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.
During that season they moved Canó to third base to showcase him for the Royals, who had Carlos Beltran on the trade block. The Yankees offered Canó and Dioner Navarro for Beltran. The Royals declined, and instead traded Beltran to Houston for Mark Teahen, John Buck and Mike Wood.
A month later the Yankees put Canó in a package to try to get Randy Johnson from the Diamondbacks. Arizona wound up holding on to Johnson until that winter.
The Yankees, off to a slow start the next year, almost reluctantly put him in the lineup on May 3, 2005. There was little fanfare. Nobody expected much. He quickly became a star. He was Rookie of the Year runner-up to Huston Street. The next year he was an All-Star and Silver Slugger. He has been one of the most consistent stars in baseball over these past 16 seasons.
One month before Canó broke into the big leagues, a guy by the name of Alex Sanchez made history. The light-hitting outfielder of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays became the first major leaguer suspended for flunking a PED test. The penalty then was only 10 games.
In other words, Canó played every day of his major league career knowing that sometimes you can’t outrun science. Since 2005, nobody in baseball has more hits than Robinson Canó. But when he took a routine drug test this year—one of more than 10,000 conducted among 40-man roster players over the course of the year—all those hits didn’t matter. The sample he gave was dirty. And now so, too, in perpetuity, is his reputation.