Crisis of Conscience: Should Bartolo Colon Be Forgiven For PED Use?


Mar 5, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Bartolo Colon (40) in the dugout during the second inning against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Well, this should be fun.

Ask any baseball fan what they think of steroids, and you’re likely to get a long-winded answer full of examples of former players that have lost their trust and cheated the game because of  their association with performance-enhancing drugs.

While PED’s are a hot-button issue for whatever sport that is found out to be infiltrated by them, here in the Bay Area we have a storied past of ball players who have been found guilty in the court of public opinion — and in detailed investigations on the issue.  After Bartolo Colon tested positive for testosterone in August of 2012, he became the latest local player to leave the game in disgrace, never to be heard from again.

Wait, what’s that?  That’s not what happened?  Oh, that’s right, that doesn’t happen to anyone!  (NOTE: At least not until players retire, when they’ll inevitably be asked to testify at an official proceeding and talk passionately about how they would never, ever do such a thing and drive the point home with  finger pointing and “forward” thinking.)

That’s right, folks.  Contrary to popular belief, we don’t banish admitted steroids users to a deserted island where they have to fight to death for the right to re-join society.  It’s actually quite the opposite!

Besides Colon, Melky Cabrera of the San Francisco Giants was also suspended for a positive drug test last season, and while he didn’t get to re-sign with San Francisco and restore his reputation with Giants fans like Colon did in Oakland, he’s still going to get paid $16 million over the next two years to play baseball in Toronto.

The A’s have a bit of a history involving PED’s, even though it’s mostly been revealed retroactively.  Now Colon has a place on the list of Oakland Athletics that will forever be associated with being on the juice.  The main difference in this case is that Colon will be the first of that group to return to the organization after it’s been revealed that his performance was illegally aided.

Billy Beane obviously didn’t have many qualms about bringing Colon back on a one-year, $3 million deal, as it only took him about six days to sign him after the World Series ended.  It’s a move that stands in stark contrast to the way the team across the bay handled their own dirty laundry, and a lot of that speaks to the Giants ability to bring in talent through free agency, something the A’s obviously can’t hang their hat on.

Beane and manager Bob Melvin are hoping that they can get another spell of solid production out of Colon, and you can bet that they’ve thought about what Colon’s presence could have meant last year when they faced the Tigers with three rookies pitchers and a not-quite-healthy Brett Anderson.

So how should you feel about all of this?  Do you feel conflicted?  Corrupted, because your team has such a lack of moral fiber that they’re willing to bring back a cheater and compromise their organizational integrity just to win some baseball games?  Do you feel like a hypocrite because you’ve lambasted steroids and the players who use them, and you’re now in the precarious position of rooting for one of them to succeed?

Well, I’m here to tell you, as a friend — get over it.

If you were planning on making a stand against PED’s in this particular instance with Colon, sorry, you’re about 10 years too late.  I’m not here to tell you what to believe or why you should believe it, but if you think that stance is going to change the way that offenders are punished and lead to an increased effort to “clean up the game”, you’re sorely mistaken.

As last year’s instances with Colon and Cabrera reminded us — as well as this offseason’s news of a Miami version of BALCO that supplied major leaguers with illegal substances — baseball is never really going to be free of PED’s.  The tests they administer are always going to be a few years behind the latest wonder drugs, and until the commissioner’s office is able to establish a zero-tolerance policy and ban people from the league for first-time offenses, there’s really no deterrent for a player looking to stage a late career comeback or get over the hump to push themselves into the MVP race (looking at you Ryan Braun).

Did Colon break the rules?  Absolutely.  Do you have to think he’s a good person and put his poster up on your wall just because he plays for your favorite team?  Of course not.  But he’s served his punishment according to the rules that Major League Baseball instituted.  Billy Beane knows this, and if he didn’t re-sign Colon, he’d be pitching for some other team next season.  Additionally, they would have had to replace him with a pitcher with a similar profile who was available on the open market, and that strategy hasn’t always worked out well in the past (anyone remember Ben Sheets?).

Colon actually made this an easy decision for Beane and Melvin.  He’s a quiet, unassuming presence in the locker room that let his performance speak for itself (even if it was tainted).  Unlike Cabrera, who botched the whole handling of the situation, from flaunting his success with orange cleats in an MVP winning performance in the All-Star game all the way up to the fake web site he created in the wake of his suspension, Colon played the role of the contrite, apologetic kid who you can’t stay mad at.  And it worked.

So should you forgive Colon for his crimes?  Ultimately that’s up to you.  What I can tell you is that it’s going to be a much more enjoyable experience to watch the A’s when Colon pitches if you do.  If you’re against supporting Colon because this is where you’re choosing to draw a line in the sand, you’re watching the wrong sport, because the next guy you get attached to probably has some skeletons in his closet, too.  It’s just the way you have to think as a fan of professional baseball in 2013.  Why anyone is surprised when a player gets caught doping is beyond me.

So make it simple the next time someone gets caught.  Shake your head when you hear of such things, give it a good five minutes of your disappointment and frustration, and then let it go.  There’s far more important things in this world for you to be devoting your righteous anger towards, anyways.

And if you’re still mad about Bartolo Colon, just keep an eye on the box scores from spring training, where he most recently got knocked around in a minor league start, and keep your fingers crossed that maybe he’ll get his own form of justice in 2013.

Otherwise, just keep rooting for the A’s like you always do.