Black eye for Mariners’ organization

  • By John Sleeper / Herald Writer
  • Monday, April 4, 2005 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – Oh, sure. I completely understand why 38 minor-league baseball players failed steroid tests this spring.

The grand jury testimony by Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and others was only the most shocking sports-news story in the off-season.

Jose Canseco’s tell-all book that named names still is the subject of widespread, heated debate, denials and even confessions.

The testimony and book only resulted in a Congressional house committee investigation and a call later to investigate the NFL and NBA.

The media covered the steroid issue only slightly less than it covered Pope John Paul II’s health problems and subsequent death.

So sure, it’s easy to see how someone could miss it.

Major League Baseball announced well before spring training that it would conduct random testing, yet, 37 players will serve 15-game suspensions for first-time violations. One, Oakland’s David Castillo, will sit for 60 games because he tested positive for the THIRD time.

And the issue really hit home this time. Eight players in the Seattle Mariners organization tested positive, the most of any club in the majors.

What a colossal embarrassment. What a black eye.

What should have been a celebratory day for the Mariners – a 5-1 season-opening victory over the Minnesota Twins, two homers and five RBI for newly signed Richie Sexson, a sharp outing by 42-year-old Jamie Moyer – turned into one in which the team’s mucky-mucks were scrambling for answers and explanations that made the organization look horribly neglectful, no matter how they chose to spin it.

“We’re obviously very disappointed and not happy about it at all,” M’s general manager Bill Bavasi said. “On the other side of the coin, we’re like everybody else. We want this cleaned up.”

The numbers: 925 tests that were conducted at minor league camps in Arizona during spring training. One suspension was a result of off-season testing.

After the Mariners’ eight guilty parties came seven for the Chicago Cubs, five each for the A’s, Rangers and Angels (giving the American League West 23), four for the Padres, two for the Rockies and one each for the Cardinals and White Sox.

MLB says random, unannounced testing will continue throughout the season.

“I think you’ll see more announcements,” Bavasi said. “That’s a guess on my part. They tested. They got results. I think this is going to go on through the year and hopefully, the numbers are going to drop.”

Yes, Bill. But you’re going to have to get the word to the kids better than you have up to now.

The names: Troy Cate, Omar Falcon and Darwin Soto of the Class AA San Antonio Missions; Ryan Christianson, Renee Cortez and Damian Moss of the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers; Jesus Guzman of the Class A Inland Empire 66ers; and William Hogan of the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

If some of the names are familiar to Snohomish County baseball fans, they should be.

Christianson, a catcher who is 16 days away from his 24th birthday, was the M’s first-round draft choice in 1999. He played 30 games with the Everett AquaSox, with whom he hit .280, with eight homers and 17 RBI.

Falcon hit .222, with five homers and 24 RBI in 46 games as a catcher with the AquaSox last season. He came to Everett from the Padres organization as a Rule 5 (unprotected) player.

Maybe the numbers aren’t surprising. If we are to believe news reports circulated for years, the steroid problem has been a part of the major leagues for 25 years. Only now is it addressing the problem.

Maybe now it’s prevalent in the minors because kids are looking for their big shot with the majors and are willing to bet they won’t be caught.

They’re also willing to risk their health to get there. Some estimates claim abusers take 20 to 40 times the normal dose of androgens or testosterone. The result: a much higher chance of liver failure, cancer and testicular atrophy, not to mention violent behavior.

Thirty-eight of the 925 tested apparently didn’t care, including eight in the M’s organization.

“We’re all concerned about the same thing,” Bavasi said, “and that is getting to the day where we test and have no positive results.”

The numbers say that too many are making the wrong choice. Baseball has to redouble its efforts to educate.

Especially, it would appear, the Seattle Mariners.

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