(Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons)
Hearing about Robinson Cano’s recent positive test for a banned substance has raised questions throughout the baseball world: Why would such an accomplished player risk tainting his legacy by using PEDs? Why use PEDs in the middle of one of the richest contracts in history? How long has Cano been using PEDs? In reality, these questions will probably never be answered. But speculation is rampant, not only around the MLB, but also in Cano’s home country, the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic has been described before as baseball obsessed, and in my short time living here I’ve found that description to be completely accurate. Most buildings here have a night security guard, and every night security guard has a radio. Walking around at night, I often hear two or three different broadcasts coming from little speakers set next to white plastic chairs. Baseball is the safest topic to bring up when you need some small-talk. The weather here doesn’t change much and politics can be tricky, but someone will always chat about the latest Boston or Yankees score or how Bartolo did in his last start.
As an English teacher in the DR, I’m always trying looking to connect with students about any topic in English. Luckily, there is no shortage of students that like to talk about baseball. I knew the subject of Cano’s suspension was going to come up, and I was very interested to hear what my students had to say. A conversation with one adult student in particular stuck in my memory. After a few minuets of conversation about Cano, this student said something that really made me think: “Teacher, let me tell you something. Dominicans are always making excuses.” I was taken aback by the forthrightness of this statement. But as we continued talking, his point started to sink in.
This theory of Dominican culture also found its way to the sports section in the national paper Diario Libre on the 16th and 17th of May. A prominent journalist, Carlos Sánchez G., penned an article entitled The Problem is not Cano, the Dominican Republic Needs to Look at Itself as a Society. In this article, Sanchez talks to a sports psychologist who suggests that by offering the excuse that he was prescribed this medication by a licensed doctor for a health condition, Cano is passing the blame off of himself and onto his country as a whole. Sanchez calls on Cano to take full responsibility for his mistake, in order to set a new example of honesty and responsibility for his country.
This is not to say that a PED suspension is a death knell for the popularity of a homegrown player in the Dominican Republic. Many players who have been suspended, like Manny Ramirez, Bartolo Colon and Nelson Cruz, continue to be among the most respected players on the island. There are still murals and posters of players who have tested positive for PEDs, right next to those of “clean” Hall of Famers and local legends.
So it seems that Cano’s suspension may not have a great effect on his career overall. He will still collect over $230 million total from the Mariners and over $270 million during his career. If history is a guide, he will be welcomed back and cheered by his countrymen. Even the Hall of Fame voting trends offer some hope of him someday achieving that high honor.
There are two real losers in this saga. The first is the Mariners. The Mariners are currently in second place in the very competitive AL west. Missing arguably best player for half the season will be a very difficult obstacle to overcome. Not to mention, that if they do make it to the playoffs, Cano will be banned from those games as well. The second loser, as suggested by Carlos Sánchez, is the reputation of the Dominican Republic in the baseball world and the world in general. Without owning up to his actions, Cano continues a trend of pushing personal failures onto a society as a whole.
Through this discussion, I think of the young men I teach. Many of them play baseball and hope, some day, to represent their home country in the Major leagues. By passing the blame from himself to his society, Robinson Cano is also making it harder for these young men to succeed. The more players blame the community they came from for their shortfalls, the less chance young players will have to be judged on their character alone.