OAKLAND, Calif. — Oakland Athletics pitcher Brandon McCarthy becomes uneasy each time he is called to the bathroom for a random drug test, even though he’s confident he’s completely clean.
McCarthy can’t help but be slightly paranoid when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs, scared that one mistake could land him a suspension and alter his career path — if not end it altogether.
“You just live in fear,” McCarthy said. “When we go in for a pee test, you’re legitimately nervous knowing you’re 100 percent clean. It’s probably being overly worried, but it is still a concern, ‘What happens if I test positive?’ Again, what happens if someone sabotaged you? There’s a lot of extreme hypotheticals you can throw out there but they do play into your mind any time you talk about losing a career or a year.”
McCarthy and his A’s teammates talked in depth about Major League Baseball’s drug testing program in the aftermath of pitcher Bartolo Colon’s 50-game suspension for testosterone Wednesday, the second such penalty for a prominent Bay Area player in the span of a week. All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera of the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants was banned Aug. 15 after he, too, tested positive for testosterone.
“It’s kind of, how dumb do you have to be?” Chicago White Sox slugger Adam Dunn said. “You guys see how many times the drug test guys are here. I feel like they’re here at least once a homestand. I don’t want to call you stupid, but you kind of look yourself in the mirror and it’s pretty dumb.”
With performance-enhancing drugs suddenly making bigger headlines than pennant races as September nears, some are calling for even stiffer punishments.
Whoa, says McCarthy.
“Until there’s actually more dialogue, plus the sensationalism with it, I don’t think you can go to more,” he said. “People this last week have talked about lifetime bans right away, year bans, it’s not that I’d be opposed to that but I think you’d have to change the rules of the game — 50 games, for where we are right now, feels like it’s enough.
“I think you’re starting to see guys lose seasons, lose credibility. It now becomes its own thing. As opposed to a few years ago, there was enough floating around it just felt like it was rolling. Now, you hope there’s more of a stigma attached to it — not just the 50 games or losing pay but basically falling out of favor.”
McCarthy is open to rethinking his stance if there’s an increase in positive tests in the near future.
Every player receives a urine and blood test upon reporting to spring training, and all players are selected for additional urine tests on a randomly selected date. The latest labor deal says there will be an additional 1,400 random tests from 2012-16, including up to 200 during the 2012-13 offseason, 225 during the 2013-14 offseason and up to 250 for remaining offseasons. There is no limit for tests on a player in a calendar year — and additional urine testing is allowed for reasonable cause.
In the NFL, meanwhile, San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said Thursday he estimates he gets randomly tested about 20 times per season. Running back Rock Cartwright was even called for a test while at a casino in Las Vegas several years back.
“They took me in the bathroom and what we have to do now … is take your shirt off, pull your pants down below your knees, wash your hands,” he said. “So I’m in the middle of the bathroom, in the middle of a urine stall, and people are coming in looking at me crazy, like, ‘What is this guy, is he a convicted felon, or on parole or probation?’ My advice is just do the right thing.”
A’s outfielder Josh Reddick figures the two drug suspensions in one week out West might be enough to finally make other players think twice before taking performance-enhancing drugs.
“Let’s hope that guys are starting to realize this is a serious program,” Reddick said. “Nobody wants to be that person on TV.”
Colon was that name moving across the crawl Wednesday morning as A’s players prepared for their afternoon series finale with the Minnesota Twins. General manager Billy Beane heard word from MLB only shortly before the announcement was made.
The clubhouse became silent, then a closed-door meeting was called. Oakland’s players weren’t the only ones stunned, either — exactly a week after the Giants went through the same range of emotions from shock to frustration and anger.
For Yankees manager Joe Girardi, the two suspensions hit close even if the guys are 3,000 miles away in Northern California. Cabrera and Colon both played for him.
While Girardi said seeing former players suspended “probably hurts a little bit more because you appreciate what they’ve done for you,” he does believe in the system baseball has in place.
“I think it’s working. That’s the idea,” Girardi said. “Hopefully there’s a point where we won’t have to deal with this, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Everyone’s always trying to get ahead. We see in the Olympics, and athletes know exactly when the Olympics are happening … (every) four years.”
Three of the five suspensions of major leaguers this season have been from either the Giants or A’s — not the kind of notoriety these contending clubs were looking for with home run king Barry Bonds’ trial, the BALCO scandal and Mitchell Report still plenty fresh in people’s minds. San Francisco reliever Guillermo Mota is eligible to return from his 100-game suspension for a second positive test Tuesday.
“It’s the strictest policy in all of sports, and therefore they’re catching people. I think that’s all you can do,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, noting he isn’t surprised some players still try to get away with it. “I think anybody’s always looking for an edge, unfortunately. I don’t think history has changed as far as that goes, but the league has and put together the best policy in all of sports.”
Whether teams can do more to educate players on the risks and potential punishment of using performance-enhancing drugs, Beane didn’t want to go there.
“It’s hard for me to elaborate,” he said. “Baseball and the union have both been pretty aggressive in their approach, and so once again, we support that.”
Beane signed suspended slugger Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal earlier this year and waited as the 12-time All-Star sat out a 50-game suspension for a second positive drug test. Ramirez requested his release in June when he was struggling at Triple-A with no guarantee he would even be promoted to Oakland.
The 40-year-old Ramirez retired from the Tampa Bay Rays last season rather than serve a 100-game suspension for a second failed drug test. The penalty was cut to 50 games because he sat out nearly all of last season.
“Obviously the idea behind the testing is to keep everything fair, and to keep people from doing things,” Girardi said. “It’s sad. It’s not good for our sport for these things to be taken lightly.”
What most players are saying now is that it’s ultimately up to each individual to decide whether the risk of using PEDs and potentially being caught and suspended is really worth the reward. Cabrera, for one, was enjoying a career year and likely cost himself a huge payday as he is set to become a free agent after the season.
“Everyone knows the rules. It is surprising,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “It’s more you look at your team and the guys you count on. Those guys go out for something like that and it hurts more than their reputation. It hurts the guys who are playing on the team.”