From Biogenesis to Bio-Armageddon

Prior to January 31, 2013 few people had ever heard of Biogenesis and those that had likely associated it with one of countless biology terms we were required to know in high school but quickly attempted to forget. But on that fateful Thursday the Miami New Times published a story called, “A Miami Clinic Supplies Drugs to Sports’ Biggest Names”. In that story author Tim Elfrink described how a relatively unknown business was providing Performance Enhancing Drugs to some of baseball’s biggest stars.

The story was like a slap in the face to Major League Baseball who had been saying they had the best and most complete drug program in all of professional sports. Despite this claim, players seemed to ignore the potential punishments in order to gain an unfair advantage. From the moment this story broke it brought steroids back to the forefront of what fans were talking about.

95659362RM150_Arizona_DiamoSuddenly it was no longer a question of whether your favorite team was going to be a contender in the up-coming season. Instead the questions were, how deep was the drug culture in Major League Baseball and how were these players able to slip by the so-called stringent testing procedures and still get away with it?

Sure there were some of these players who did get caught and commissioner Bud Selig is quick to remind us that the program caught Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon and the San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera who both served 50-game suspensions for positive tests. But for every one of those that were caught, how many went free?

Once the story was published, Major League Baseball started their own investigation and with the help of Biogenesis employees began to dig deeper into the south Florida operation and its clientele. At the top of the list of identified players were two that had long been suspected of PED use: Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

Major League Baseball would spend six months investigating Biogenesis and its clientele for the first time building a case without a positive test result. While MLB tried its best to keep a lid on their investigation, names and details would come out implicating players and putting everyone on edge. The goal was simple, MLB wanted to identify players who were cheating and punish them. And after months of hard work, today was the day baseball fans, teams, and players were both looking forward to and dreading. Today Major League Baseball would name names and suspensions.

The first identified player came last month when Ryan Braun accepted a suspension for the remainder of the 2013 season with a short prepared statement and no appeal. Today a total of 13 players were identified with 12 of them accepting responsibility and began serving 50 game suspensions for their actions without appeal. Colon, Cabrera, and San Diego Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal had already served their suspensions so they remain active to play this season.

Just one player has chosen to appeal, Alex Rodriguez. His punishment was the steepest of all with MLB suspending him for the remainder of the 2013 season and all of the 2014 season for a total of 211 games. Rodriguez continues to argue his innocence and it will be up to an arbitrator to determine his fate over the course of the next three weeks.

I am proud of the comprehensive nature of our efforts – not only with regard to random testing, groundbreaking blood testing for human Growth Hormone and one of the most significant longitudinal profiling programs in the world, but also our investigative capabilities, which proved vital to the Biogenesis case. Upon learning that players were linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, we vigorously pursued evidence that linked those individuals to violations of our Program. We conducted a thorough, aggressive investigation guided by facts so that we could justly enforce our rules.

– Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig

Buried within the list of names was one free agent pitcher with previous ties to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Left-handed pitcher Jordan Norberto signed a free agent contract with the Diamondbacks in 2004. He came up through the farm system making his major league debut on April 6, 2010. Norberto pitched well enough out of the bullpen appearing in 33 games for the Diamondbacks that season throwing 20 innings. His ERA was an inflated 5.85 and the Diamondbacks traded him along with infielder Brandon Allen to the Oakland Athletics for current Arizona closer Brad Ziegler.

With Oakland Norberto pitched in just 6 games for the A’s in 2011 but followed that up with 52 innings in 2012 where he lowered his ERA to 2.94 his best as a major league player. Norberto was released by the Athletics on May 8, 2013; just over 3 months after the story on Biogenesis broke.

As a result of the suspension, Norberto will not be eligible to play for his new team for 50 games once he signs a contract all but guaranteeing that his baseball career may be over. Despite being only 25 years old, he has shown limited value without the thoughts of being suspended for nearly a third of a season.

Looking at his body type you would have never guessed Norberto was taking performance-enhancing drugs. At 6 foot and 195 pounds he looked small and wiry compared to other pitchers. He didn’t have an overpowering pitch and had been slotted as a situational left-hander out of the bullpen; a role he hadn’t really shown a lot of success at so far.

Compare Norberto to Rodriguez who has 647 home runs and 1950 RBIs and clearly PEDs don’t promise everyone the same level of results. In the end Norberto will be left as a footnote in baseball annals as one of the first few players who were convicted of breaking MLB’s drug policy without a known positive test.

As far as the Arizona Diamondbacks are concerned, they must be relieved that none of the names on the Biogenesis list were current players and only one former player had been implicated and that was two years after being traded from the team. As a fan you would like to think this was a result of the Diamondbacks front office building a roster of “good character” players who play the game the right way. Perhaps I am naïve but I want to believe that most players want the game cleaned up and will not tolerate cheaters any longer and that’s why I will applaud baseball for this monumental first step and hope the players union will step forth and negotiate stiffer penalties not only for players who are caught but also for teams who choose to employ the cheaters.


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