Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Guilty by Association: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera & PEDs

Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are certainly two of the finest baseball players of the modern era. Especially Rivera. As far as closers go, the guy is untouchable. Greatest ever, no question. And Jeter, well, he's Jeter. He's Captain Clutch and the longtime shortstop for the much vaunted New York Yankees. Jeter and Rivera: certainly, special players.

But I think they may be closet-case Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) users. I have no scientific proof, but let me explain.

I was listening to a Bill Simmons "BS Report" podcast recently, while at the gym (Ok, the fact that I was at the gym is irrelevant, but it's just where I always listen to podcasts. Wanna see my muscles?). The guest was Buster Olney, one of the finest sportswriters alive and currently a senior writer with ESPN. They'd been discussing the 2010 playoffs, before moving on to the baseball topic that ESPN loves to talk about: the New York Yankees (unless they're talking the Boston Red Sox).

Specifically, they were talking about Rivera's late-career success and his unique training regime and level of fitness. Fair enough. A closer in his 40s still blowing fastballs by hitters this late in his career, surely he must train hard.

In the midst of discussing in athleticism and presence around the locker room, Olney made the comment that struck me: "He really loves the game."

I know, I know. The comment wasn't about expanding head size or back zits or shrinking testicles, just, "He really loves the game." That was part of Olney's validation for why Rivera can do what he does and why he may well continue to do so for a few more years.

Heard those five words and immediately red flags started waving.

Why those five words and why red flags? The same things used to be said about Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens.

When A-Rod was with the Mariners and later with the Rangers (pre-scandal), with his flashy numbers and defense, he was touted as a natural. Just a freak of nature who loved the game and was simply so much better than his contemporaries. No way he was using.

And Clemens, well, he just worked so much harder than the average pitcher and had this unique intensity. In a Sports Illustrated cover story from June 2003, Tom Verducci compared Clemens' ability on a mound to legends of the game, crediting his brutal workout regime.

"He really loves the game," in my mind, is code for we think something's up, but we have no proof and want to ride this gravy train. Come on. I really loved the game of soccer. I'm sure Ryan Leaf loved football and Mark Madsen loves basketball (just coincidence that I chose three white guys who can't dance) -- but loving the game isn't enough to make one great.

So how could I not be skeptical? I'm skeptical with nearly every great baseball player (and in other sports as well) out there today: Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Joe Mauer and even the soon-to-be star Bryce Harper. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Andy Pettitte, Nomar Garciaparra, Edgar Martinez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, A-Rod, Clemens and certainly many more were using -- why would I assume the athletes of today aren't?

Testing, you say. Players are still failing tests. Who's to say that the new drugs players are using aren't going unnoticed in urine samples? (Hint: Don't raise your hand.)

I hope I'm wrong about Jeter and Rivera. I'd like to believe there is still some class and integrity left in baseball.

Sadly, these days, in my mind, if you're a great player and not built like David Eckstein, you're guilty until proven innocent.

Note: Photo ripped off from ESPN. I promise, no money is made by this blog.

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