Steroid problem reaches critical mass in the D.R.
Why are more than half of all pro baseball players who've tested positive in the past two years from the Dominican Republic? Investigative reporter Mike Fish looks for answers.
BOCA DE NIGUA, Dominican Republic -- Waner Mateo was a time zone and a culture removed from his tropical homeland, an aspiring major league pitcher hunkered down in a Florida training camp, when he bungled his foray into performance-enhancing drugs. And so last March, in need of help for his bum right shoulder, the 21-year-old Mateo chose not to seek out a New York Mets trainer, for fear it might earn him a ticket back home to the Dominican Republic.
|The Dominican Steroid Problem|
As spring training opens around baseball, ESPN.com takes a two-day look at the state of Major League Baseball's fight against performance-enhancing drugs in the Dominican Republic with a series of stories reported and written by investigative reporter Mike Fish.DAY 1
• Critical mass in the D.R.
• Vitamin B-12: Help or hazard?
• MLB criticized over testing prospects
• Pruebas positivas en Dominicana
• La "magia" de la vitamina B-12
• ¿Pruebas de doping antes de firmar? DAY 2
• Dominican trainer isn't welcome in MLB.
• Martinez supports controversial trainer
• Presinal, gurú de los estelares dominicaos
• Pedro aún confía en "Nao"
|Where they're from|
Since the start of the 2005 season, 157 professional players have been suspended by Major League Baseball for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Of that number, 104 players, or 66 percent, are still affiliated with their Major League franchise. Here is a breakdown by birthplace of the suspended players:United States: 72 [46 percent]
Dominican Republic: 37 [24 percent]
Venezuela: 35 [22 percent] Cuba: 3 [2 percent]
Japan: 3 [2 percent]
Mexico: 2 [1 percent]
Australia: 1 [.64 percent]
Canada: 1 [.64 percent]
Colombia: 1 [.64 percent]
Panama: 1 [.64 percent]
Puerto Rico: 1 [.64 percent] Source: Database analysis by ESPN.com.
Alberto Hall, a young New York-born-and-bred middle infielder, isn't among the long line of outstanding shortstops who learned their craft in this country, which is barely the size of South Carolina. But Hall's contacts run as deep as his family's rich Dominican blood; so for the past three summers, he says he has bunked at the Arizona Diamondbacks Academy in Boca Chica, a dusty beach town up the coast from Santo Domingo that is home to many MLB team complexes. Hall, now a freshman at SUNY/Old Westbury, says he spent his mornings working with the players, mostly teenagers either signed by the D-Backs for their Dominican Summer League team or brought in for an evaluation. From summer to summer, he saw familiar faces, familiar physiques, bulking up. Away from the watchful eyes of camp officials, he says he witnessed players being injected, and claims to have been offered steroids himself. "At nighttime, a lot of the players would inject themselves with steroids," Hall told ESPN.com. "I was amazed, because the kids that were doing it weren't just older kids. There were kids 16 years old doing it. I personally never used it, but they offered me. 'Come on, it's only for two, three, four weeks.' I never did it, but I've seen them do it almost every night, every other night.
|Breakdown by franchise|
Over the last two seasons, the Seattle Mariners organization has had the most players (13) suspended for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. The Houston Astros are the only team that hasn't lost a player to suspension.13 -- Seattle
9 -- N.Y. Mets, Texas
8 -- Chicago Cubs, Colorado, San Francisco
7 -- L.A. Angels, Pittsburgh
6 -- Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago White Sox, L.A. Dodgers, N.Y. Yankees, Oakland, San Diego
5 -- Arizona, Cincinnati, Kansas City, St. Louis, Toronto
4 -- Cleveland
3 -- Minnesota, Philadelphia
2 -- Detroit, Florida, Milwaukee, Washington
1 -- Boston, Tampa Bay
0 -- Houston Source: Database analysis by ESPN.com.
Juan Uribe, the Chicago White Sox shortstop, is a product of Juan Baron, a tiny rural town 30 miles southwest of Santo Domingo. He lives just down a narrow two-lane road from Vladimir Guerrero's home. On this day, as he welcomed a handful of reporters into his three-story cinder-block house, his mother, sisters and brothers, cousins and infant nephews and nieces were mingling about. The Uribe home is a sleek diamond in the rough located just beyond the right-field corner of Juan Baron Stadium, where Uribe played as a kid and where he still works out in the mornings to ready for spring training. The $4 million-plus per season Uribe earns in the majors helps his extended family live well beyond the means of the locals. Next to them, Uribe lives like royalty. From a third-floor pool room, Uribe, 27, pointed across the field beyond the centerfield fence to his soon-to-be new place, a magnificent pink structure rising from the ground. His luxury SUVs -- a black Land Rover and white Cadillac Escalade, loaded with a $20,000 sound system -- were parked along the pothole-riddled street. His sleek black Mercedes sports coupe was inside a garage that doubles as a playroom for the toddlers.
In some ways, Ronaldo Peralta is the Bud Selig of Dominican baseball. From MLB's office in an upscale, gated residential neighborhood of Santo Domingo, Peralta serves as the eyes and ears of baseball in Latin America. He manages baseball's only operations office outside the United States. In a country where the game is an industry worth nearly $100 million annually, according to an economic impact study done by the Dominican government, Peralta deals with the routine stuff: agents, scouting issues, the multitude of baseball academies, rookie summer leagues and drug testing. He is a friendly character who lives by the creed that the glass is half-full.
These players have tested positive twice for performance-enhancing drugs.• Former Marlins' INF Wilson Delgado.
• Nationals' minor-league INF Ramon Castro
• Royals' minor-league INF Luis Ugueto
• D-Backs' minor-league P Angel Rocha
• D-Backs' minor-league P Chad Scarbery
• Dodgers' minor-league P Heath Totten Source: Database analysis by ESPN.com.
Luis Polonia has been to a lot of places and seen a lot of things. He made it to the majors with the Oakland A's in the late 1980s, just when the Bash Brothers -- Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire -- hooked up in the Bay Area. A pint-sized outfielder blessed with speed, he played 12 big-league seasons for a half-dozen clubs. At 43, he still plays winter ball; and on the night he spoke with ESPN.com in Santo Domingo, he was in left field for the Aguilas Cibaenas, the eventual league championship team from Santiago.
|Suspensions by position|
Pitchers make up the largest percentage of the 157 players who have been suspended over the past two seasons.Pitchers: 87 [55 percent]
Infielders: 32 [20 percent]
Outfielders: 20 [13 percent]
Catchers: 18 [12 percent]
Source: Database analysis by ESPN.com.
MORE MLB HEADLINES
- Moore improves to 8-0 as Rays sweep O's
- Rangers place Kinsler on DL, bring up Profar
- Phils' Ruiz, Howard to have MRI exams Monday
- Cardinals beat former teammate Lohse again