Like so much of the sport, Opening Day is just one of many intangibles integral to the magic (and marketing) of Major League Baseball. “Wait ’til next year” becomes today. And even in such a thoroughly analyzed sport, optimism is allowed even if stacks of stats suggest otherwise.
Unfortunately for the Minnesota Twins and their fans, this year’s Opening Day glow faded even before Monday’s game, which the Twins lost to the Tigers, 4-0. Just three days earlier, the league suspended Twins pitcher Ervin Santana for 80 games for violating its drug prevention and treatment program. Santana tested positive for stanozolol, an anaerobic steroid designed to bulk up muscles. It’s the same stuff that was used by Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who was stripped of his 1988 Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters.
Santana was signed for four years at a cost of $55 million. The suspension will cost him $6.6 million, but it’s not like the Twins can quickly turn to the free-agent bullpen for a reliever. Rosters are set, and the aforementioned Opening Day optimism means that other teams still dream that their pitchers will win the Cy Young Award this season.
In fact, the Twins should be credited for being willing to spend in an attempt to turn around a team that’s had four terrible years, including last season’s grim 70-92 record. Overall, despite the poor performance on the field, the midmarket Twins’ $108.2 million payroll is 18th out of the 30-team league, according to a USA Today analysis.
So this latest brushback can’t be blamed on Twins management. Rather, it’s squarely on Santana’s shoulders. So it was especially disappointing that his apology — delivered in a seemingly scripted statement instead of from the heart in front of fans (or at least cameras) — seemed to dodge responsibility. “I am frustrated that I can’t pinpoint how the substance in question entered my body. I would never knowingly take anything illegal to enhance my performance,” the statement read, in part.
Santana added: “I serve as a role model for many kids in my home country who dream of playing at the highest level.” It’s not just his native Dominican Republic. Santana, and all major leaguers, are role models to millions of kids here, too. And despite concerns over concussions knocking the steroid story into the background, performance-enhancing drugs are still a scourge not just at the major league level, but at all levels of the sport — and in sports beyond baseball. Steroids represent more than an ethical issue and a rule book violation. Sure, they endanger baseball’s integrity. But more important, they threaten a user’s health.
So while we, like most Minnesotans, will still root for the Twins, and continue to appreciate the team’s irreplaceable spot in the state’s culture, we strongly support this suspension as well as MLB’s overall approach to steroids, which have cheapened the national pastime.
We’d like to support Santana in his comeback, too, but hope for his own sake and for his team and fans that he will be honest with himself about the reasons behind and the ramifications of the drug suspension.