I wonder how San Diego Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal‘s off-season is going. Is he beating himself up for taking performance enhancing drugs, or for getting caught? Is he surrounded by people who are asking him why he cheated, or is he surrounded by people who have the twisted idea in their brains that he got a raw deal because he really didn’t do anything wrong?
Grandal, 23, played in 60 games for the Padres in 2012 as the team’s catcher of the future, but he must sit out the first 50 games of the 2013 season as punishment for testing positive for testosterone use under the Major League drug policy. The hits keep on coming. Bartolo Colon of the A’s got nabbed at the height of the pennant race. Melky Cabrera lost out on being part of a World Series champion San Francisco Giants team and perhaps winning the National League batting title.
Each one of these cases surprised me. With baseball cracking down, with tough regulations implemented, and with retaliatory punishments of some significance in place, I would have thought that guys flunking drug tests would have been much rarer, like almost never. But before this we had Manny Ramirez basically being run out of the game for repeat failure of tests and the complicated case of Ryan Braun being accused of breaking the rules, but winning his case on appeal.
Ramirez was desperate to get back into the majors. Colon was desperate to stay in the majors. Cabrera wanted to live up to his potential. The Braun matter is its own animal since he became the first player to ever win a positive drug case on appeal. As for Grandal, did he think he needed the extra juice to make it over the top and break into a Major League lineup? Maybe that was his motivation.
Grandal showed considerable promise in 2012, batting .297. He was one of the young players the Cincinnati Reds shipped to San Diego in order to obtain pitcher Mat Latos before last season. Grandal did not contest the drug test finding, but meekly offered a statement of contrition. He didn’t claim that anyone spiked his drink or that he ate tainted meat from cows being fed steroids before being sent to market. He said, “I must accept responsibility for my actions and serve my suspension.” Well, yeah.
He apologized to the fans, his teammates, the city of San Diego, and anyone else listening in the known world and admitted that under the baseball drug program he was responsible for what he put in his body. There is kind of a normal procedure for this crime against the game now. You take your chances, you flunk your test, you make a pro forma apology–and then all seems to be forgiven.
It seems to me that the Giants won the NL pennant despite Cabrera being sent into exile. Oakland won the American League West Division despite Colon being benched. The Giants appear to have washed their hands of Cabrera, though he will get another job somewhere. The A’s inexplicably signed Colon to a new contract with a raise. Go figure. That makes no sense. The Padres will keep Grandal on and as soon as he is eligible they will start playing him again.
There is something off-kilter about these situations. There doesn’t seem to be as much shame or stigma attached to breaking the performance-enhancing drug use rules. Not so long ago fans were outraged whenever word leaked out about a power hitter being ensnared in the steroids roundup. Mark McGwire was undressed under oath. Alex Rodriguez was booed as if he was a member of the Dixie Chicks.
Baseball has tried to clean up the game and it has imposed stringent testing and combined that with pretty harsh penalties. Still, one must wonder whether teams really care about their players continuing to break the rules, if fans do anything more than sigh when they hear about the latest infraction. The outlook seems to be more of tough luck if someone is lost for 50 games, as if they suffered a broken foot or something. But that’s wrong. There is a difference between losing out on 50 games for ingesting a banned substance and incurring a physical injury. One is an accident with no one at fault. One is a deliberate act and there is definitely fault.