David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
There is no dodging suspicion these days, and for Robinson Cano, who has good friends linked to bad places, the shadowy reach of performance-enhancing drugs often feels closer than it should.
Those tentacles poked at Cano again Monday after he took part in the Yankees' first official workout at Steinbrenner Field.
Ushered into the big tent, which is reserved for only the elite Yankees deemed podium-worthy, Cano spent the early part of the interview session discussing his upcoming free agency. Toward the end, however, Cano was asked about the reports connecting his friends Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera to Biogenesis, the anti-aging clinic in Miami accused of distributing PEDs.
Cano talked of his loyalty to both, and how it is important to stand by your friends in good times and bad -- an admirable response.
The follow-up question to Cano was more direct: Have you ever used PEDs? And are you tied to Biogenesis in any way?
It was a loaded question, but given Cano's relationship with A-Rod and Cabrera, a fair one.
In his initial reply, he skipped over the PED part -- maybe by accident -- and addressed only the Biogenesis issue.
"The first time I heard about that was when the [report] came out," Cano said. "It doesn't matter who you're hanging out [with]. Everybody has their personal lives. They do whatever they want with their lives."
The conversation, however, didn't end there. After the crowd of reporters cleared out, on his way to the players' parking lot, Cano was asked to clarify his comments.
Has he ever used PEDs?
"No," Cano said.
At that point, he had every right to be frustrated. He showed up in the tent for a news conference and wound up on trial -- one that continued onto the sidewalk. But Cano was his usual amiable self, answering without hesitation.
It's a topic that he's already had to deal with too often, especially after last season, when he was smeared by a Twitter rumor that suggested he was going to be suspended by Major League Baseball for a positive test.
What helped to get the ball rolling with that one was the fact that Cabrera already had received a 50-game suspension weeks earlier for testing positive. That pointed reporters back to Cano -- the two remain tight after their five seasons together on the Yankees -- and he was forced to quash the rumor from his locker in the Bronx.
So was Monday's denial the end of it? You would assume so. Cano has not appeared on any lists -- Biogenesis or otherwise -- and has never tested positive, which should allow him to be presumed innocent. Sounds crazy, I know, but that's the PED world we live in now.
After what Cano has been through, including Monday's specter of guilt by association, he understands that. He also knows that the fewer distractions he has to cope with this year, the better -- both for him and the Yankees, who'll be leaning on him now more than ever.
"It's not too often we don't see Robby have a smile on his face," Joe Girardi said. "You see how much he enjoys what he's doing and doesn't let one at-bat affect the whole day or the whole week. That's not Robby Cano. I think that his personality really helps him through this."
Girardi described Cano as a "pretty even-keel guy," and that approach helped him weather the latest round of questions.
Cano said he wasn't troubled as much personally by the PED rumor of 2012 as he was by the effect the baseless accusation had on his family, who woke him up with an anxious phone call after hearing of it.
For a player, there's no way to be totally free from suspicion. It's just the cost of doing business now. The very nature of using drug testing on employees suggests the possibility of wrongdoing, and even a clean test doesn't necessarily absolve you in the court of public opinion. And if you happen to have friends or teammates who get soiled by the PED mess, it can be difficult to extricate yourself from the muck.
On Monday, Cano was forced to brush off some of that dirt kicked up by his buddies. He probably hopes it's for the last time. History suggests otherwise.