Marcos Breton

SUSPENSION AT A GLANCE • Games: Colon will miss the final 40 games of the regular season and the first 10 games of the postseason if Oakland advances that far. Any remainder would be served in a future season. • Money: Colon will lose the remaining $469,945 of his $2 million base salary this year. The suspension also will cost him the chance to make $850,000 in bonuses based on innings.

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Marcos Breton: Some Latin ballplayers learn the hard way about PEDs

Published: Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

OAKLAND – When it comes to steroid busts in baseball, Se Habla Español.

Latin America has a history of producing baseball stars that is more than a century old – and a recent history of overproducing steroid cheaters.

Wednesday's announcement that Bartolo Colon, the A's Dominican-born pitcher, was nailed for testing positive for testosterone was the latest in a line of failed doping tests linked to players from baseball's Caribbean feeder nations.

One week before Colon was suspended for 50 games, the same punishment was given to his countryman, Melky Cabrera, the Giants' star left fielder.

In May, Giants reliever Guillermo Mota, also of the Dominican, was suspended for 100 games for his second drug violation. And in June, Freddy Galvis, the Venezuelan-born infielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, was suspended for 50 games.

Four of the five big-league players ensnared by baseball's performance-enhancing drugs testing program this season are from Latin America.

And a whopping 23 of the 37 suspensions by Major League Baseball since 2005 have gone to players born in Latin America.

As someone who has written extensively on baseball's Latin legacy for 20 years – and who has traveled throughout the joyous ballfields of the Caribbean – this is heartbreaking.

But it's not surprising.

Two men I collaborated with on books a decade ago, Miguel Tejada and Sammy Sosa, are Dominican icons whose names were tarnished in the United States by their links to steroids.

Like many baseball players from Latin America, Tejada and Sosa started life as shoeshine boys while living in deplorable third-world poverty.

These backgrounds of scant education in their own language, let alone in ours, are a primary reason Latin American players are getting busted by baseball in greater numbers.

But it's not just a lack of education, sophistication and childhood deprivation. As guys like Sosa, Tejada, Cabrera and others work their way up baseball's cutthroat food chain, going from nobodies to superstars, the number of people who count on them grows, too.

They become responsible for entire villages of people and they view success and riches with calculated ruthlessness and desperation. And they become surrounded by yes men who tell them how great they are – and don't tell them what they should hear.

Sometimes, it's not just the blind leading the blind – it's the ignorant leading the ignorant.

The Dominican Republic, like Venezuela, became a baseball hotbed for big-league talent because MLB figured out how to attract good Latin labor for bargain prices.

Recruitment of players in these countries is not regulated the way it is in the United States, so there's a web of shadowy figures who bring prospects to teams for a price.

Everyone wants to get paid in dollars because their own currency and countries are wanting.

Big-league teams rigidly control everything that happens on the playing fields, but off the field it's often still the third world.

As steroids proliferated in baseball, Latino players bought in the way American players have. But they get busted more often partly because many of them are so unsophisticated.

Ryan Braun, last year's National League MVP, beat a steroids rap by hiring an expert legal team that knew to attack the chain of evidence linked to his positive test.

Braun's team got an arbiter to rule that MLB's drug tester violated procedures related to the handling of his sample. They got Braun off on a technicality.

What did Cabrera's crew do? They tried and failed to create a phony website in a bungled effort to show Cabrera mistakenly used testosterone.

When they got busted for that, Cabrera was not only a cheater – he was a punch line.

It seems the biggest difference between Braun and Cabrera is the company they keep.

None of this is an excuse for cheating, of course. When foreign ballplayers come to the United States, they have to abide by rules negotiated by their union.

Maybe it will take yearlong suspensions before some of these guys get the message, though it's doubtful the baseball players' union would ever agree to that.

One thing is certain: The steroid busts of Colon, Cabrera and others are a betrayal of a proud heritage forged by pioneers such as the late Roberto Clemente, whose Hall of Fame talent sent baseball scouts searching for the next great star.

All these years later, the baseball descendants of Clemente are finding a lot more than they bargained for while striving to make it big in the game they love.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton

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