the suspensions will hold up on appeal from any players who choose to appeal them.  In addition to the players already discussed here, there are many more players who’s names have been mentioned.  Not all will be suspended, but here are some notables.

Everth Cabrera (SS – San Diego Padres)  Cabrera has been leading the National League in stolen bases throughout the year, and while the Padres have slumped in July, his play helped the team in threatening the Arizona Diamondbacks for the National League West division lead in the month of June.  Cabrera led the league in stolen bases with 44 last year, and has a league-leading 31 with a week to go before the break this year.  Cabrera was named as an All Star reserve by National League manager Bruce Bochy.

Nelson Cruz (OF – Texas Rangers)  Cruz’s power and presence in the Texas Rangers batting order have been a big reason why the Rangers stay at or near the top of the American League West throughout the past two seasons even with the losses of C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli to free agency.  Cruz was voted onto the American League All Star Team on the fan ballot.

Jhonny Peralta (SS – Detroit Tigers) Peralta shores up the defensive left side and provides a .300+ bat for the Detroit Tigers’ lineup this season.  Peralta, like Cruz, was voted to the All Star Game on the fan ballot this year.

Gio Gonzalez (P – Washington Nationals) Gonzalez’s name has allegedly showed up in Biogenesis documents.  To this point, however, there has been documentation that Gonzalez has only received substances deemed legal and allowable by Major League Baseball and that he may not face suspension.

An incomplete list can be found in this article on ESPN.com.  It is believed that more names may come out as being linked to the scandal.  As Major League baseball moves into the dog days of summer and the heat of the playoff races and with about three weeks to go before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Biogenesis scandal and the possible suspensions that may come about because of it may significantly alter the landscape in Major League Baseball over the season’s last 2 1/2 months.

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