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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Chris Davis' ban shows that no one is above suspicion

Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis clowns around in

Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis clowns around in the dugout prior to the start of a game against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in New York, Tuesday, April 8, 2014. Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

BALTIMORE - Chris Davis? All-Star. Third in MVP voting last season. One of the best breakout stories of 2013. Was a legitimate threat to the single-season home-run record, minus the asterisk.

As of 11:07 a.m. Friday, however, we had a different view of Davis: drug cheat.

We can argue over the semantics of what Davis took and why. But the bottom line is this: Davis had a second positive test for amphetamines and later copped to taking Adderall, a banned stimulant. The penalty is a 25-game suspension, and now Davis sits until the second round of the playoffs, if the Orioles advance that far.

The lesson? If Davis -- who billed himself as a potential "clean" home run champ last season -- can be exposed, then anyone can. We're reminded again that no one is above suspicion. Which is why Major League Baseball always will keep expanding its drug-testing capabilities and created even harsher penalties in March.

In the case of Davis, it obviously didn't work as a deterrent. Davis knew what he was doing and likely also knew he would be caught, but that speaks to the seductive power of PEDs and stimulants such as Adderall. This is not always a rational decision-making process, especially for someone hitting .196 after an MVP-caliber season the previous year.

"Everybody's got a 'no' button and a 'yes' button," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "There's always that little fight waging on each shoulder. Who wins? Chris' 'no' button wasn't working real good that day.

"Do you get angry? At what? The person? There's going to be games played. Nothing will stop. We still have a chance to achieve what we set out to achieve."

From a team standpoint, that's the only approach to take. How critical can the Orioles really be? They've made no apologies for signing Nelson Cruz, one of the Biogenesis 13 banned for 50 games last season, just as the Cardinals welcomed Jhonny Peralta with a four-year, $53-million contract in November.

But Davis' suspension makes us rethink our definition of what a "clean" player should be. Last season, we interviewed Davis on the subject and he was very outspoken about separating what the public deemed PED sluggers and his own prolific power, which had him at 33 homers through the first 87 games.

"I think the '98 season was a lot of fun to watch for me as a fan, and then whenever you heard about all the accusations coming out, it was a little disheartening," Davis told Newsday then. "I think it's frustrating at times for a guy like me because I do take a lot of heat for the mistakes that guys have made in the past."

Davis, then 27, drew extra scrutiny in 2013 because his home run rate took such a big jump for the first time. We're just skeptical in this day and age, especially in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal, but Davis' resume was unblemished to that point and he openly discussed it. Plus, he talked about not wanting to worry about how drugs might mask his own talents, which seems incongruous now.

"I think any time you do something that draws as much attention as what I've done, you don't want to have people second-guessing you," Davis said back then, "and I would think you wouldn't want to second-guess yourself. Is this what I'm doing? Or is this the stuff that I'm taking that's making me do these things? I think it's more about knowing that I'm doing this all on my own."

After reading those comments, you see why Davis might be considered above reproach about PEDs. But unapproved use of Adderall is a can of worms for MLB, which tries to draw the line between prescription drugs for treatment and those who turn to them for a performance edge. The Baltimore Sun reported Friday that Davis received a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) to treat his ADD while with the Rangers but was turned down in 2012 and hasn't had a TUE since.

As Davis said in a statement, "I had permission to use it in the past, but do not have a therapeutic use exemption this year."

MLB issued 119 TUEs for 40-man roster players in 2013, so they are not uncommon. It's unclear exactly how Davis may have benefited performance-wise from using Adderall. But for people suffering from attention-deficit disorder, it helps improve focus and concentration.

Unlike steroids, Adderall does not build muscle and it is categorized differently in MLB's Joint Drug Agreement. Stimulants do not carry a penalty for a first offense -- only a trigger for more testing. The second offense comes with a 25-game ban.

After Biogenesis, and with MLB announcing stiffer penalties last March, it may seem surprising that someone as high-profile as Davis would wind up taking such a risk. But the psychology of drug use obviously is very complicated -- whether it be everyday life or professional sports -- and there's a reason why MLB is increasingly vigilant about enforcing JDA rules.

"I don't think we'll ever get away from it, unfortunately," Joe Girardi said. "That's the disappointing part. Because I think people are always going to try to beat the system and we're going to have to deal with it. When we have a guy suspended, it's not good for the game. But it's part of it."

So Davis is added to the ledger of drug offenders. He'd probably choose to believe it's more of a gray area, not quite as damning as the group he blacklisted a year ago. But that's not his verdict to render. Davis' only recourse now is to do the time and let the public ultimately decide.

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