By Rob Ficiur
The message on my phone said that Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello was suspended for 80 games. Two things happened at the same time. First, I knew that this meant he had tested positive for a banned substance. Second, I knew one of my favorite Toronto Blue Jays didn’t do it.
In the steroid era of baseball I thought that Major League Baseball was doing a disservice to its sport and the players but turning a blind eye to steroid use. The players are (were) taking substances that can destroy their health in hopes of a big league career. When taking these steroids were they following the advice of a trained professional? Probably not. Major league baseball set home run records during the steroid era. Were these the best hitters or just the most juiced up hitters? I was (am) in favor of a policy that will catch and punish the cheaters.
As I read the details of the Colabello suspension I thought this was different for the following reasons:
1. He said he didn’t do it – Come to think of it every athlete who was caught with a banned substance also said they didn’t do it. Looking bat Ben Johnson said he did not cheat at the 1988 Olympics, Lance Armstrong said he did not use steroids while winning the Tour de France, Pete Rose said he did not gamble on baseball. In more recent years every star player who was accused by the media promised he (or she) did not use steroids (or drugs or gamble or whatever they were accused of doing.) I remember when Ben Johnson tested positive in the Seoul Olympics, I was sure he was innocent. First he said he was. Second, he knew he was going to be tested; he wouldn’t have been foolish enough to take a banned substance when he knew they were going to test him.
“I didn’t do it,” rings hollow in my jaded (or experienced) ears. Maybe it rings hollow because all of the athletes listed above promised and assured us they were innocent until eventually they told the truth.
Chris Colabello said some things that made him sound innocent. (See why I am still believing him). In an exclusive sports net interview (why are all these interviews exclusive?), he said he had gone in and taken the test a week earlier than he had to. If he was guilty he would have stayed away. (See I thought he was innocent). Almost a week had passed when Colabello did the interview. Colabello said since already suspended if he was guilty it would be easier for him to quietly go away and serve his punishment. Instead the 31 year old has spent the last six weeks (since the failed test was first reported to him) trying to find out what happened. He even got his dog’s blood tested to see if there was a connection. Chris went into some detail about how careful he had been his entire career. He only took supplements that were sent directly to him by the team He had passed about twenty drug tests in the past year and he thought this one would be no different.
In truth some things Colabello said made me wonder. Could there be a false positive? Testing your dog means you must be innocent and trying to find the reason for the problem.
2. His team mates said he didn’t do it. As soon as the suspension was announced team mate Kevin Pillar went public said that anyone that knows Chris Colabello the person would know that he would not cheat. Since I like Kevin Pillar, and he is supporting a player I liked, then it helps prove there must be a testing error. There are only two flaws with this logic. First, you can always find a team mate who will say nice things. Second, it is possible, even likely, that teammates would not know when a player uses a banned substance.
3. Was it a flawed test? The only conclusion that made sense to me is that the test was flawed. Tennis star Maria Sharapova was suspended in March for using a banned substance. In this case the banned substance only went on the banned substance list in January. In the 2014 Olympics Sweden’s Nick Backstrom missed the Gold Medal game because he had been caught using a cold medicine with a banned substance in it. If this can happen to these players, surely Chris Colabello’s test was flawed in some way. This logic works as well as argument number 1.
4. Do we know any players? In reality I don’t know Chris Colabello. In the last 11 months I watched him play baseball. In 2015 he became key offensive weapon as the Blue Jays became the top team in the second half of the season. He has a comeback player kind of story – playing in the minors for years hoping to make the big leagues. All those things are nice, but fans don’t really know the players.
I do know that a 32 year old ball player is facing the biggest challenge of his career. Last year he finally got his chance to show he can be a consistent hitter. This year he has to sit until July 23. Worse yet, his suspension makes him ineligible for the post season. When he comes back he will have to show he can be the player he was or more. He will be under more pressure and scrutiny than any other Blue Jay.
What Chris Colabello does after the suspension will be the biggest test of his career.