Whether you saw it happen live or you had only to read about it, you couldn’t get it out of your head. Manny Machado—who’d been suspect of immaturity often enough in his Baltimore years—being the adult in the Padres’ room when Fernando Tatis, Jr. still couldn’t or wouldn’t shake off a pitch he thought was a ball but plate umpire Phil Cuzzi called a strike last September . . . correctly.
It wasn’t enough for Tatis that he gestured with pronouncement, though he faced away from Cuzzi, while his then-manager Jayce Tingler hustled out of the dugout to protect him and take up the argument and get himself tossed from the game. Tatis kept it up in the dugout, banging a bench a few times, grumbling all inning long while Jake Cronenworth’s one-out double ended up fruitless.
Finally Machado had enough. The wealthy veteran third baseman could be heard loud enough bawling the kid out. Go play baseball! You play baseball. You can’t worry about that sh@t! You go play baseball! [Fornicate] that sh@t! At that point, Tatis must have tried pleading about the disputed pitch. Machado didn’t bite. No, it’s not. It’s not about you! It’s not [fornicating] about you! Go [fornicating] play baseball.
The Padres ended up losing to the Cardinals, some of whom were almost as frustrated with Cuzzi’s shifting strike zone as Tatis. But the Cardinals didn’t let it cave them in, either. In the eighth, Tyler O’Neill smashed a 2-2 cutter from Padres reliever Emilio Pagan into the left field bullpen. Two innings earlier, O’Neill was frustrated visibly over a Cuzzi pitch call or two. He just didn’t melt down over them.
He also earned Adam Wainwright’s admiration while he was at it. “That was a great job by him not getting too animated there,” the veteran Cardinal righthander said postgame. “If we lose him right there, we probably lose the game . . . That was a lot of maturity by him to not get thrown out right there on some tough calls.”
Maturity. The word’s being thrown around a lot in San Diego now, since Tatis—who’s missed all season so far rehabbing a shoulder injury—was handed a mandatory eighty-game suspension after a routine required drug test turned up positive for clostebol.
After the Padres hogged the trade deadline headlines by landing outfielder Juan Soto from the Nationals and relief ace Josh Hader from the Brewers, but still looking like paper tigers after getting manhandled by their up-freeway National League West rivals in Los Angeles, this was the last thing they needed when they thought they were on the threshold of Tatis’s return.
The shortstop who can and so often did electrify crowds with his bat and his derring-do on the left side of the infield said he discovered the hard way that a medication he took to fight a case of ringworm had clostebol in it.
“I should have used the resources available to me in order to ensure that no banned substances were in what I took. I failed to do so,” he said in a formal statement Friday, after pondering but choosing not to appeal his suspension. “I am completely devastated. There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be than on a field competing with my teammates.”
Once you shook off the shock of Tatis being drydocked for the rest of this season, the postseason if the Padres get there, and part of next season, your first question—other than, perhaps, what on earth this kid was thinking or not thinking—had to be just what the hell clostebol is.
A former professional bodybuilder named Greg Doucette was more than happy to discuss that, as he has on YouTube: Clostebol is a synthetic, anabolic/andreogenic steroid “that essentially mimics testosterone.” Several countries use it medically to treat ringworm, a common fungus in professional athletes, but neither the United States nor Canada are known to prescribe ringworm relief with medications including the substance.
By itself, says the San Diego Union-Tribune, clostebol is “[a]lso known as 4-cholortestosterone [and] is a synthetic derivative of the muscle-building steroid the body naturally produces in larger amounts in men than women.” Blended with another substance, as the former East Germany did under state sponsorship to create then-undetectable Oral Turinabol, it becomes potent enough to turn athletes into record breakers.
“The doping advantage of injectable clostebol,” says U-T writer Mark Zeigler, “is that, while less potent, it mimics the muscle-building properties of testosterone without the estrogen buildup that counteracts them.” You’d have to make a very assumptive stretch to determine that Tatis knew any of that about what was in his ringworm medicine.
Doucette accepts that somebody did indeed prescribe something with clostebol in it when Tatis complained about ringworm. Bear in mind that, during last off-season’s owners’ lockout, Tatis and the Padres lacked much direct communication between the club’s staff and Tatis’s home in the Dominican Republic. Was he prescribed the now-suspect medication there, in a country that may allow clostebol’s prescription to treat ringworm?
“Either somebody needs to get fired,” Doucette says emphatically, “or Fernando Tatis needs to be the picture boy for Major League Baseball . . . How do you know, when getting medications, whether or not [they include] a banned substance or not? You don’t. So what do you do? Ask an expert.”
Tatis didn’t ask. Prideful youth that he still is, it didn’t cross his mind to ask. Maybe this will prove the blow that trims his pride down to the level where it’s a virtue more than a vice.
Essentially, Doucette says, Tatis trusted his doctor and didn’t think to question what he was prescribed. He’d be far from the only human being who goes in with the assumption that his doctor knows it all and wouldn’t hand him something believed to be harmful medically or otherwise.
Baseball may have its list of banned substances, and enough of those substances may not do what they’re thought (feared) to do for a player, but even veterans aren’t likely to visit their doctors carrying that list to ask whether their forthcoming prescriptions include any of those.
Sports medicine has long been a dubious proposition in the first place. Even today, with so much more known about sports injuries now than in the so-called Good Old Days, too much sports medicine remains meatball medicine to get them back on the field as soon as possible regardless. (Preferably, yesterday often enough.) And athletes are not always trusting of team doctors, with reason enough.
Likewise, for all we know now that we didn’t decades ago, Joe and Jane Fan continue believing injuries equal character flaws and fragility. Who really knows what a cocktail of dubious meatball medicine plus a public that thinks getting hurt exposes a player as weak does to an athlete’s thinking when he has a real injury or another medical issue, never mind one while rehabbing from another?
Padres general manager A.J. Preller, whose wheeling and dealing to bring Soto and Hader aboard made him the star of the trade deadline, sounded as though he didn’t necessarily want to know. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet about it,” he told reporters after the Padres squashed the Nationals Friday.
I think the biggest thing just from our standpoint, just from (MLB’s) standpoint, there’s a drug policy in place. He failed the drug screen, and ultimately he’s suspended, he can’t play, and that’s the biggest thing. It’s the player’s responsibility to make sure that he’s within compliance of that. He wasn’t, and ultimately we’re supportive of that.
Tatis can be called for not quite being mature enough to ask questions of his doctor before accepting any kind of prescription? It’s not exactly unfair to call Preller and other Padres staff for just such a dismissal, without being mature enough to keep real communication lines clear with their player, asking questions of their own when a medical issue arises even during rehabilitation for a different issue.
Practical baseball terms tell us Tatis was on the threshold of finishing his shoulder rehab (this wasn’t the first time he dealt with shoulder issues in his career) and providing the postseason-aspirant Padres a truly incendiary plate threat joining Soto, Machado, and Brandon Drury in the lineup. The kind of deep threat that often makes the difference between a mere postseason aspirant and a prospective World Series champion.
Now the threat is to Tatis’s eventual baseball legacy and to the Padres’s World Series aspirations. (They’ve been there twice without winning since they were born the year man first walked on the moon.) The previous weekend, they were swept in style by those ogres from Dodger Stadium, losing three straight and being outscored 20-4 including surrendering eight Dodger runs each in the first two games.
“He hasn’t been part of the team all year,” said Machado after the 10-5 win over the hapless Nats Friday. “We’ve gotten to this point so far without him. We were waiting to get him back and hopefully be a spark plug for the team.”
“You hope he grows up and learns from this and learns that it’s about more than just him right now,” said pitcher Mike Clevinger, echoing last year’s Machado-Tatis confrontation over the third-strike call. “It would be nice to have somebody else, but we don’t need anybody else. We’ve got everyone we need right here.”
Without Tatis, and until they can really hang with the big boys, the Padres sitting seventeen games out of first in the NL West may not have everyone they need right there now. What they have can get them to the postseason. It can’t necessarily get them to a World Series the likely path to which runs through Los Angeles.
“Friday’s stunning revelation,” writes The Athletic‘s Dennis Lin, “did not paint anyone in a positive light.”
Tatis had been busted for, at best, gross negligence or, at worst, cheating and dishonesty. If the Padres fail to make the postseason, he will end up missing more than half of his first 578 opportunities to play a major-league regular-season game. The team, meanwhile, has suffered a thorough embarrassment just eighteen months after characterizing Tatis’ [fourteen-year, $340 million contract] extension as a slam dunk. Preller has long prided himself on knowing the makeup of players, but his most prized asset has joined James Shields, Will Myers, and [now-departed] Eric Hosmer on a list of questionable contracts.
Tatis is now the biggest name in baseball to have drawn a suspension for actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances since Álex Rodríguez’s war against baseball over the Biogenesis scandal turned into a 211-game suspension. (It proved ultimately to be a 162-game suspension, since A-Rod appealed the original starting in August 2013.)
Whether he walked into it eyes wide shut or just made a reputation for self-centricity a little less small remains to be seen, in full and in final.