Alex Rodriguez’s performance at last week’s press conference was all anyone could talk about on the airwaves here in New York for days. Driving around as I did for much of the weekend, it didn’t matter if I turned on 1050 or WFAN, it was “Let’s skewer A-Rod,” followed by “What the hell is Jerry Manuel doing with the lineups,” “Fire Renney,” and “The Knicks play in New York, too, so we have to talk about them.”
On the written side of things, there was more diversity in the Yankee coverage, ranging from the requisite holier-than-thou columns on A-Rod to the investigative journalism unearthing the details of A-Rod’s PED story. The muckraking that ensued was to be expected, but with all this information being brought to light now, shouldn’t investigative reporting at this level been done proactively in the beginning of the decade, instead of reactively now? Of course, there has been a great amount of what we’ve all been waiting for: actual baseball stories from camp: roster projections, players to watch, the ongoing discussion regarding what to do with Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher, Joe Girardi’s personality, and the questions regarding ticket prices as Opening Day approaches.
Of all those articles, I was particularly drawn to one that added even more perspective to the steroid investigation. It was a blog entry posted Wednesday on the Daily News Web site by investigative reporter Michael O’Keeffe (not the Michael O’Keefe who played Danny Noonan in “Caddyshack” and was married to Bonnie Raitt), and it profiled a sports activist, Charles S. Farrell, who moved to the Dominican Republic to help open a sports and education academy. Farrell, a former director of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Sports, commented on the prevalence of steroids, the legality of them and the ease by which they can be obtained in a recent newsletter.
Nine years ago when I traveled to the DR and visited the Oakland Athletics’ academy in La Victoria – which is about a 45-minute drive north of the capital, Santo Domingo — and took in some Rookie League games, I observed much of what Farrell did, save for entering pharmacies to fill prescriptions, or in the reporter’s case, to see how easy it was to buy steroids. Several of Farrell’s comments, I agree with. Others, however, lead me to ask numerous questions.
Given the ease that steroids can be purchased legally in the Dominican Republic, it is my understanding that there unlikely will be any criminal repercussions with regards to Rodriquez and his cohorts, but it put the whole steroids connection to the Dominican Republic under a microscope. The fact that 42 of the 104 baseball players tested back in 2003 for steroid use are Latino, and the majority of them Dominican, is alarming to say the least.
While I agree with Farrell that A-Rod’s admission and the subsequent digging into his – and other players’ – association with trainer Angel Presinal has made the DR a hub for MLB’s investigation, I have a problem with the last statement. One hundred four players tested positive back in 2003. That number represented five percent of all players tested. O’Keeffe, who is an excellent reporter, didn’t challenge that in the blog, which was disappointing. Additionally, if 42 players tested positive, how did Farrell get that information? And how did he get the names to know that the majority of the players are Latino? For the majority of the Latino players to have tested positive to be Dominican should not be a surprise: Dominicans comprise more than 40 percent of the Latino Major League populace.
“… Why did a disproportionate number of Dominican baseball players avail themselves to steroids? The answer is fairly simple. The Dominican gene pool just doesn’t produce many 6’2” 225 pound men. And the average Dominican kitchen doesn’t have a food pyramid on the wall as a guide to providing good nutrition.
“That results in a skinny, short boy growing up in the Dominican Republic with the dream of playing in the majors, while the big leagues crave big, strong, strapping men who can hit home runs, throw blazing fastballs, steal bases with lightning speed, or nail a runner at home plate with a missile from center field. Only the strong survive, so get strong is the message being sent to these dreamers.
“And with the easy availability of substances that can help them improve performance, the temptation is great. So great in fact that a few years ago a couple of young Dominican baseball players turned to animal steroids for a quick fix. They died.”
I had not heard about the story of a couple of young baseball players “turning to animal steroids for a quick fix,” as Farrell put it, but it’s not surprising. Farrell’s other points are accurate, to a point. It is true that the prospective Major Leaguers, when signed to the academies at age 16, will do anything to get off the island and into the pros. But the greatest reason is economics, not genetics. As of this writing, $36 Dominican Pesos (DOP) is worth just $1 U.S. Dollar (USD), 20 pesos weaker than the rate in May-June of 2000.
Genetics do play a role, however, in a player’s desperation to succeed in baseball. In the 1960s, 70s and ‘80s, many of the Dominican players looked like Juan Marichal, the Alou brothers, Juan Samuel, Tony Fernandez or Manny Lee and got by on their defensive skill. The biggest Dominican ballplayers looked like Rico Carty or George Bell. Now, the skinny Dominicans look like Pedro Martinez or Vladimir Guerrero, and the biggest guys look like A-Rod or Albert Pujols.
I saw this firsthand at the A’s academy. During the five or so hours my group was there, we were given a tour of the dorm area. In roughly 70 percent of the overhead shelves, which are comparable to the ones above the lockers in Major League clubhouses, sat tubs of Cell-Tech and Nitro-Tech and other protein powders that you can buy at GNC. If other substances were there, they were hidden.
(I haven’t seen any stories on this yet, but I would be shocked if the A’s academy was not shut down temporarily as the investigation into Miguel Tejada’s PED use intensifies. He is the most notable graduate from the academy and the standard that the kids enrolled there seek to emulate.)
While we ate at the facility’s cafeteria, we were told that on average, in the first year at the academy, players gained 30 pounds. This is largely because for the first time, they’re receiving three meals a day and being fed regularly. They’re able to grow and fill out as part of the natural course of adolescence. Any additional muscle mass is attributed to weight training, which they’re subjected to for the first time, and the ingestion of the supplements mentioned above.
O’Keeffe did not provided additional color, and maybe that wasn’t the intent, given it was a blog post and there are likely more stringent word counts for that format versus a standard story. I would have liked to see more detail. Perhaps as the investigations continue – and I suspect they will as the Dominican team is highlighted when the World Baseball Classic starts next Thursday – we’ll see more.
Until next week …