David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Back in spring training, I had a conversation with a Mets player about the introduction of the blood-testing program for human growth hormone. He expected it to result in a number of league-wide positives for the drug -- not because of rampant use, necessarily, but he figured any offending players would be caught off guard by the new crackdown on a well-known performance-enhancer.
But that didn't happen.
Was it because HGH is not that big of an issue in baseball? Probably not. It's more likely that any players who may have been using the banned PED figured now would be a good time to stop.
The smart ones did anyway, which brings us to the inexplicable case of Melky Cabrera, who basically erased a dream season with the Giants and greatly devalued his pending free agency by testing positive for testosterone and receiving a 50-game suspension Wednesday.
The last thing the commissioner's office wants is to the see the game's brightest stars and biggest attractions snared in the ever-expanding net of its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. But if that's what it takes to keep the sport clean, so be it, and any shock value this system may have produced initially has pretty much worn off.
Alex Rodriguez. Andy Pettitte. Manny Ramirez. Mark McGwire. Ken Caminiti. Those are just the admitted former PED users, and you can now add Cabrera to that list after he issued Wednesday's apology. In this day and age, after everything that has transpired, would any name really surprise you?
A select few, perhaps, but let's skip mentioning them to avoid possibly looking foolish at a future date, whether it be months or years from now. As for Cabrera, it's easy to say now he fit the profile of a player willing to roll the dice: fourth team in four years, heading into free agency at the age of 28, career at a crossroads.
The whole thing almost makes sense. And in his mind, it did. But in light of what Cabrera's actions could cost the Giants -- who are in a dogfight with the Dodgers for the NL West title -- they are indefensible, and the only shocking thing about his suspension was the Yankees' forgiving acceptance of their former teammate.
"I played with Melky, so I've always thought of him as a good player," Derek Jeter said. "Melky is very talented. He's got a lot of great tools."
The Yankees' captain went on to say how well Cabrera has performed in all of his stops, from Kansas City to San Francisco, but Jeter's words were meaningless. Jeter is regarded as someone who represents everything that is right about baseball -- a classy champion and future Hall of Famer -- and he could have used stronger language, even if it was against a former teammate.
The same holds true for A-Rod, who must have been stunned, deep down, that Cabrera made the same mistake after watching the personal hell he went through only three years ago. How could Cabrera not have learned from that? Or did A-Rod's choice somehow legitimize it in Cabrera's mind after all this time?
"From my experience, I saw where he made a statement, and that's always a good first step," Rodriguez said. "Sometimes the hardest."
Sorry, but A-Rod's missing the point. This isn't about minimizing the damage of a positive PED test. It's about minimizing PED usage in the first place. And Cabrera's suspension showed there are still players out there who believe they can get away with it. Evidently, they're still wrong.
"That's why they have it," Jeter said of the drug policy. "To filter that out. I guess it's working."
A few minutes later, A-Rod was asked if he was surprised that this keeps happening.
"That's not my job to really speculate," Rodriguez said. "But one thing is for sure, the system is in order and it works."
At least A-Rod has learned his lesson. As for the next player to be suspended, I'll ask the question now: What were you thinking?