Skip to comments.Hispanic Baseball Players Failing Steroid Tests at Higher Rate [Not-Their-Fault Alert]
Posted on 05/19/2005 7:29:51 PM PDT by governsleastgovernsbest
Thursday, May 19, 2005 Latin Americans failing steroid tests at higher rate By Tom Farrey ESPN.com
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic At mention of the word "anabolic," the clerk behind the counter at a GNC store points to a shelf that displays the container of a muscle-building agent $100 worth of souped-up pills, hope in a bottle to many of her clients.
"This is what our baseball players buy," she said.
She is referring to Anotesten, the brand name for a product based on a steroid precursor, a chemical that metabolizes into testosterone once it's in the body.
The clerk, a college-aged woman with coffee skin and dark, dismissive eyes, then walks to the rear of the tiny store, and reaches down.
"This," she says, grabbing a brown glass container, "is what I tell them to take to beat their drug test."
The label on the bottle says, "Blood Cleanser," a liquid she says many players have purchased for $10.
There's just one problem with her advice: Major League Baseball's steroid tests evaluate a player's urine, not his blood.
The meeting of minds between clerk and players at this store in the center of the nation's largest city says a lot about why a disproportionately large number of Latin Americans are failing tests for steroids and related substances. At the core of the problem is a toxic combination of desperation, opportunity and ignorance.
ESPN research shows that of the 68 major- and minor-leaguers who have been suspended this year, nearly half (33) are from Latin American countries. Players from those countries make up just 26 percent of major-leaguers and 38 percent of minor-leaguers.
Most of the offending players from Latin America are from the two countries that produce the most foreign talent the Dominican Republic (12) and Venezuela (16). No other country, with the exception of the United States (33), has had more than two players test positive.
Those numbers are separate from the most recent results in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League, where many of the top Latin players begin their pro careers. Extending its minor-league testing program beyond the United States for the first time, Major League Baseball found steroids or related substances in 11 percent of summer-league players last year.
"It's a serious problem that is affecting our Latin players," said Jonny Cordova, a pitcher with the Dominican-based farm club of the New York Yankees. "To me, this issue is important because I am playing against (people) supposedly on steroids, so they might be able to perform better."
Some Latin American major-leaguers suggest that a language barrier, rather than an intent to cheat, is the reason some players from their part of the world have tested positive. They say players simply don't know which drugs are banned. Major League Baseball needs to better educate Latin players on the list of prohibited substances, said Solomon Torres, a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher from the Dominican who, unlike many players, speaks conversational English.
"Like, in my case, if I get caught doing something, I have no excuse because I understand the language," said Torres, who has not tested positive. "But part of the (confusion for other players) might be in the terminology of different drugs or any substance that is banned."
Juan Rincon, a Minnesota Twins pitcher, expressed surprise when he tested positive for a banned substance that neither he nor baseball officials have identified publicly. Before returning from his 10-day suspension ending last weekend, he said, "I would never knowingly compromise my position" with baseball or his team.
Appearing Wednesday before a Congressional committee examining steroid use in professional sports, MLB Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr testified that the program for educating Latin American players about banned substances needs to be "upgraded."
Commissioner Bud Selig rejected the claim that confusion reigns.
"Anyone taking these things has been told time and time again," he testified.
In a statement sent to ESPN.com, MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said that copies of the Major League Drug Program were provided to all players in English and Spanish, and a memo identifying additions to the prohibited substances list was sent to players after the policy was amended in January. Union leaders also met with each club to discuss the policy, with former slugger Bobby Bonilla serving as a translator for Spanish-speaking players.
Players on minor-league teams in the United States, who are governed by a drug policy that's similar but separate from that of the majors, were shown an informational video on the policy, and given wallet cards describing the program's major components, Courtney said. Those materials, along with the list of banned substances, were provided in English and Spanish.
Like Selig, Pirates closer Jose Mesa says most Latin American players have no excuse for failing a steroids test. Major-leaguers have trainers, doctors and agents to consult.
"If you're over 21, you are supposed to know what you put in your body," he said. "I mean, a guy who is 13, 14 or 16 years old might put something in his body that he doesn't know about. But not a guy who is grown up and knows what to do."
Courtney did concede that players tested last year during the Dominican Summer League were only informed orally of the list of banned substances. This year, MLB plans to distribute a written list to players in that league, which is made up of teams representing the so-called baseball academies where young Latin American players are developed.
Addressing the use of steroids among players based in the Dominican and Venezuelan academies is muddled by the different drug laws in those countries. The catalyst for baseball banning steroid precursors was a change in U.S. federal law, effective in January, that pulled such products off the shelves. But supplements like Anotesten, which includes Androstenedione, remain legal in countries like the Dominican.
"Many of those supplements contain steroids, but players don't know that, and there are no programs to teach us what not to take," said Jose Cruz, an outfielder on the Detroit Tigers' Dominican farm club. He said he passed his test.
Baseball this year plans to hire three Dominican doctors (an increase from one last year) to educate the players in the various academies, Courtney said. Random testing also will be added for the first time, in addition to the lone test that is given to each player during the June-August summer season. And the program will expand to the Venezuelan academies.
Fernando Mateo, a Dominican-born, New York-based activist who has been pushing Selig to address the use of steroids by Latin American players, said solving the problem at the lowest levels of baseball is key to solving it on the major-league level, because players will know from the outset that drugs are not tolerated.
"It starts at the amateur level in these very poor countries that are producing incredible ballplayers," said Mateo, president of Hispanics Across America. "It starts in countries where kids have dreams, where kids want to get out of poverty, and they will do literally anything to achieve that. They see the role models earning 25, 20, 15, 10 million dollars a year and they feel that if they have that edge, they can achieve the same.
"This is a problem created by Major League Baseball."
Flanked by a priest and New York-area Latino politicians, Mateo held a symbolic funeral outside the Park Avenue headquarters of Major League Baseball in April. A white coffin represented the death of two Dominican prospects, Lino Ortiz and William Felix, who died in recent years after taking drugs they hoped would improve their chances to get signed by a team. Ortiz, a catcher, injected a cheap veterinary medicine that can be bought at pet stores and is engineered for sick farm animals.
Players with more money to spend can often find human steroids in pharmacies, some of which do not require prescriptions.
"In the Dominican or any other Latin country, you can get an injection or whatever medicine you need over the counter," Torres said.
The easy access to drugs is why baseball, if it truly wants to solve the Latin American problem, needs to test players as a condition of employment, Mateo said. Unlike U.S. players, Latin American players are not subject to the draft, so many of them bulk up during individual tryouts when they can be signed on the spot, beginning at age 16.
"They have one opportunity to get a nice bonus, so what happens is they start shooting up a few days before the tryout," Mateo said. "It's a time when Major League Baseball needs to start testing."
Baseball officials, while open to discussing the idea, are skeptical about giving pre-employment tests because the 400 or so players signed each year would know the tests are coming, Courtney said. The effectiveness of such testing would be undermined by the players' ability to cycle off the drugs before the tryout, he said.
Not true, says Jose Escarraman, president of the National Association of Independent Baseball Programs, a group that represents youth leagues with 9,000 members around the Dominican. Fear of failing a test would consume unsigned players, he insists.
"That (pre-employment) test is the most important," Escarraman said. "From 11 percent (positive), we can bring that down to one or two percent."
None of the Dominican-based minor-leaguers who failed steroids tests last year were suspended or named, unlike their peers in the United States. Baseball officials blame employment laws in the Dominican, and have asked Mateo, who is politically connected there, to help them lobby for an exemption. Mateo has agreed to work with the Dominican government, though he contends the law already permits baseball to suspend players who test positive.
"(The players) must be suspended, otherwise we are not accomplishing anything," said Ezequiel Sepulveda, a Dominican-based scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers and head of the pro scouts' association in that country. "If a player wants to earn a living in this business, he must know that he has to be clean."
The problem of addressing steroids is more complicated in Latin America than in the United States. But it's also less sophisticated, and that gives many observers hope that it can be greatly reduced. There is no knowledge of any BALCO-like labs in this part of the world, no suggestion of designer steroids. Instead, there are desperate kids taking well-known substances and getting bad advice from their local GNC clerk.
Mateo denies he is asking Major League Baseball to solve the societal ills of Latin America.
"I'm asking them to solve the issues that pertain to them," he said. "I'm asking them to be responsible. I'm just asking them to take care of the people that are producing and providing for them."
Tom Farrey is a senior writer with ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. ESPN researcher John Zoni and ESPN reporter Pedro Gomez contributed to this report.
The problem is the Union isn't educating it's hispanic members who seem to think they can get around the testing.
In any language, a professional baseball player must have a pretty good idea that taking performance enhancing substances is problematic. Putting all the responsibility on MLB and totally absolving the players is wrong and so typical of our times.
Prescription medicine is sold like travel size aspirin in most latin countries.
At the core of the problem is a toxic combination of desperation, opportunity and ignorance.
** That sounds like a people problem, not something limited to latin baseball players.
Avis tries harder.
Having lived in Mexico, I can attest to that. Even so, it's simply unbelieveable to me that professional players are as clueless as this article would depict them.
They're not clueless at all. They know exactly what they're doing.
Blame it on the GNC clerk making $10 an hour
As if naturally occuring plant hormones will cause one to fail
a test for d-bol..etc?
Our latest multi millionaire minority victim group...
Whats next General Mills selling muslims bad falafel causing
them to crash airplanes into buildings?
Man, I quite enjoy watching 'roided up freaks with bizarre-sized heads mash the ball into the stands. I'm gonna miss the muscle-bound freaks that 'roids helped create.
I've never seen the problem with PRO players using steroids or other supplements. They're supposed to represent the highest levels of human athletic achievement, right? Seems like some do indeed achieve more with steroids than without. I'd leave the choice up to them.