Originally Published: September 18, 2012 11:35 p.m.
If you think the issue of PEDs in MLB can be relegated to history, you're in serious denial. The recent 50-game suspensions of Oakland A's pitcher Bartolo Colon and San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera for violating MLB's drug policy provides clear evidence to the contrary.
Colon is a 39-year-old veteran on the downside of a respectable MLB career. Using PEDs may not have cost him much, at least financially. The same can't be said of Cabrera. Testing positive in the midst of a career season could end up costing him tens-of-millions of dollars.
The take away message from the recent suspensions is the same as it has always been: When fame, glory and money - lots of it - are at stake, some athletes are willing to push the envelope, the risk of being caught using prohibited substances be damned. That has always been the case and it is unlikely to change in the future, despite the stringent testing and most severe penalties imposed in most sports. Even stiffer penalties won't change that. Many states have the death penalty - as stiff a penalty as there is - and yet murders are committed in this country every day.
Cabrera's case raises a troubling issue that was glossed over in the 2007 Mitchell Report, the result of an investigation commissioned by MLB in an effort to determine the prevalence of PED use among players. Although key passages were redacted, the Mitchell Report intimated that certain agents may have been providing their clients with access to PEDs. Given the other findings in the report, including references to such stars as Roger Clemens, and the climate of the times, no action was taken to determine the extent of such allegations. But there are reports that both MLB and the players' association are investigating Cabrera's Brooklyn-based agents, Seth and Sam Levinson.
The Levinson brothers have been representing MLB players for almost three decades. Their extensive client list includes a number of high profile and successful players, among them David Wright of the Mets, Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox, and Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies (formerly of the Red Sox). The Levinsons also represent a player who is less well known for his on-field accomplishments than his off-field notoriety, the aforementioned Cabrera.
The Mitchell Report linked the Levinsons and 11 of their clients to convicted steroid dealer Kirk Radomski. Radomski has allegedly told investigators that he was close to the Levinson brothers and received referrals from them. The Levinsons deny having any relationship with Radomski and dispute the contention that they provided their clients with access to PEDs. But Cabrera and Juan Nunez, who either worked for or with the Levinsons, depending on who you believe, created a fake website in a Keystone Cops-effort to convince MLB that the player's positive drug test was the result of ingesting a tainted supplement.
More troubling than the Levinson-Cabrera-Nunez connection is the testimony of former Levinson client Paul Lo Duca. Lo Duca, who was also named in the Mitchell Report, claims he used a checking account with the Levinsons' firm name on it to purchase PEDs from Radomski.
After Cabrera tested positive for PEDs, MLB decided to revisit the information uncovered during the Mitchell investigation linking the Levinson brothers to their clients' drug use. The MLBPA, which has worked closely with MLB of late on drug-related issues, elected to conduct its own investigation. The union is responsible for the registration and regulation of player agents and could, depending on the findings of the separate investigations, suspend the Levinsons from further player representation.
There are unconfirmed reports that Jeff Novitzky, the notorious federal investigator who made a name for himself by doggedly pursuing Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Lance Armstrong, is assisting MLB. While the results in those cases hardly justify the cost to taxpayers, government involvement means that current investigators have tools at their disposal that Mitchell investigators lacked: The power of subpoena and the ability to place witnesses under oath.
How long the investigations take and where they lead is unknown. But the mere fact that player agents, long rumored to be assisting their clients in the use of PEDs, are in the spotlight is troubling in itself. It is also further evidence that the issue of PEDs in MLB is far from over.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org