Dee Gordon doesn’t fit the popular image of a steroid abuser.
But, then again, the unlikeliest cheaters, the ones who break our faith in sports, aren’t the hulking, grunting shot putters or weightlifters from former Soviet bloc countries.
Gordon is noodle-thin. He calls everyone “sir” or “ma’am.” His smile is all the more dazzling because he’s unassuming. Gordon’s mother was murdered when he was six years old and he’s become a mentor to victims of domestic violence.
The Miami Marlins’ All-Star second baseman is a good man.
Then again, Lance Armstrong was a courageous hero. Marion Jones was utterly charming. Roger Clemens would never tell a lie. And Alex Rodriguez has a dazzling smile.
So here we go once more, on an amusement park ride that’s detoured into the Tunnel of Cynicism.
Gordon tested positive for synthetic testosterone and clostebol during spring training. He decided to drop his appeal just before the Marlins swept the Dodgers with a 5-3 victory Thursday in Los Angeles and before his Saturday hearing. He’s been suspended for 80 games, and is ineligible for the playoffs.
It’s sad. It’s confusing. It’s maddening.
Gordon’s absence until July 29 is a huge blow to the Marlins, who lose their leadoff hitter, Gold Glove infielder and speediest player. Gordon, 28, was the 2015 National League batting champ (.333) and the first player to win the batting title and lead the league in stolen bases (58) since Jackie Robinson in 1949.
Gordon earned a $50 million contract extension in January. Owner Jeffrey Loria showed his pride and affection by giving Gordon a diamond pendant. Gordon will forfeit $1.6 million in salary.
Now Gordon joins the list of those tainted by performance-enhancing drug use. He may never hear the word “impeccable” attached to his reputation in the future. He’s part of Major League Baseball’s “steroid problem, which just won’t go away. In fact, to illustrate how long it’s been plaguing the game, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez are back as coaches. Bonds is the Marlins’ hitting coach, but there is no indication he had any connection with Gordon’s predicament.
“Though I did not do so knowingly, I have been informed that test results showed I ingested something that contained prohibited substances,” Gordon said in a statement. “The hardest part about this is feeling that I have let down my teammates, the organization and the fans. I have been careful to avoid products that could contain something banned by MLB and the 20+ tests that I have taken and passed throughout my career prove this. I made a mistake and I accept the consequences.”
We’ve heard the “I didn’t know” rationale hundreds of times from busted athletes. It’s not a valid excuse. It’s not believable, given all the knowledge, warnings and protection athletes have today, given the scrupulous attention they pay to the bodies they rely upon for their livelihood. They have access to doctors, trainers, physiologists, strength and conditioning experts – even mobile apps providing information on banned and approved products.
When Maria Sharapova said she “didn’t know” Meldonium had been added to the banned list or when Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Chris Colabello says he has “no idea” how the black-market steroid turinabol got into his system, we cannot give them the benefit of the doubt. We’ve been duped by the incredulous act too often. Armstrong and Rodriguez boasted about multiple clean tests; it means nothing.
In Gordon’s case, clostebol – first used by East Germany’s doped athletes -- is not a powerful steroid but can work to keep testosterone levels high and has few side effects. Testosterone would be useful to Gordon not necessarily for its muscle-building properties but to accelerate recovery over the course of baseball’s grueling 162-game season.
The 5-11, 172-pound Gordon is never going to hit for power; he’s got only eight career home runs. But one reason cited for his trade from the Dodgers was how fatigue affected his productivity late in the season.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly, who said he loves Gordon like a son, recalled how Gordon was a 140-pound string bean when he came up to the majors.
Athletes looking for that extra edge are willing to take risks. It’s not that difficult to beat the tests. You don’t have to be a chemist. You just have to be smart and time your doses properly.
But athletes flunk. They must figure the risk is worth the reward. Gordon will miss half a season and still collect his $48.5 million. Nelson Cruz, Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon are among those who got new contracts after their suspensions.
MLB and the players’ union are working on a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires Dec. 1. Players such as Justin Verlander and Jake Arrieta are lobbying for stiffer doping penalties.
“I personally don’t think that guys should get multiple chances when they fail a steroid test,” Cubs pitcher Arrieta said. “Guys will still attempt to beat the system.”
It’s currently 80 games for the first penalty, two years for the next and a lifetime ban for a third. If baseball wants to crack down, impose a two-year suspension for the first infraction, like the International Olympic Committee. Create a deterrent so that cheating doesn’t pay.