REGARDLESS OF THE WHY OR HOW, JAYS’ COLABELLO PAYS THE PRICE
Toronto’s feel-good story of last season sullied by drug suspension, writes Scott Stinson
On a sunny afternoon in Florida last month, a little while after the Toronto Blue Jays had finished a spring training game, a group of what looked like college-age kids was suddenly roaming the grass field. Peering down from the press box, it was soon evident that it was not a band of marauding hipsters.
Chris Colabello was leading the group on a tour. He talked to them at home plate for a while, and then did the same at second base. It all seemed perfectly natural. If there was a guy on the Jays who was a candidate to squeeze in a youth group instead of a quick 18 holes of golf, it was Colabello.
The 32-year-old played seven years for teams like the Nashua Pride and the Worcester Tornadoes in the independent Can-Am league before he finally stuck in the majors last year. He was always thoughtful and gracious with his time, and supremely aware of the good fortune of his exceedingly rare path to baseball success.
In short, he seems like the least likely candidate to jeopardize all of that by doping, as Major League Baseball has concluded he did, suspending him 80 games for having failed a test for the banned steroid Dehydrochlormethyl testosterone.
Colabello doesn’t tick many of the doper boxes. He’s tall, but not the least bit physically imposing, and he didn’t suddenly start mashing balls out of the ballpark last year. He hit 15 home runs, about in line with the power pace he has in parts of two other Major League seasons with Minnesota. He also released a statement that professed shock that the substance in question was found in his urine, and through close teammates, seems to have indicated that he hopes a plausible explanation for its presence will eventually exonerate him.
But that’s not how doping tests work. The athlete is responsible for what goes into his body, full stop. It is not unlike presenting a suitcase at an airport security check that contains your clothes, a couple of books, and a brick of cocaine. You can claim that you have no earthly idea how those drugs got in there, but the cops don’t much care. The liability is on you.
And there is also the fact that, for as long as these kinds of positive tests have been discovered in various sports, we should know by now that there is not one doper profile. They can be the musclebound types like Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa, whose power was so ridiculous that in retrospect it is crazy that we ever believed that drugs weren’t involved. They can be someone lithe and lean like Lance Armstrong, who was a spectacularly good cheater and so furiously indignant at anyone who doubted him that you couldn’t imagine he was making it all up. There’s a saying in justice that a criminal will display a guilty mind. However, Armstrong never acted anything other than 100 per cent innocent. And yet: guilty. Fat guys, skinny guys, short guys, tall guys: there is not one silhouette for a drug taker.
So, you say, why would a guy like Colabello do it? First, I don’t know that he did, just that he was caught and his intentions are irrelevant. And second, who knows why anyone does it? The simplest explanation for any athlete is that they think it will help them succeed, but the risk-reward equation is much more complicated.
Maria Sharapova, by her own admission, took a substance for years that was only recently added to the master list of banned products, but her story for why she took it is at odds with the medical literature. Her tennis career has made her a millionaire several times over, and yet she routinely took a drug that probably only had a negligible effect on her performance.
Barry Bonds did it because he was mad at the attention McGwire and Sosa were getting. Alex Rodriguez, in the most charitable retelling of his drug use, only doped once he felt the pressure of living up to a historic contract. You do it to get ahead, or to not fall behind, or because you think others are doing it anyway, or because you’re afraid of what might happen if you don’t do it. And you do it because you don’t think you will get caught.
It is naive to assume that any athlete is clean in 2016, but unfair to assume that anyone is guilty, either. So when Colabello fails a test, it’s just that. A failed test for which he is being punished. There’s no point in trying to exonerate him for his character, or his kindness or his wonderful origin story. And there’s no point in looking askance at his teammates, or at his production last year, or the wild story that was this Blue Jays team in 2015. He broke a rule, and he is paying for it.
With doping, we have no choice but to look at every new discovery in isolation. If you did otherwise, who would be left to cheer for?