All one has to do (Barry Bonds) is to be a casual student of sports news to realize (Mark McGwire) that it’s not only Latino players who are taking (Roger Clemens) steroids (Ryan Braun) and getting caught (Lance Armstrong). But the fact remains that of the 13 players suspended in MLBs latest PED investigation, 12 are Latino. That fact kind of jumped right off the screen at me on Monday, and left me pondering, what’s going on?
Not only that, but nine of those 12 are Dominican. Braun was the only non-Latino suspended
on Monday (actually July 22). Alex Rodriguez, whose parents are from the Dominican Republic, got most of the headlines, but here are the others:
Nelson Cruz (pictured above), Jhonny Peralta, Antonio Bastardo, Sergio Escalona, Jordany Valdespin, Cesar Puello, Everth Cabrera, Fautino de los Santos, Francisco Cervelli, Fernando Martinez, Jesus Montero, Jordan Noberto.
Cruz, Peralta, Bastardo, Valdespin, Puello, de los Santos, Noberto and Martinez are from the Dominican, with Montero, Cervelli and Escalona from Venezuela and Cabrera from Nicaragua.
Since the MLB instituted its PED policy in 2005, 39 of the 67 players suspended for banned substances have been from Latin America. And 20 of those have been from the Dominican Republic.
And when it comes to PEDs, sometimes different Latin American countries collide. Jose Quintana, the White Sox starter who gave up Rodriguez’s bloop single in his first at-bat on Monday, himself served a 50-game PED suspension in the minors for the Mets. Quintana is from Colombia.
Much has been written about the Dominican Connection, where steroids are passed around to aspiring players in developmental leagues. One thing is for sure: a lot of younger players there take them unwittingly.
It even happens in the U.S. While playing for the Hagerstown Suns, a Class-A affiliate of the Mets, Waner Mateo went to a teammate for help when he developed a sore shoulder. He said he didn’t go to the trainer for fear of news getting out that he was hurt, which might send him back to the Dominican. ESPN:
On April 11, while he was pitching for the Mets’ Class A affiliate in Hagerstown, Md., Mateo’s name appeared on the list of players suspended 50 days for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy.
“I didn’t know what I was taking,” Mateo said through an interpreter, Juan Henderson, who is administrator of the Mets’ academy. “Last year in the spring, my shoulder was hurt a little bit. I asked one of the players, ‘Do you have anything for pain, because my shoulder is hurting?’ The player gave me something. I thought it was B complex, B-12. I thought that was it. I didn’t know I was taking steroids.
“One day I pitched; and the next day after the game, they called me to the office [in Hagerstown]. They told me what happened. I was surprised because I didn’t know I was taking steroids. But I didn’t see any difference. It was just one time.”
Mateo got a second chance and is still in the Mets’ organization. But how many other young Latin players get caught up unknowingly taking PEDs? And even if they know what they’re doing, it’s hard to argue that young players know what a health risk steroids represent.
“It’s easy to understand why a kid from the Dominican Republic who is 16, has little education and is on the bottom rung of the minor leagues would take these drugs and get caught,” said Rob Ruck, a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of “The Tropic of Baseball: Baseball in the Dominican Republic.” “For professionals, it’s a little more difficult.”
Plus it’s much easier to get PEDs in many countries overseas: many are legal over the counter. I’ve never been there, but I’m willing to bet that there are a lot more sketchy pharmacies in the Dominican that there are here.
In the Dominican, where 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the decision to take a pill to give you a chance at Major League Baseball must seem like no decision at all. From Dave Zirin in The Nation:
Look at one of the most prominent people branded with the scarlet “S”, Sammy Sosa. Before his thirteenth birthday, he stitched soles in a shoe factory for, as he remembered, “pennies, just enough to survive.” His choices, as he said, were the cane fields, the army or baseball.
Instead of harsher penalties, perhaps baseball should be looking at an education-based solution.