By: Joe Botana
“Say it ain’t so…”
Earlier in the off season, Mets fans debated whether their team should bring back their one-time closer of the future, Jenrry Mejia, for the 2016 season. Already suspended one year for a second positive PED test, Mejia would only be available for the latter half of the season. Most fans seemed to think it was worth the risk, especially given the low cost of a part-year arbitration contract. The team apparently agreed, signing him to a $2.47 million one year deal.
On Friday, the discussion about whether this was a smart decision, and if his return in late summer would help or hurt a hopefully playoff-bound team, sadly became academic. MLB announced that Mejia had tested positive a third time for PEDs, resulting in a lifetime ban. Having previously tested positive for Stanozol, this time he was caught using Boldenone, a drug originally developed to treat horses.
Stanozol and Boldenone share several traits. They are both anabolic steroids designed to increase muscle mass and strength, and give athletes the ability to train harder and longer. They are both considered potentially dangerous, and carry medical warning lists as long as a seventeen inning game with three rain delays thrown in for good measure. Both are banned by not only MLB but also the World Anti-Doping Agency. Olympic athletes caught using these drugs are subject to a four-year ban from competition. Perhaps most importantly, they are extremely easy to detect. Unlike other athletes like Lance Armstrong , who employed teams of medical professionals and used complex protocols to avoid detection, Mejia’s doping was extremely unsophisticated and certain to be detected. According to T.J. Quinn of ESPN, Mejia’s PED experience was
“old school, unsophisticated, easily detectable, career suicide. Old joke is it’s an IQ test, not a drug test. But taking boldenone/stanozolol is like trying to shoplift an elephant. Someone’s gonna notice.”
While this news is undoubtedly disappointing to Mets fans who hoped Mejia would come in late in the 2016 season and provide a strong extra arm in the bullpen, the team lost much less than the player as a result of the failed test and suspension. He joins Pete Rose on the list of permanently banned MLB players. His 113 game MLB career, with a 3.68 ERA and 28 saves in 32 opportunities, comes to a premature end. While he can apply for reinstatement, he would doubtless have to show good cause for it to be considered, and he’d have to serve a minimum of a two-year suspension. This means that, at the earliest, he could return in his age 28 season, though most likely it would be later, if at all. Not to mention the millions of dollars of irreplaceably lost income for a young man from the Dominican Republic.
This incident raises another broader question about whether MLB should consider taking a more active role in coaching, mentoring, oversight, and counseling of young international players, particularly from the Dominican Republic, during the off-season. Jenrry Mejia made an incredibly dumb and immature decision to continue his PED doping practices during a suspension, when he could not possibly play for at least six more months, and in a way that was virtually certain to result in detection and a lifetime ban. At least he has a chance to potentially return to baseball, or at least to pursue other avenues to a useful and meaningful life. Two other young Dominican prospects, 20 year old Astros pitching prospect Jose Rosario, and 23 year old Orioles IF prospect Ramon Ramirez, won’t be so fortunate. Both of these young men made bad and immature decisions involving motorcycles and died premature deaths on the roads of the DR. A few years earlier, 22 year old St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras lost his life, along with his girlfriend, in a tragic automobile accident. MLB should consider whether it could do more, be more proactive, to help young men like these to make better decisions and avoid situations which lead to destructive, life altering, even life ending, bad decisions. Would it help? Make any difference? We won’t know until and unless MLB and the teams try. Given the tragic lost careers and lives, it seems like it would be worth the effort. Even for just one or two fewer instances of shocked and disappointed fans uttering the words “Say it isn’t so!”