Column: Mejia’s return shows how little MLB cares

The phrase “lifetime ban” just sounds harsh. It sounds stern, sounds eternal.

Unless, of course, said ban isn’t actually for a lifetime, but just for three years — less than the normal amount of time needed to earn a college degree.

Jennry Mejia, who was given a lifetime ban from MLB just three years ago, was reinstated last year and Tuesday the Boston Red Sox have signed the right-handed pitcher to a minor-league contract. If Mejia pitches well, there’s a chance he could reach the major leagues again this season.

Mejia, a 29-year-old Dominican, was banned on Feb. 12, 2016 as punishment for his third positive test for performance-enhancing drugs, the typical penalty according to the MLB and MLB Players Association’s Joint Drug Agreement.

Jennry Mejia (Flickr)

Players are allowed to apply for reinstatement after a minimum of two years, subject to the commissioner’s discretion. Commissioner Rob Manfred approved Mejia’s reinstatement for the 2019 season on July 6 of last year.

MLB’s penalties for players who test positive for PEDs are widely considered to be the toughest in sports. But that consideration is based on the lifetime ban for the third offense, not a ban that is only three years in actuality.

The fact MLB would allow Mejia — or any three-time offender — back into their sport is appalling.

This is a man who knowingly took the banned substances stanozolol and Boldenone in an intentional effort to cheat his way to success. All three of his positive tests were within one year; the failed tests were announced April 11 and July 28 of 2015 and Feb. 12, 2016.

Here’s how blatant Mejia’s PED use was: after his 80-game suspension for his first failed test, he only pitched seven games before he was busted a second time. And his third failed drug test, the one resulting in the “lifetime ban,” came before his 162-game suspension for the second had expired.

Why would MLB want this phony back in their game? While Mejia appeared to be a good pitcher in his last full season in 2014, saving 28 games for the Mets with a 3.65 ERA, that success comes with the uncertainty of how much help he had from PEDs.

If MLB were truly serious about keeping their game as clean as possible, they wouldn’t even have read Mejia’s application for reinstatement, much less granted his return to the game.

Instead, the league showed a concerning nonchalance by allowing Mejia to pitch. There’s no good reason MLB should want Mejia playing.

Sure, he’ll be subject to six urine tests and three blood tests per year on top of the league’s random drug tests required of every player.

But the point of the penalties is to serve as a deterrent to people committing the acts in the first place. It’s the same reason those convicted of a crime are sent to prison.

Yet that deterrent is lessened when the penalty on the third offense proves to not be a lifetime ban, but instead a three-year ban. A 25-year-old — like Mejia in 2015 — having their career ended for a third positive test is far more blunt (and appropriate) a penalty than allowing the player to come back at 28, still in their physical prime.

MLB says they’re doing everything they can to keep PEDs out of baseball. But actions speak louder than words.

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Fast Five: People who should be in the Braves Hall of Fame

Friday night marked the annual induction ceremony for the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame as part of the team’s ChopFest Gala.

Terry Pendleton was among the two inductees, alongside 19th-century star Hugh Duffy.

“T.P.” played five seasons for the Braves and was a key member of the National League championship teams of 1991 and 1992, winning a batting title and NL MVP in 1991 after signing with the team the previous offseason.

Pendleton was a clubhouse leader and teammates credited him with helping to change the team culture as the team was transformed from their 1980’s mediocrity into the perennial winners of the 1990s. Chipper Jones credits the mentoring of Pendleton for helping him learn how to handle himself as a major leaguer. His leadership has continued after his playing career, both in coaching and front-office roles.

Pendleton’s induction has been long overdue, and begs the question what other former Braves are worthy of induction next year and beyond.

Here are a few people who should be in the Braves Hall of Fame:

Leo Mazzone

Simply put, Leo Mazzone is one of the greatest pitching coaches of all-time.

Mazzone served as Braves pitching coach from 1990-2005 under manager Bobby Cox, presiding over the legendary pitching staffs of the 1990s led by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery. Braves pitchers won the Cy Young Award six times between 1991-98.

In a statistical analysis, author J.C. Bradbury found that pitchers had a better ERA under Mazzone by 0.64 points than under other pitching coaches, and that pitchers’ ERAs went up by 0.78 points in the season after leaving Mazzone.

It’s a no-brainer that Mazzone should be in the Braves Hall of Fame — and he has a case for consideration to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Steve Avery

As important as the “Big Three” of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were to the Braves successes of the 1990s, Steve Avery played just as big a role. 

Avery pitched seven seasons for the Braves and had a 3.83 ERA with the team, including a 3.17 mark from 1991-93.

He pitched to a 2.90 ERA in 18 postseason games, was the 1991 NLCS MVP after pitching 16 1/3 scoreless innings in the series and won Game 4 of the Braves’ victorious 1995 World Series.

Injuries derailed the back half of the southpaw’s career, or else he might have matched or come close to the career numbers posted by the “Big Three.”

Bob Horner 

Horner played both corner-infield positions for the Braves from 1978-86 and was a key member of the 1982 NL West Division championship team. 

The Braves drafted Horner out of Arizona State in 1978 and he became a rare player to debut professionally in the major leagues without playing a game in the minors. In that debut, he homered off Hall of Fame pitcher Burt Blyleven. He won Rookie of the Year after hitting 23 homers in 89 games.

In nine seasons with the Braves, Horner slashed .278/.339/.508 with 215 homers and 652 RBIs. He had three seasons of 32 or more homers and two seasons of 97 or more RBIs. 

Horner also became one of 18 players in MLB history (and one of three Braves) to hit four homers in one game, doing it on July 6, 1986.

World Champion Managers: Fred Haney and George Stallings

Fred Haney and George Stallings are each worthy of induction to the Braves Hall of Fame after each guided the franchise to one of its three World Series championships.

Despite unsuccessful managerial stints with the St. Louis Browns and Pittsburgh Pirates, Haney took over the Braves managerial job midway through the 1956 season after the firing of Charlie Grimm and led them to a 68-40 record the rest of the way. 

The following season Haney led the Braves to a 95-59 record and won the World Series in seven games over the Yankees. For an encore performance, Haney’s team was 92-62 in 1958 and returned to the World Series, only to lose to the Yankees. Haney was dismissed following the 1959 season after the Braves lost a NL Pennant tiebreaker series to the Dodgers.

Haney, with a 341-231 record, has the second-best managerial winning percentage (.596) in franchise history (min. two seasons).

Stallings managed the “Miracle Braves” in 1914, leading them to the World Series title. The team started 4-18 and was 26-40 on July 4 before going 66-19 the rest of the way to win the pennant and sweeping the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.

Stallings, a Georgia native, managed the Boston Braves from 1913 to 1920, and while the 1914 championship team was his only playoff appearance with the club, he also led the team to solid records in 1915-16 (and it was much harder then to make the postseason).

Stallings’ 579 wins are the third most by a manager in franchise history.

Column: Tyler Trent won

Tyler Trent, the Purdue superfan whose cancer battle inspired millions, died Tuesday. He was just 20 years old.

It will be said in the coming days that Tyler Trent “lost” his battle with the rare bone cancer osteosarcoma. But that statement utterly misrepresents Trent’s battle, even if it ended in his death.

Tyler Trent won.

tyler-trent
Purdue University superfan Tyler Trent died of cancer on Tuesday. He was 20. (Photo: Purdue Athletics)

Yes, he won spiritually — if you believe what I do and what he did, you understand what I mean by that. But beyond that, physically on this earth, Tyler Trent won by the positive way in which he battled, the faith and hope he showed each day and the inspiration he provided to all who followed his story.

The late ESPN anchor Stuart Scott once said “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”

By that criteria, no one won their cancer battle bigger than Tyler Trent.

Trent first fought cancer in 2014, then battled recurrences diagnosed in 2017 and last March. His story was familiar locally, but be became a pseudo-celebrity nationally — possibly the face of the disease in mainstream America — after the Purdue-Ohio State football game on Oct. 20.

ESPN featured Trent’s story on College GameDay that morning, and Trent predicted his Boilermakers would upset Ohio State.

The first miracle came when Trent, who had been so sick earlier in the week his family wasn’t sure he would live more than a few days, became well enough to travel from his Carmel, Indiana home to Purdue’s West Lafayette campus to attend the game.

The second came when Purdue upset the then-No. 2 Buckeyes in a 49-20 blowout. As the Boilermakers team left the field, many players and coach Jeff Brohm spoke to Trent — and some even credited their victory to his inspiration.

“His prediction that Purdue was going to beat Ohio State, as crazy as that may have sounded…I think he got everybody really believing that that could happen,” said New Orleans Saints quarterback and Purdue alum Drew Brees. “It’s amazing just how one person can make that type of impact on, not just a football team, but an entire university and everybody who has any type of affiliation with Purdue. I think that there’s some divine intervention at work here.”

From that point, Trent’s story had national attention and he received visits, letters and social media messages from dozens of current and former athletes and coaches around the country and even President Donald Trump. He made numerous television appearances and was awarded the Disney Spirit Award at ESPN’s College Football Awards show and the Sagamore of the Wabash, Indiana’s highest civilian honor.

He became the honorary team captain for the Purdue football team, lifting the Old Oaken Bucket trophy when the team beat Indiana and, despite his grave condition, traveling to Nashville for the team’s bowl game on Friday. The team’s official Twitter account posted on Tuesday night “Forever our captain” after news of Trent’s death.

Trent’s courage and spirit inspired so many who heard his story, and it’s estimated his story resulted in millions of dollars in donations to cancer research.

Trent, whose career goal was to become a sportswriter, penned a book before his death called “The Upset,” in which he tells the story of his cancer battle, Purdue’s inspired victory over Ohio State, and the future upset he hopes will happen when a cure for cancer is found. The book’s goal is to continue raise even more money for cancer research through its proceeds.

“My drive revolves around the legacy I leave,” Trent said on the book’s website. “The chances of my living to see cancer eradicated, or our finding a cure, are pretty low, but hopefully one hundred years down the line, maybe my legacy will have an impact towards that goal.”

Trent’s perspective changed over the course of his battle, helping lead to his moving final months. According to a column published Tuesday night by Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel, when Trent was diagnosed a second and third time he was determined that, if it was his fate to battle cancer, he would use his battle for good.

“I wanted to make a difference,” Trent said. “I didn’t think I’d made a difference the first time (I had cancer). That’s what I prayed for: If I’m going to have cancer, use me to make an impact.”

And have an impact he did.

“He was only 20 years old,” said SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt on Tuesday night. “But in those 20 years he made a mark and a dent, and left a legacy that’s going to outlive us all.”

Trent’s life may be over, but the finality of his battle doesn’t equate to a loss or a surrender to this horrible disease.

Because in every way, Tyler Trent won.