Steroids in the NFL? No biggie!

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Brian Cushing.jpgHouston Texans linebacker and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing failed a performance-enhancing drug test last year. The offending substance: hGC, the female fertility drug that snagged Manny Ramirez last year.  Cushing tested positive back in September, but the news of all of this — and his suspension — is only hitting now.

Fellow Houston star Lance Berkman had some words to say about all of that yesterday:

I will say what will be interesting will be to see the reaction
because generally when that happens to a football player it is kind of
ho-hum. You write a story about it and he serves his four games and nobody
will ever say anything else about it. If that happens to a baseball
player, they want to strike him from the record book. It’s a totally
different reaction, and I’m not sure why that is, but I will be
following this just to see.

And it is a totally different reaction. Cushing is the third NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year to be suspended
for performance-enhancing substances in the last eight seasons, following Julius Peppers and Shawne Merriman.  The equivalent to this in baseball would be if Evan Longoria, Ryan Howard and Hanley Ramirez all tested positive for PEDs. If that had come to pass Congress would be involved, columnists would have their heart medication doubled and we would all be forced to think of the children under penalty of law.

In football? No big whoop.  No one wringing their hands over the NFL’s obvious PED problem. No one excoriating the league for having a testing and appeals procedure that allows for a five-month lag between the failed test and the appeal and another three month delay between the appeal and the decision, all of which allowed a known-PED user to play the games in which he won the Rookie of the Year award in the first place.

A Rookie of the Year award, it should be noted, that the writers just this afternoon decided
to allow Cushing to keep

despite the fact that he had tested positive for a banned substance
before the season started.  Why can he keep it?  According to multiple writers who voiced their views on it before the re-vote, it’s because other guys on PEDs have won the award in the past.

One of them — ESPN’s Adam Schefter — is basically serving as Cushing’s P.R. team.  He thinks that the fact that Cushing took a lie detector test and passed, he shouldn’t be suspended. This despite the facts that (a) lie detector tests are essentially useless; (b) this lie detector test was obviously set up by Cushing’s camp for P.R. purposes; and (c) unless the NFL itself is lying, Cushing lied during his lie detector test.

Schefter also suggests that maybe Cushing’s positive test was the result of flogging the bishop.  Can you imagine if, say, Peter Gammons offered the masturbation defense when Manny Ramirez tested positive?

Another ESPN guy — Mark Schelerth — thinks that Cushing shouldn’t lose his award because “we don’t know for certain” that he took a PED (note: really?). This despite the fact that the league has already completed its apparently exhaustive appeals process and suspended the guy.  “The banned substantces list is so long!” Schelerth basically says. “How is it possible that a player could know what he could or could not take!”  I mean, sure, Cushing went to USC so he probably has some sort of learning disability, but he makes a lot of money and can afford to hire someone to read the list for him.

Look, I’ve been called a PED apologist more times than I can count, but that’s because (a) I don’t think that guys who take PEDs should be demonized and shunned; and (b) I don’t think that attempting to re-write the record books is either possible or advisable. But I’ve never argued that the league shouldn’t suspend guys who test positive, and I’ve never trafficked in the world of apparently baseless excuses for what appears to be clear rules violations. This, however, appears to be par for the course among the NFL commentariat. Which is fine. Their sport, their problems, their opinions.

In light of them, however, I’d really prefer it if, next time baseball has a PED story, these people don’t come out of the woodwork talking about how awful baseball’s PED problems are.

Phil Bickford suspended 50 games for drug of abuse

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10:  Phil Bickford of the U.S. Team pitches during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at PETCO Park on July 10, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Brewers’ right-hander Phil Bickford received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a drug of abuse, per the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin. This is the second time Bickford has been suspended for recreational drug use, as he was previously penalized in 2015 after testing positive for marijuana prior to the amateur draft.

Bickford was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2015 draft and was later dealt to the Brewers for lefty reliever Will Smith at the 2016 trade deadline. He finished his 2016 campaign in High-A Brevard County, pitching to a 3.67 ERA, 10.0 K/9 rate and 5.0 BB/9 over 27 innings.

Two other suspensions were handed down on Friday, one to Toronto minor league right-hander Pedro Loficial for a positive test for metabolites of Stanozolol and one to Miami minor league outfielder Casey Soltis for a second positive test for drugs of abuse. Loficial will serve a 72-game suspension, while Soltis will serve 50 games. All three suspensions are due to start at the beginning of the 2017 season for each respective minor league team.

Brewers’ GM David Stearns issued a statement after the Commissioner’s Office announced Bickford’s suspension (via Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America):

We are very disappointed to learn of Phil’s suspension, but we fully support the Minor League Baseball Drug Prevention and Testing Program and its enforcement by the Commissioner’s Office. Phil understands he made a mistake, and we fully anticipate that he will learn from this experience.

Diamondbacks sign Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $2.75 million deal

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 21:  Fernando Rodney #56 of the Miami Marlins pitches during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 21, 2016 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Confirming a report from Tuesday, the Diamondbacks officially signed right-hander Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $2.75 million contract on Friday. The 39-year-old stands to receive up to $4 million in incentives, per Jack MacGruder of FanRag Sports, with $250,000 kicking in when the veteran reaches 40, 50 and 60 appearances and $500,000 if he reaches 70.

Rodney came three games shy of the 70-appearance mark in 2016 during back-to-back stints with the Padres and Marlins. He put up a cumulative 3.44 ERA on the year, which effectively disguised the extreme split during his performances in San Diego and Miami. The Diamondbacks aren’t anywhere close to contending in 2017, but Rodney should stabilize the back end of their bullpen while providing Arizona GM Mike Hazen with a potential trade chip during next year’s deadline.

Hazen issued a statement following the signing:

With Fernando, we’re getting an established Major League closer and a veteran presence in the bullpen. It is helpful to have someone with his experience on the back end to slow the game down and get the final three outs.