Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano was suspended on Tuesday for testing positive for a banned substance. If nothing else, we can say this about Cano. He joins an impressive list of people in MLB history who have been suspended.
But despite the big names who have been suspended over the years, we can’t help but feel surprised. Cano joins guys like Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, and Rafael Palmeiro as great players to go on MLB’s naughty list. PED use isn’t the only thing to get people suspended. In fact, non-PED suspensions, including some toe to people who aren’t even players like George Steinbrenner and Marge Schott, have produced some of the most surprising suspensions in league history.
Of course, no list of shocking suspensions would be complete without mentioning what happened in the 1919 World Series.
MLB has a long history of high-profile suspensions. These are the most shocking among them.
This suspension is new, and as such, more could come out. Right now, there are two scenarios that we’d call realistic.
One, Cano is telling the truth. He was taking a legitimately prescribed medication and is guilty of not knowing what he was taking, but nothing more. This is the most sensible scenario — but it’s not that sensible. Cano is definitely losing out on nearly $12 million and a chance to play in the playoffs. He’s probably losing out on a realistic chance to make the Hall of Fame. When you have that much to lose, you have to be aware of everything that goes into your body.
The second scenario is that Cano is fibbing. He wasn’t taking this as a diuretic, but a masking agent. If so, why? Why would someone in Year 5 of a fully guaranteed 10-year, $240 million contract be taking substances that require a masking agent? Cano isn’t trying to break into the league. He’s not a middling player looking for a big payday, nor is he an aging star trying to prolong his career. He’s a star in the middle of a massive contract. If he’s been using them for a long time, that again makes no sense. Using them before the contract? Yeah. We can understand that. But once the deal is signed, go clean.
It’s hard to imagine something coming out that will reasonably explain this one.
Palmeiro was one of many players named by former Teas Rangers teammate Jose Canseco. In the subsequent years, a good amount of Canseco’s claims have been proven true. That wasn’t necessarily the case in 2005. Still, it was hard to be overly blown away by most positive tests.
Palmeiro was different. In March of 2005, Palmeiro had told Congress that he had “never used steroids.” It wasn’t just his denial, though. It was his finger wagging his apparent offense that he was even being questioned. In August of that same year, Palmeiro, then with the Baltimore Orioles, became the first big star to receive a suspension under baseball’s new PED policy.
It was more than a little surprising to see Palmeiro suspended so shortly after such a firm denial.
One positive test is an 80-game suspension. A second positive test is a 162-game ban. A third positive is a lifetime ban, although reinstatement is possible after one year. Only one player, Mejia, has reached that third level.
Really, that’s only part of the surprise. Adding to the surprise is that the first suspension was announced in April of 2015, while the third came in February, 2016.
In less than one year, the New York Mets reliever went from a clean slate to gone.
In November of 2011, Braun was named that year’s National League MVP. Not even a month later, a positive PED test was revealed.
A chain of custody issue with Braun’s sample led to the test being overturned. He’d ultimately serve the suspension nearly two years later.
The whole saga went a long way towards tarnishing the legacy of the Milwaukee Brewers star. It may be hard to believe this in 2018. But prior to 2011, Braun had a strong reputation in baseball. That’s in the distant rear-view mirror now.
In his playing career, Rose was 17-time All-Star, a three-time World Series champion, a three-time batting champion, a two-time Gold Glove Award, a former Rookie of the Year, a former MVP, and amassed more hits than any player in MLB history. When he played his last game for the Cincinnati Reds in 1986, there was absolutely no reason to believe that he wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer.
In 1989, we got a reason. The Dowd report determined that Rose had bet on baseball, a Cardinal sin. Then commissioner Bart Giamatti suspended Rose for life. That ended Rose’s managerial career and made him ineligible for the Hall of Fame.
The ban remains in place.
Conflicts between owners and players were nothing new. Still, this one had a different ring to it. In 1990, Steinbrenner was suspended from day-to-day operations of the New York Yankees when it was found that he hired a gambler to dig up dirt on one of his players, Dave Winfield.
Steinbrenner was eventually reinstated in 1993. Not long after, New York went on a sustained run of excellence, which saw it win the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.
In his time running the Yankees, Steinbrenner was no stranger to controversy. Still, getting suspended for trying to smear the name of one of his players was hard for people to wrap their fingers around.
Ramirez was one of the best hitters of his era. When his time with the Boston Red Sox came to an end in 2008, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and instantly reignited his star power. Early in 2009, the star power was again diminished.
Ramirez tested positive for a PED and was suspended for 50 games. Unlike Rose, Ramirez is still technically eligible for the Hall of Fame. But voters have not looked kindly upon proven PED users.
Manny had always been something of a controversial figure in baseball, but that was more for strange actions. His PED test went a long way towards destroying his legacy and at the time, was far from expected.
Rodriguez was one of baseball’s golden boys when he came up. He was the good looking superstar that marketers pine for. A-Rod spent much of his career in that role.
Then, in 2009, he revealed that he had used PEDs. In 2013, he was a part of the Biogenesis scandal that also felled Braun. Rodriguez was no longer a star at that point. He was essentially a pariah. Only now, as an announcer, is he starting to rehab that image.
Like Braun, we weren’t necessarily surprised when the suspension came. But the overall saga and the complete fall from grace was definitely shocking.
Schott was twice suspended from day-to-day operations of the Reds and was likely facing a third when she agreed to sell her share in the team.
The suspensions were well earned. What was shocking was not just the comments she made, but how public she was with them. Schott made derogatory comments about African-Americans, including the N-Word. She also made comments insensitive to Jewish people. Perhaps the most notable among them was expressing some admiration towards Adolf Hitler. Though, in perhaps the greatest understatement of the 20th Century, she did note that Hitler “went too far.”
Even if one wasn’t surprised to hear an MLB owner use words that, the fact that she used them to known audiences was certainly a surprise.
The Black Sox
The scandal that very nearly killed baseball as we know it. Eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox were suspended for life when it was found that they conspired to intentionally throw that year’s World Series.
Every other suspension on this list shook the fan’s faith in a given person, or maybe a team. But with this one, the fan’s confidence in the sport itself was rattled. How could fans be expected to believe in a game when eight players are trying to lose its biggest event?
It took Babe Ruth rewriting the baseball record book through the 1920s to get the fans back. If that hadn’t happened, it’s entirely possible that none of the aforementioned people would have been in position to shock us with their own suspensions.