BY Art Thiel 06:52PM 05/15/2018

Thiel: Fine print? No. Mariners’ Cano cheated

Robinson Cano says he made a mistake that resulted in an 80-game suspension, worst in club history. But the mistake is in not owning up to the fact that he cheated.

Robinson Cano will lose $11.8 million in salary. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has a “wallet card” of substances for athletes who compete in sports that ban performance-enhancers and masking agents. This link shows the PDF of one used by UFC athletes. In the third category of masking agents is furosemide, often commercially known as the diuretic Lasix, the substance Mariners 2B Robinson Cano admits to using.

It doesn’t matter whether Cano has the MLB version of the wallet card. Doesn’t matter whether he’s read it. Doesn’t matter why he used furosemide. Doesn’t matter that a doctor prescribed it. Nor can his actions be excused by the sort of benign negligence implied in his statement released by the the players union Tuesday that quoted him as saying, “I wish I had been more careful.”

The drug-test rules were agreed to by the players union and team owners in collective bargaining that produced a document called the Joint Drug Agreement. It would be nice to say the agreement was inspired by morality and player safety. In fact, the significant driver was that players who were not using PEDs were pissed about losing jobs and millions of dollars to players who were using.

So players agreed to a no-excuses policy, much like the one used by U.S. Olympic Committee: The athlete is responsible for the body’s contents.

So by rule, Cano is a cheater. Period.

To be taken seriously, the policy can be no other way.

A rumor passed on Twitter from Tuesday said that Cano took the drug to help control a bout of high blood pressure. It sounds somewhat plausible — just as were the excuses of many other PED miscreants. Not buying it.

A positive test for a diuretic is not an automatic suspension. The JDA language says a positive test automatically calls for a second specimen, and a positive result is declared if the independent program administrator “determines that the player intended to avoid detection of his use of another prohibited substance.”

The drug lab busted him without knowing who belonged to the positive test.

There was no exculpatory circumstance that would have avoided national embarrassment for the game, the Mariners and a popular player.

Cano agreed to accept an immediate 80-game suspension, which will cost him $11.8 million in salary. Should the Mariners conjure a seasonal miracle, he would be banned from the playoffs.

He was already going to miss several weeks with injury — the hand bone that was broken by a pitch two days ago will be surgically repaired Wednesday in Philadelphia, according to the team — but the real pain from this episode is that he has hurt teammates and fans by removing himself until mid-August from a key role on an outfit that has become a symbol of national sports futility.

I’m not much interested in the moral high ground of indignance over PED use. Athletes have willingly abused their bodies in many sports over many years in pursuit of an edge, driven by the knowledge/fear that such good fortune may never come their way again.

In most Latin American countries, steroids are not illegal. To a 15-year-old Dominican kid coming from a home with a dirt floor, I’m not sure I could make the argument that he shouldn’t take these pills because they’re illegal in the U.S.

Nor am I much concerned with the consequences to Cano’s legacy — the probable denial of the Hall of Fame, the loss of reputation, or the judgment by some of some sort of character flaw.  He’ll serve his suspension, most fans will forgive, and he’ll still be the same guy who was well-regarded for his game and his demeanor.

He has two teammates, DH Nelson Cruz and 2B Dee Gordon, who served MLB drug suspensions without a serious denting of their careers or popularity.

“It’s awfully tough to find something positive about testing positive,” general manager Jerry Dipoto told ESPN 710 Tuesday afternoon. “But we have two great examples of players who turned it into a positive.  They’ve lived through this. They are two of the most positive impacts in our clubhouse.

“Robinson made a mistake. Other players made mistakes. To summarize what he told me, he said he wishes he’d read the small print. He understands he made a mistake that’s cause for suspension.”

I’m not buying the failure to read the small print, and it sounded as if Dipoto wasn’t either.

“One thing I can’t support is not knowing,” he said.  “We have the ability to check into that; pick up the phone and call the people in our high-performance office.”

It’s the most severe PED punishment in Mariners history, forcing a shift of Gordon from his new position in center field back to his old haunt at second base — not a bad Plan B — and perhaps go outside the organization for an everyday outfielder in May, not a good time for finding quality help.

“It has hit us as a team, it has hit him and his family,” Dipoto said. “We’re all going to have to pay a stiff penalty.”

Nothing will change that outcome. But Cano and the Mariners probably will have an easier time managing the tawdriness if he does a hard thing right now — tell the world he was looking for an edge for a 35-year-old body, and cheated.

To say he should have read the small print? That’s the mistake.


  • Ron

    He’s not eligible to return until August 14. And if the Ms were to somehow make the playoffs, Cano can’t participate in the postseason. And he’s still on the payroll for five more years afterwards.

    • art thiel

      It’s little early to judge the balance of his career, but I do see the point.

      • Ron

        We can say that his career won’t be Hall of Fame caliber since he shot himself in the foot.

        • art thiel

          Some voters are changing their minds on alleged steroid users. Who knows what the 75 percent attitude will be in 10 years?

          • Ron

            Then perhaps Pete Rose should get another chance at the Hall now that the Supreme Court has legalized sports gambling and attitudes change.

          • wabubba67

            Uh…it will always be against MLB rules for players/management to bet on baseball. Put Rose in the Hall the day after he dies…he doesn’t deserve to leave this plane of existence knowing that he got in.

          • art thiel

            Rose always gets a pass from relativists who see sins worse than gambling indulged by MLB. But the big risk for all sports is a belief that the fix is in on game outcomes. The salaries of players now make it impossible for fixers to find vulnerable players (except in college), but the idea of repealing the rules that caught Rose seem equally unlikely.

  • Husky73

    Perfectly written, Art.

    • art thiel

      Not perfect, but thanks.

    • Ed Norton

      Agree- the article is well written as usual and captures the sentiment I believe of most people. For a long-time veteran who had teammates at NY (A-Rod, Melky Cabrera) get into big trouble with PED, it is just lame for Cano to claim ignorance.
      Also, the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program Administrator Thomas Martin must have found evidence that Furosemide was used to mask presence of an actual PED. Otherwise, mere presence of Furosemide, without the intent to mask a PED, is not cause for suspension. MLB then conducted their own investigation and also concluded that Furosemide was used to mask a PED. At least this is the process I have read elsewhere.

      • art thiel

        Your understanding Is like mine. Readers need to keep in mind that Martin is an independent contractor whose hire was mutually agreed upon by owners and union. He has no dog in the hunt.

    • tor5

      Agreed. Art rightfully doesn’t accept Cano’s lame excuse. But also provides a larger context in which to understand the larger problem of cheating. Balanced and thoughtful.

      • art thiel

        Thanks. Cano can made a hard thing easier if he were to own up and answer questions ASAP to put it behind him.

  • jafabian

    As someone who was diagnosed with high blood pressure 20:years ago you don’t get a bout of it. It’s something you live with for the rest of your life. If he was diagnosed with it he’d get treated here in the US and see a cardiologist and see them at least annually. And he’d run all that by MLB’s medical staff. Not buying the explanation, especially when he hasn’t given details like who the doctor is.

    I’m disappointed that at his age and with what he’s been through Cano is still in this position. I suppose he’s at that point in his career when athletes think about PED’s but is it truly worth the risk? Both professionally and personally? And when I say personally I also mean his health. Any athlete that uses PED’s I guarantee you they don’t think about that side of the equation.

    When he broke his hand I thought this team can still march it’s way to the playoffs and then he returns. It’ll be like we fired up the Delorean and went back to 1995. This could derail those plans. Hopefully this club can move past this.

    • art thiel

      I don’t know enough about HBP to comment on your medical analysis, but I do know that Cano needs to be square with everyone impacted by his foolishness.

  • wabubba67

    Would love to now see Heredia play every day and see what he can do against RH pitching. The Mariners seem reluctant to have that occur, though. With patience against RH pitching, I think that Heredia can develop into a fine every day CF. Love the way he plays!

    • art thiel

      Possible, but with his quality defense, he wouldn’t be platooning if he had proven he could do it to the Mariners staff.

  • Effzee

    One of the last links to Howard Lincoln might keep the M’s from the playoffs again. How apropos.

    • art thiel

      Remember, a whole lot of people cheered when the Mariners signed Cano and extended Felix.

      • wabubba67

        I failed to react that way on either occasion. Is it my turn to be GM yet?

        • art thiel


      • Effzee

        Not me. Neither of those decisions were made for baseball reasons. Felix was like Howie’s latest pet player who the franchise could revolve around instead of winning, and I’m almost certain HL broke tradition by signing Robinson Cano simply because 1) HL was desperate and 2) his name reminded HL of the tales of Robinson Crusoe, which is officially titled “The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner,” which was just too much for a nostalgia freak like Howie to pass up.

        • art thiel

          I’m told HL was quite resistant to both initially, but gave in to others who claimed that revs would be sufficient to cover the risks. Turns out that was true.

  • Tim

    Good article. PEDs have made me less of a fan. I think all the statistics during the PED era are suspect. I feel for the players who don’t cheat as they are tarred with the same brush. To me, the single season HR record belongs to Roger Maris and the career record belongs to Hank Aaron.

    • art thiel

      My guess is you are in a minority whose enthusiasm has waned over PEDs. My anecdotal experience is most fans don’t care. They want to be amused by their entertainers, and the how is less important.

      • Guy K. Browne

        I do care, and here’s why. Sports talent on the margins is where the damage is done. Pro athletes who have made it can afford the medical advice to use PEDs, and the medical attention they might need if things go awry. Talent on the margins (minor league/college players) have no such luxury, yet will use PEDs to attempt to move the margin because it’s the only way in their mind to take the next step. If a lower echelon ballplayer suffers a catastrophic medical event due to their PED use, they are likely hooped in every possible way. For this reason alone, PEDs have to be the bane of sports, and condemned by the governing bodies. I’m not naive enough to think that they’ll ever make the problem go away entirely, but if you make it legal, more lives will be ruined or lost, likely for nothing.

        • art thiel

          Agreed. I made the same point another way by saying the majority of players don’t use PEDs, but lose jobs to those who do. More than 80 percent of MLB players are on the margins, trying to make it into the 20 percent where the money is huge. They’re the ones who drove acceptance of the harsher penalties in the 2014 Joint Drug Agreement, so they aren’t tempted to cheat the system and risk permanent health damage.

  • Tman

    Diruetic? Seriously? The league is punishing players for using a non addictive prescription drug designed to help people with water retention problems remove water from around the heart and lungs? How might this water pill mask other drugs? Users doctors can see everything in their patients blood. Bad Call..ruining a mans reputation and means of making a living over a water pill. Not to mention dashing the dreams of a team desperately in search of a post season appearance. If Robinson Cano is another Mark McGuire, the league needs to tell us so. If not, batter up.

    • art thiel

      Your position contradicts more than 30 years of pharmaceutical science about the use of masking agents. The principle and process is accepted by the IOC, USADA and all the sports leagues and NCAA. And the MLB players union has signed off on it.

      But you know better, so stick with that.

      • Tman

        What was he masking? How can a water pill like furosemide mask steroids or other ped’s when routine blood work of patients using furosemide reveals any other heart med or vitamins consumed by the patient? Does Cano look overly muscular as we saw in the other famous ped users? Cano’s ready acceptance of the fine is the only indication he might have used something. My question is, what is that something? Does the punishment meet the crime, or is it excessive? Is it possible furosemide does not belong on the banned list?

        • art thiel

          You are mistaking me for a doctor or Google. Use both to pursue your questions.

          What I can say is the masking agent ban is accepted by every constituency in the PED biz.

          Cano hasn’t come clean about what he was using, and many PEDs are taken to improve endurance and heal faster, not necessarily to bulk up.

          • Tman

            My comments come from personal use of lasix. I take it because doctors prescribe it for water retention issue , a condition requiring periodic blood testing in which they can see blood levels of all the meds and vitamins controlling heart function. I do not see how lasix can mask anything.

            The question is, what is he taking that is so bad? Whatever it is, if anything, does not seem to affect his personality or body bulk.

            Next question is..if there is a crime, does the punishment fit the crime?

            What the H did he do to deserve an 11 million dollar loss of income?

          • art thiel

            The players union agreed to the punishment scale because most members want a strong disincentive to cheat.

            So far the privacy rules regarding Cano have held, so I don’t know what he did.

            And if lasix’s role in this so troubles you, email the question to your doctor. If he doesn’t know, switch doctors.

    • Rocketeer

      The players union signed off on the list of banned substances and Cano knew the risks of taking it in advance, but there’s always an apologist somewhere, I suppose.

  • Bruce McDermott

    “He cheated,” alone, really is not all that helpful, is it? I “cheat” when I purposefully jaywalk, in that I break a law I know exists. I also “cheat” when I murder someone, for the same reason. But we ascribe far more moral condemnation to the latter than to the former, for truly obvious reasons, no? It’s a matter of at least degree, and arguably kind.

    So…the issue that is far more interesting, I think, is what SORT of “cheating” did Cano commit here? If he took this stuff to mask steroid consumption, that’s one thing. If he took it for some far more benign, even medically indicated, reason, then that’s another.

    Of course, either way, as you point out, he needed to be suspended–the rules are the rules. But calling him a cheater, alone, is using too broad of a brush, because that word has obvious, and purposeful, connotations of a much deeper, Barry Bonds-style moral offense.

    I understand that MLB may have evidence, to date unshared, that gave it confidence that Cano was closer to Bonds than to a jaywalker here. But simply trusting authority’s word on such a thing is not appropriately skeptical, in my view. At some point, that truth may out as well, and then I’d be fine with calling Cano a cheater. But not until then. He broke the rules, got caught, and deserves what he got because the rules require it. But more serious labels carrying deep moral opprobrium should await more evidence.

    • art thiel

      I get your point, Bruce, from a 30,000-foot view. Closer to the ground, MLB has a continuing problem with PEDs, and Cano’s circumlocution combined with the JDA’s rules on privacy create vagueness about what actually happened. Cano has wiggle room to avoid taking direct responsibility.

      He deserves to be called out directly. He was caught cheating the system.

      Your point about trusting authority is well taken, but the JDA is a collectively bargained process, not an MLB directive. The union is a 50 percent party to this deal, and they have so far decided not to help Cano’s appeal. So he dropped it. That inaction is evidence that the administrator had evidence.

      • Bruce McDermott

        I agree that the indications are not good. But it’s a question of timing, for me. Frank Clark’s situation was another one in which I believe people used words prematurely, and in his case actually incorrectly. I’m shedding no tears for Cano, that’s for sure, in any event. It was monumentally stupid in the best case, and flat-out corrupt in what is looking like the more likely case. How do these things work, as far as ever finding out what the administrator had? If Cano has agreed not to fight it, we will never know?

        • Ron

          Cano is no angel. One of his former Yankee teammates is throwing him under the bus for juicing back in the day…

          • art thiel

            His ex-teammate offered zero evidence. A crappy thing to do.

        • art thiel

          As part of the CBA, players negotiated for the right to privacy with the administrator, meaning clubs don’t have to be told of the specs of the violation. Players can volunteer it, but they can also lie and/or conceal.

          The union believes, rightly, that the info could be used by management against them.