"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Yankee Panky: Roid Rage

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.

He writes:

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.

Farrell continues:

“… 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 …


1 ajax   ~  Feb 27, 2009 12:04 pm

There's a funny piece on Alex and steroids on The Huffington Post. A totally different view. If get a chance check it out. The link

2 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 27, 2009 12:05 pm

I'm afraid we might see a lot more commentary at first from journalists, good and not so good, who because of size restrictions, a lack of perspective, lack of initiative, lack of access or even laziness (perhaps prejudice) who will write about the Dominican Republic in generalized terms, misinforming or understating the issues that surround the prevalence in their country and it's relation to today's so-called scandal. I anticipate at least a couple of weeks of shrill, embarrassing commentary from certain outlets before the serious investigation begins, either by someone in Congress or by a media outlet willing to invest the time and money it will take to really explore it.

I wondered in one of Diane's posts what many journalists thought about countries that pretty much allowed steroids and steroid use. Maybe we're about to find out, but it's obviously much trickier an issue than one would suspect, because as O'Keefe said, some if not many Dominican athletes will do anything to get off the island; and to be honest with you, the U.S. does encourage the mindset that only the strong survive and kinda remains mum on how many people who reach the top actually get there (until someone finds out it was by major crook). Even in those cases, history usually vindicates even those individuals (The robber barons of the 19-20th century, for example) and the common man is nothing more than dust. Ponzi is practically folklore now, what will be said about Madoff?

My point being, few people in the next generation or two will care who those 104 players are, and unless the countries involved take a scalpel to their brain-stamped principles, none of this amounts to anything more than a tempest in a teapot. In fact, a lot more people will increase their financial/political wealth on the chase than by the end result. The stink hanging over the game has as much to do with the journalists and politicians pursuing their own agendas as it does with the principals in MLB. What's worse is they won't accept or even acknowledge their own responsibility, while they demand remorse, remission and repercussions. As a fan, these people do not speak to me or for me.

3 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 27, 2009 12:15 pm

[1] Actually, I agree. And why not lock these guys in gated communities and control their every movement with compulsory fines for not following the most stringent of rules, like they do in the NBA, NFL and the Army (actually, they lock you up or shoot you in the Army). The physical risks include an aspect that makes them a danger to the public, so quarantine might be the answer. The athletes can live in a Park Hill biodome and have their needs met, as long as they are kept a safe distance from the general public for each others' sake. Hey, gotta sacrifice to get to the top, right? >;)

4 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 27, 2009 12:31 pm

[2] Chyll, that was, wow. One of the best-written comments I've ever seen on the Banter.

I would like to know when all the people who spent hours and content space on A-Rod are going to discuss what John Perricone uncovered from 1969 (simply by doing a search in SI's archives!), which has not been widely reported or commented on. Though, to his credit, Peter Gammons put it in front of his audience, and added some nuanced analysis too.

After reading Perricone, and Gilbert's article, I think its safe to say the so-called "Steriods Era" extends back a lot further than 1993. I have no real evidence, or even any suspicions to go on in saying this - but how do we know that, just to a pick a name from history - I'll use a guy with unreal longevity and health, who was a noted workout fiend, and did amazing things at an advanced baseball age, things that few, if any, others in history have done - Nolan Ryan never used steroids? The circumstantial evidence and arguments - including the ridiculous ones - that many use and used to indict Barry Bonds could be applied to Ryan as well. Its not like steroids were non-existent or unknown at the time.

But then again, the all-time strikeout record isn't quite as revered as the all-time home run record, and everybody loved Nolan (well, except for maybe Robin Ventura).

5 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 27, 2009 12:41 pm

[4] To quote Bill Cosby, "We are dumb, but we are not so dumb..." >;)

6 Just Fair   ~  Feb 27, 2009 1:19 pm

[2] Hear, Hear. If 99% of today's columnists had to toil away in some 3rd world country scratching their nonsense in the dirt with sticks, I am quite sure they might pop a pill or two if they knew they would have a better chance of writing something coherent. And in a cozy office no less. With pay. And fame. etc.

7 CountZero   ~  Feb 27, 2009 1:42 pm

[2] Terrific analysis.

"In fact, a lot more people will increase their financial/political wealth on the chase than by the end result."

Insightful, and undoubtedly true.

"As a fan, these people do not speak to me or for me."

Me either. Thanks for putting that so well.

8 rbj   ~  Feb 27, 2009 2:06 pm

Re: 42/104, I think it is that 104 players tested positive, and now I assume that 42 were Latino. Still doesn't answer the question of how does the reporter know that there were 42 Latinos on the list. Obviously someone knows who all the players are, but decided to release only one name.

Good post Will, I agree with it. There were lots of players using lots of PEDs (and not just steroids) for a long time, with complicity between players and management. And the media. And even fans to a degree.
increase in steroid use came about with increased attendance.

9 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Feb 27, 2009 2:20 pm

[4] really interesting link. I have been arguing that a lot of what is going down now is about the times, the culture, and I agree with Chyll that an industry is being formed to benefit. I also have been saying that this is way too baseball-focused a crusade, that baseball is way ahead of the other sports (under pressure, not by choice) in working on it.

But the question those old articles raise - aside from how shabby the journalists are today, to pretend this is all new ("I'm shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in Rick's!") - is why we'd pillory Bonds and McGwire and Sosa for sins that it is almost a dead cert were committed (with amphetamines, primarily, but not only) by our heroes of the 60s and 70s. Read the link to the quote from the SURGEON (he uses caps too, Alex, forgive me!) of the Cardinals, and think about Gibson, then Mays and Aaron, and what about Koufax, who was in such brutal pain all the time? Think he passed on what Denny McLain admits he used?

What we need, seems to me, is some journalists to step up and take that long view.

10 Will Weiss   ~  Feb 27, 2009 3:01 pm

[9] Agreed on journalists taking the long view. I expected more from the investigative groups.

11 Will Weiss   ~  Feb 28, 2009 9:51 am

[2] Will, that's one of the best posts I've ever read, anywhere. In looking at the scope of what's going on in the newspaper industry, with budgets getting slashed as deficits increase (the Rocky Mountain News just folded), fewer reporters will be traveling abroad to get to the nuts and bolts of stories like the ones described, and it's a shame. We all lose because of it.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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