Jesus Montero will get a second chance to play baseball again. Anyone predicting that the 50-game suspension he agreed to for his part in the Biogenesis scandal will end Montero’s career are way off base. Montero is only 23 and that’s young enough to guarantee that the only way his career will end is if he’s unable to hit without the help of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).
I’d love to tell you he’ll be able to do that. Love to say that I agree with the Mariners’ public statements that they believe Montero’s preoccupation with catching was behind his inability to hit the ball beyond the infield for too much of this early season.
But I can’t do that. Can’t vouch for Montero. That would require giving him the benefit of the doubt. And he lost that with me when he lied to me on the eve of spring training and said he didn’t know anything about Biogenesis. Not sure why he’d accept a 50-game suspension from MLB if he didn’t know a thing about it, so I’m comfortable in concluding now that Montero’s word is meaningless.
Let’s be clear: Montero is a lousy liar. When he delivered me his obviously-prepared monologue in February about knowing nothing about Anthony Bosch or Biogenesis, it was all too calm and rehearsed. I tried to say as much when I gave on-air interviews that day to multiple Seattle radio stations without declaring Montero was guilty of anything. Call it my last attempt to give him the benefit of any doubt.
I sensed that day he was guilty as sin just as I’ve known many other players over the years who were getting away with something, but lacked the hard evidence to prove it. And being that it’s not my job to hand out verdicts minus the facts, I kept my full opinion to myself. I kept my mind open to the possibility that this could very well be a misunderstanding of some epic proportion.
Call it whatever you want. I still want to believe the best about people. If a guy tells me he never used PEDs, then I’ve got his word and for me, that still means something. Now, it doesn’t mean I’m automatically going to sing his praises. But depending on my degree of belief in said word, I may or may not go to bat for somebody in public. The one thing a player’s word will get them at a bare minimum, with me, is no snarkily-written damage to their name through mere suspicion alone.
But lie to me, the value of your word is lost. The benefit of the doubt is gone. The credibility of anything you say will forever be called into question.
And for me, that’s the sad part of the Montero story. He’s too young for his word to carry no value. Too unwise to realize his fame is hanging by a thread and that his bonus money might not last forever. That there are things in life more important than cash and fame and that sometimes, when you lose everything, your word and credibility are all you have left.
Having covered the PED story both in the Dominican Republic and in Venezuela, where Montero is from, part of me still wants to give him some benefit of the doubt. I realize how so many baseball-playing teenagers from Latin American countries are up against a stacked system that forces 16-and-17-year-olds to do the physical things that 21-year-olds in this country do just so they’ll get noticed. That Major League Baseball scouts and teams have been complicit in this system for years, looking the other way when it came to teenagers taking PEDs and even farm animal drugs so they could be signed out of poverty. Those teams went along with this system because of all the cheap talent they were finding in countries not exposed to the MLB draft.
So, the sympathetic side of me still wants to relate to Montero over this.
But then, I remind myself that Venezuela was not and still isn’t as dirt-poor impoverished as the Dominican Republic. That not every Venezuelan teenager is in the clutches of a hustling street agent buscon. They have real Little Leagues and organized baseball programs in Venezuela. There are more middle class families in that country. Felix Hernandez comes from one. Hernandez grew up in a nice house, not a cardboard shack.
And so, it’s tough for me to have sympathy for a guy like Montero as a victim of a complicit baseball system, because it would mean assuming that all Venezuelan players were forced to take PEDs. It would mean assuming that Hernandez takes them and I have never assumed that at all. And I’m not about to start. Not over a onetime baseball prospect whose word has no credibility.
Anyhow, like I said, Montero will have his shot to get past this baseball-wise. We’re a forgiving country, our U.S. of A., when it comes to celebrities and second chances. MLB doesn’t hand out mandatory four-year PED suspensions for a first offense the way a global-minded body like the World Anti-Doping Agency wants to. The sentence Montero and others agreed to serve is a pittance. Montero was having a lousy year anyway and missing the final two months probably won’t hurt his game worse than it already was looking. He’s on the 40-man roster, so he won’t even have to miss part of next season as will other minor leaguers. He’ll simply sit out this year, come back in 2014 and if he can still hit, some team will have him. He’ll be taken back into a protective clubhouse cocoon and most home fans will forgive him the minute he hits a game-winning homer.
And maybe that’s how it should be.
Sure, I’d be ticked off if I was general manager Jack Zduriencik and used a huge trade chit to acquire Montero. Be angry if I wind up losing my GM job because of a team’s losing record, partly owed to Montero not hitting because he was distracted by the looming scandal or weakened by getting off PEDs once his use was exposed.
If I was Eric Wedge, I’d wonder how Montero’s distracted non-performance this year impacted my own levels of stress and aggravation.
But I’m neither of those men, so it isn’t my problem.
We’ve all made mistakes in our early-20s. Said and done foolish things at Montero’s age, possibly even career-threatening indiscretions.
Montero isn’t a piece of garbage like Josh Lueke was. He didn’t set out to hurt somebody. From the look of it, he seems to be a nice, polite kid who enjoys doing fun things others his age like to do. A kid who made a bad choice here and — even worse — got caught doing it. Then lied to reporters who asked him about it.
Now, he has to pay the price. And once that’s over with, he’ll get to resume his career the way Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte did. The way Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera did. This doesn’t have to be a career death sentence. He can learn from this, become a better person, do right by his community and prove that he still belongs in the major leagues.
Montero can do all that and a guy like me isn’t going to hound him, or stand in his way. Better players than Montero have already gone down this well-tread path and been allowed to return and play into middle age.
But to do that, Montero has to prove he can play clean. Or, at least, not get caught the next time. He has to prove that he can still hit those prodigious home runs everyone used to attribute to God-given natural strength. Montero can tell people he’s still able to do those things, can insist he doesn’t need PEDs to be a major leaguer.
But it doesn’t matter now. The sad part is, nothing Montero says matters anymore. His credibility is shot. You can’t take his word for anything, because that word has no value.
And that’s a loss that will take years to repair and probably never be fully rebuilt. A loss he may not fully grasp at his age, but one destined to haunt him far longer than the next 50 games will.