I should be writing about the Rays’ crushing 4-game skid. I should be writing about the remaining schedule. I should be writing about the fact that this thing might take all 162 again. I should be writing about how the machinations necessary for the Republican National Convention upset the Rays’ apple cart at precisely the wrong moment.
But I’m not. Why? Because our minor leaguers in Bowling Green are going to be on the cover of High Times this month.
In case you haven’t been following this story, Ryan Brett, Charles Cononie, and Justin Woodall received 50 game suspensions on August 23, when they tested positive for an amphetamine and methamphetamine. Yesterday, the league announced that Josh Sale will take a 50-game vacation for the same thing.
Yeah. I know. It’s like we built the home clubhouse in Bowling Green on the site of an old Chinese opium den.
Of course, all four of the Bowling Green players deny taking PEDs and have no earthly idea why they tested positive. One claims to have taken some energy pills that may have contained adderall. While they may not know which substance contained a PED, none are claiming they take no substances.
For some reason (maybe I am just naive, maybe I am too optimistic, maybe I like the view from under this sand), I don’t think these guys are either Josh Hamilton or Barry Bonds. I don’t think they have fallen into some illicit drug ring in the hills of Kentucky nor do I think they are blatantly cheating to inflate their numbers. If it were the former, we’d have heard more than just failed drug tests (Remember how much noise the Durham ownership made when Elijah and Delmon were wreaking PR havoc on the Triangle?). And, A-ball is too far from the Bigs for it to be the latter.
So, to my mind, that leaves one of two explanations. Either these kids were careless or ignorant about the substances they consumed. One is an indictment of the player, one is an indictment of the organization.
Every ballplayer (heck, every athlete) at every level tailors their diet for a competitive advantage. It starts in Little League when your dad makes you drink a certain amount of water on game days (well, I guess these days dads buy expensive sports drinks from the concession stand). When you reach a high level, you start to study every morsel of food you consume, pair it with a workout regiment, and supplement it with over-the-counter products that promise certain legal results. This is neither news nor is it illegal.
Moreover, the list of PEDs is long and filled with multi-syllable, scientific sounding words. (For example, do you know if your favorite energy drink contains ‘Modafinil?’). The tricky issue is, most PEDs are component parts of readily-available products. This is not Latimer shooting ‘Roids in The Program. This is an over-the-counter supplement with a list of ingredients in 8-point font.
Is that an excuse for violating the rules? Not really. All of these guys are Americans so, they can’t claim the Ortiz defense (David Ortiz claimed that hispanic players are at a disadvantage because the list is published in English). Plus, they grew up amidst the steroid era so they know baseball takes this very, very seriously.
But I am more concerned about the ignorance than I am the carelessness. If these guys were careless about ingredients, they will be careless about other things and likely never make the Majors. But, if they had no idea banned substances could be contained in products purchased at GNC, then the club has some fault in this debacle. Seems to me that the Rays have a vested interest in making sure their minor leaguers are developing physically just as they are developing as ballplayers. The club should be working with minor leaguers on nutrition and strength training. They should also be teaching them which supplements are legal and which may contain prohibited substances.
Add in the suspensions of Tim Beckham and Deshun Dixon and there is a clear indication that the Rays need to spend some time this winter addressing this issue in their player development system.