David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
Jenrry Mejia stopped being a Mets story Friday night at the exact time Major League Baseball announced that the relief pitcher had tested positive for Boldenone, an anabolic steroid.
Usually, such news brings a head shake, another cheater done in by his own devices, and then we do the math to map out when he should be eligible to return. The commissioner’s office gets the satisfaction of snaring a PED offender and everyone moves on, until the next person is caught.
But not this time.
There’s no need to bother with that, because this failed drug test was the third for Mejia — in only 11 months — and earned him a permanent, or lifetime, ban from baseball. Mejia is the first player at any level to be branded with a permanent ban under MLB’s drug policy.
As more severe punishments were implemented during Bud Selig’s tenure, those stiffer sentences figured to act as a deterrent, the expectation being that no player would risk flushing his career for repeatedly turning to PEDs. And yet Mejia did, in a stunningly short period.
The initial reaction is to question his intelligence, to wonder how he could be reckless enough to think he somehow could beat the tests after one failure, and then a second. But to stumble again — and again by using an easily detectable, primitive anabolic steroid in Boldenone — suggests that Mejia might have more complicated drug issues than merely looking for an on-field edge.
We don’t know that for sure. Mejia’s camp didn’t issue any explanation Friday night, no excuses about mislabeled protein shakes or spiked nutritional supplements. That’s happening less and less these days, as players have come to realize it’s a pointless exercise. Ultimately, everyone is responsible for what goes into their bodies, and that becomes even more critical for pro athletes when millions of dollars are riding on those decisions.
The Mets were furious with Mejia over the previous two suspensions, but his third is barely a blip on the radar screen of the defending NL champs. They once counted on Mejia to be a crucial part of their bullpen, even penciling him in to be a closer candidate after his 28 saves in 2014. But as soon as he slipped up, it was out of sight, out of mind.
As of Friday, Mejia still had 99 games remaining on his previous 162-game suspension, so he wasn’t even close to returning. The Mets, with little to lose, chose to tender him a contract for 2016 because they would owe him less than $1 million once he did get back. And if he stayed clean, maybe he could provide a late-season boost when other bullpen arms were fading. But that’s over now.
Despite the “permanent” ban, Mejia can apply for reinstatement after a year, even though he must sit for a minimum of two. He is only 26, but that’s an eternity for someone with a limited resume. And after what seems like nearly uninterrupted steroid use, there’s no reason to think Mejia will ever believe he can pitch without the help of PEDs.
That part of this story is sad. Whenever someone destroys his or her career through drug abuse — whether a doctor, lawyer or athlete — it’s disheartening. And when the stakes are so high, as they were for Mejia, who still was trying to get a foothold in the majors, desperation must have played a significant role.
“We were deeply disappointed to hear that Jenrry has again violated Major League Baseball’s joint drug prevention and treatment program,” the Mets said Friday in a statement. “We fully support MLB’s policy toward eliminating performance-enhancing substances from the sport.”
Consider those two sentences the epitaph on Mejia’s career in Flushing. Maybe there is such a thing as a fourth chance. But after such a steep decline, spurred by inexplicable drug behavior, no one is going to be all that interested in extending a hand to Mejia. This indeed feels permanent.