We all make mistakes in life, especially in our youth, when basic logic and mental maturity have yet to kick in. Unfortunately, it happens a lot with Latino baseball players. Some of these kids are under tremendous pressure to break the cycle of poverty. So while attempting to get that extra edge over the competition, they end up using questionable judgment. But there’s a difference between taking a risky gamble and being dumb as a rock, especially when the subject pertains to performance-enhancing drugs.
The sad saga of former New York Mets relief pitcher Jenrry Mejía is a case in point. The 26-year-old Dominican was first busted last April after testing positive for Stanozolol, a synthetic steroid derived from testosterone that can be injected or taken in tablet form. Mejía was slapped with an 80-game suspension and accepted his punishment, though he claimed he had “no idea” how the illegal substance ended up in his system. Then in July, only three weeks after his reinstatement, Mejía tested dirty again. Doctors also found traces of Boldenone, an androgenic steroid developed to treat race horses. Strike two against Jenrry resulted in a ban of 162 games.
One would think that after watching his team’s playoff and World Series run from the sidelines, Mejía would get his act together. The Mets even showed good faith by renewing his $2.47 million contract. Then on February 10, the MLB announced that Mejía had once again failed a random check for PED (performance-enhancing drug) use, and the consequences carried the maximum penalty of a lifetime ban from the game. Three strikes and you’re out.
It’s true that Mejía went under the knife a while back for Tommy John surgery (a UCL reconstruction procedure), and many foreign-born Hispanics share the misconception that steroid substances speed up the healing process. Oft-injured pitcher Arodys Vizcaíno of the Atlanta Braves had the same procedure done in 2012, and had bone chips removed from his elbow later on. So maybe that’s why Vizcaíno, 25, was nailed for Stanozolol use last season. These are two examples of talented pitchers with their prime years ahead, who could have pressed the panic button for steroid use in the MLB. But why is it that established stars like Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, and Ervin Santana, all veteran guys who should know better, also have a history of PED use? Why is it that all these players, both young and old, are Dominican?
Look, there’s no attempt to stereotype here. That being said, it’s common knowledge that the availability of illegal substances is still a major problem in the D.R. Kids on the island dream of signing big league deals as soon as they can write their own names. And why not? All 30 MLB teams have boots on the ground there, and the plush academies are amazing. There’s money to be made everywhere, and well-connected personal trainers known as “buscones” realize that major league scouts usually look for the biggest, strongest athletes available. As a result, many youngsters in their early teens are already experimenting with PED use, while veterans have simply never broken the habit. Hell, you can buy anything you want at the local farmacia.
The Dominican government has done its best to crack down on PED use. After all, next to tourism, baseball is its biggest cash cow, and the MLB is applying the heat. Maybe Jenrry Mejía is a victim of his own environment, but with hundreds of other Dominican players out there enjoying success, there’s really no excuse for his behavior and fall from grace. Pete Rose may have had a gambling problem, but Mejía has a drug problem and needs help. Once clean, then he might think about becoming a “buscón,” and instruct kids under his tutelage to make better decisions about their futures.