LEADING OFF: ROBINSON CANO'S SUSPENSION WILL HAUNT HIM FOREVER (800)
By Tom Verducci
The number-coded vials don’t play favorites. Carbon isotope ratio mass spectrometry doesn’t care who you are or how many All-Star teams you have made. The science of catching drug cheats, like all sciences, is cold. It bows to no résumé.
Science caught Robinson Canó today, as big a fish who ever flunked a PED test, right there with Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez. (Former MVPs Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez were suspended on non-positive analytics.) Today Canó said goodbye to the Hall of Fame and he probably personally flushed away the postseason chances of his team, the Seattle Mariners.
It is sad and pathetic that Canó made such a choice. But it validates the blindness of the testing system. Nobody paid much attention to baseball drug testing when Royals outfielder Jorge Bonifacio was busted in spring training—the only other major leaguer caught this season. But there is no more emphatic, chilling reminder of the consequences of cheating than when a major star falls.
Nobody who tests positive ever admits to the extent of his use. It’s crazy how unlucky every scofflaw is—either he has “no idea” how such a substance entered his body or he happened to be busted the very first time he used PEDs. But if you want to question Canó’s entire career, go ahead. He has given you the ammunition of skepticism. We just don’t know how long he’s been dirty, how long ago he decided he needed a banned substance.
Canó said he tested positive for Furosemide, also known by the brand name Lasix, which is an old favorite in the horse racing business. He said a doctor prescribed him the drug in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical ailment. The drug is a diuretic that raises red flags in the testing business because it can be used as a masking agent to cover PED use. It is commonly considered a banned substance by sports organizations. Once he broke a bone in his hand Sunday upon getting hit by a pitch, Canó suddenly dropped his appeal of the suspension—figuring he was losing up to eight weeks anyway.
Eight years ago, Canó sang to me the hosannahs of hard work. He wanted it all—money (and more money), numbers, championships and fame.
“I’m the kind of guy, I don’t want people just to say, ‘Oh, it’s Robbie Canó. He made to the big leagues,’” Canó told me. “I want to be a great player. I want to follow these [Yankees] guys. A-Rod works hard. Jeter works hard. A-Rod’s already a Hall of Famer. Jeter’s already a Hall of Famer.
“So I don’t want to be just another guy who played with Teixeira, A-Rod, Jeter. No, I play with them, and because of them, I work hard to be like them or be even better than them. I want to be a great player. I don’t just want to be, ‘Oh, Robbie Canó. Yeah, he played in the big leagues.’ It’s always good to have people say, ‘Oh, he was a great player.’ I’ve already been here five years. You never know how long you’re going to play.”
I’ve always found Canó to be well mannered and charitable. He used to stop by the Bronx streets around Yankee Stadium and play stickball with the kids. He started a foundation to build schools in the Dominican Republic. He mentors young players. He’s still that same person. A PED test doesn’t change who he is.
But in his baseball life, no matter what came before or what comes next, the very first line of his baseball obituary will be that he was busted for PEDs. Nobody who has flunked a PED test has been elected to the Hall of Fame.
The stiffest penalty for a drug cheat is not the 80 games. It’s the loss of reputation. And so the penalty is stiffest for the star players. Bonifacio, like Abraham Almonte or David Paulino, can return to the majors and little gets changed. But when Canó comes back in mid-August, he is stained forever, especially five years after his retirement when he is eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Canó already had Cooperstown numbers: 2,417 hits, 305 homers, 1,206 RBI and an OPS of .848. Only three second basemen hit for a higher OPS: Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer and Eddie Collins and Jeff Kent, who should be in.
Canó never started out as a future Hall of Famer, or even a star. He signed at 18, old for a Dominican prospect. He was never listed among the top 100 prospects. The Yankees thought he might be an everyday player, but not a star. In 2004 the Yankees offered Canó to the Rangers to complete the Rodriguez trade. The Rangers declined, and said they’d rather have Joaquin Arias instead.
BECAUSE YOU WERE WONDERING: HAS AN NBA TEAM GONE UNDEFEATED IN THE PLAYOFFS? (150)
With only one game standing between the Warriors and a perfect postseason, it's worth asking: Has any team ever navigated the playoffs unbeaten? The short answer is no, but there have been a few close calls.
No team has come as close as the Warriors are right now, leading the Cavaliers 3-0 in the Finals after advancing past the Blazers, Jazz and Spurs without losing a game. What’s more, the Warriors have won every game this postseason by an average of 16 points. Only twice has an opponent finished within single digits of Golden State.
The 2001 Lakers can’t own up to those claims, but did enter a Finals matchup with the 76ers unbeaten. After sweeping top-seeded San Antonio in the conference finals—outscoring the Spurs by 68 in the final two games—the Lakers' quest for perfection ended quickly in the Finals after Philadelphia won Game 1 in overtime.
WRITER RECALL: TOMMY PHAM HAS A FEW THINGS TO GET OFF HIS CHEST (300)
• The story: Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham endured a see-saw beginning to his major league career, shuttling between St. Louis's big league team and Triple A. He offered SI's Jack Dickey colorful insight on his battles against himself and the Cardinals organization. [Click here to read]
From the author: I admit to paying more attention than usual to the social-media reception of my Tommy Pham profile, which published online last Tuesday. I had a pretty strong feeling that certain thoughts he expressed in our conversation, not least because of the language he used in expressing them, would make news in St. Louis, for better or worse. What I was less sure of and curious enough about to trawl Twitter was how Pham would come across overall. To my mind, he said what he said and feels the way he feels because he’s given so much of himself to baseball and until last year he'd had hardly anything to show for it. (And he recognizes how close last year came to not happening.) He’s not a cocky whiner; he’s a guy who’s “all in” in a game he feels is in need of guys like that.
More often than not, a story's most inflammatory quotes overwhelm the full portrait, especially as they travel. Had I had more space, I would have written more about Pham’s obsessive desire to outwork and overcome—I barely mentioned his periodic bouts with bad vision! I was pleasantly surprised, though, to see that Cardinals nation, judging by the tweets, received and appreciated Pham’s comments in the context of his biography and his struggle. Even John Mozeliak, the team’s president of baseball operations, did. He told the press before the home opener: "I was not overly offended by what he said… I think Tommy is being Tommy." — Jack Dickey
BEST OF THE REST (150)
• With Peter King's 29-year run at Sports Illustrated concluding this month, his final Monday Morning Quarterback column published this week. King bids farewell to longtime readers as he peels back the curtain on favorite memories over his decades covering the NFL. The MMQB column has appeared nearly every week for SI since 1997. [Click here to read]
• College basketball has been rocked by a federal investigation exposing the dark side of recruiting top-shelf talent. But could a rogue FBI agent have tarnished the investigation by gambling away funds meant to fuel the police's probe? SI dissects the tangled mess the NCAA investigation has become. [Click here to read]
• The NFL stirred plenty of controversy by announcing it would fine players who kneel for the national anthem next season. The MMQB's Jonathan Jones argues that the new policy completely disregards the initial reason for the protests: social justice. [Click here to read]
NEXT QUESTION: A CONVERSATION WITH KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR (550)
By DeAntae Prince
NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar might not be an obvious choice to join Dancing With the Stars, but that's precisely what he's doing. He’s an accomplished 71-year-old, with 14 books and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But what does he know about the cha-cha?
DeAntae Prince: Did you get the call? Are you a fan of the show and decided to seek them out?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: They called me. They contacted my agent and she asked me if I wanted to do it and I said, ‘Yes,’ and she was surprised. But I always felt that maybe I could do this. I had watched Emmitt Smith and Derek Fisher compete and kind of rooted for them so I figured maybe I’d try it myself.
DP: Athletes often win this because of the footwork element. Do you feel like you have a shot based on that?
KAJ: Well, you know, just being agile and having to be quick and consistent in my movement I think gives me an idea that maybe I could do it, but you know the proof is always in the pudding.
DP: How much dance experience do you have? Pick up any disco in LA in the 70s?
KAJ: Combination. You know, growing up in New York you pick up any number of types of dances—Latin, R&B, MoTown. So I’ve always been into the music and this was natural progression.
DP: Is there something you’ve learned about the world of dance that you didn’t know before this experience?
KAJ: It’s a lot tougher than I expected it to be. You think you can do all the moves, but to do all the moves at the right time and place in coordination with the other dances—that is tough. You have to know your choreography and know your cues and where to move. That’s what gets to you. You get confused and out of place, you look up and you’re screwing everything up.
DP: So it sounds like you had to be coached a bit. Were you coachable?
KAJ: Yeah, I am coachable. I was very lucky to be working with Lindsey Arnold, a choreographer and dancer who won the award last year. She’s an awesome, very sweet lady.
DP: I saw some video and you look pretty spry out there. How is your health?
KAJ: I feel pretty good. I’m not a spring chicken anymore, but I think people my age are denying themselves the pleasure of life if they don’t continue to enjoy the things that are meaningful to them.
DP: I’m sure you’ve invested a lot of time in perfecting your cha-cha and salsa, but have you had time to watch any of the NBA playoffs?
KAJ: I looked at a couple games and I know the folks up in Utah are really happy and I know the folks in Toronto are scratching their heads and angry.
DP: I know you’ve seen a lot of greatness in your career. What do you think about the job LeBron has done of carrying his team through these first two?
KAJ: Well, that’s one hell of a job to try to do. He seems to be able to get it done on a regular basis, so my hat is definitely off to him.
LISTEN UP! SVP AND BRENT MUSBERGER JOIN THE SI MEDIA PODCAST
• In light of the Supreme Court's decision to allow states to legalize sports gambling, SI's Jimmy Traina hosted SportsCenter host Scott Van Pelt and former broadcaster (turned radio host on the Vegas Sports and Information Network) Brent Musberger on the SI Media Postcast. [Listen here]
The Sports Illustrated staff hand-picked the stories that we're reading.
• New York Times writer Harvey Araton profiled St. John’s coach Chris Mullin.
• ESPN’s Wright Thompson on Ichiro.
• SI’s Lee Jenkins profiled Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey.
• Steve Francis, for The Players Tribune, on his unlikely journey to the NBA.
• The Athletic’s Levi Weaver on Tim Lincecum.
• From ESPN.com’s Susan Ninan: India's Rugby Revolution.
FROM THE VAULT: CELEBRATING THE LATE, GREAT ROY HALLADAY (120)
By Connor Grossman
The late, great Roy Halladay would have turned 41 on Monday. The baseball world is still coming to grips with his unexpected passing in a plane crash last November. One of the premier pitchers of his generation, Halladay's time will come to be honored in Cooperstown. It's hard to fathom that he won't be there to take part in the celebration. We can only hope the Blue Jays, Phillies and Major League Baseball continue to honor Halladay, his family and his terrific career.
Tom Verducci wrote a terrific piece in the April 5, 2010 issue of SI that detailed what "makes Roy run." He brilliantly peeled back the curtain on one of baseball's most fascinating, talented figures. [Click here to read]