Suspensions to Colabello, Gordon will deter others - Dick Pound

By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network

After travelling the world for a few weeks on business, Richard Pound took the time back on Canadian soil to praise Major League Baseball for stepping up its fight to clamp down on drug users in the game.

The comments by the former chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency and reputable International Olympic Committee official from Montreal came in light of the 80-game suspension handed down recently to Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello and seven others this season.

“I think it’s interesting to finally see that baseball with cooperation from the players’ union is taking the drug problem seriously,’’ the lawyer told this reporter in a phone interview on his way to Montreal from Ottawa. “I think it has been ignored in the past but it has improved under the new commissioner Rob Manfred.

“The suspension (to Colabello) is an example of a significant penalty for drug use. It might help deter other people from using drugs.’’

What some people might not know is that the little known Laboratoire de Controle du Dopage in suburban Montreal played a big role in Colabello’s fall from grace last month.

Colabello’s urine and blood samples were transported from Dunedin, Fla. to the Laval lab, one of about 30 around the world accredited by WADA, which has headquarters at Place Victoria in downtown Montreal.

Tests results at the Laval facility discovered that the Blue Jays’ first baseman tested positive for the performance-enhancing substance dehydrochlormethyltestostorone.

The anabolic steroid is No. 17 on a list of 74 PES banned by MLB. Also banned under the joint drug program are 56 stimulants and eight ‘’drugs of abuses,’’ including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and morphine.

World-renowned scientist Dr. Christiane Ayotte is a major player at the Laval facility but phone and email messages left with her went unanswered.

Dr. Ayotte has been responsible for the lab for the last 15 years, she has been a member of the IAAF doping commission for over 10 years and along the way, has given evidence at several baseball-arbitration hearings. Dr. Ayotte’s main area of expertise has centered on the urinary metabolites of anabolic steroids and she helped developed a gas chromatographic process designed to detect and identify anabolic agents.

“Dr. Ayotte is one of the foremost scientists in the world,’’ said Pound, who is currently the chairman of Olympic Broadcasting Services. “We’re lucky to have her in Canada, in Montreal. In the terms of her reputation and in terms of the quality of the lab, it’s all first-class. It works pretty good for Major League Baseball.’’

Jenrry Mejia of the New York Mets received a permanent ban earlier this year and also receiving 80-game suspensions were Dee Gordon of the Miami Marlins, Juan Duran of the Cincinnati Reds, Abraham Almonte of the Cleveland Indians, Daniel Stumpf of the Philadelphia Phillies, Josh Ravin of the Los Angeles Dodgers and free-agent Taylor Teagarden.

You may remember that Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman was suspended for 50 games in 2012 when he was a minor-league player. He tested positive for use of the stimulant methylhexaneamine, which contains oxyElite.

“I think it is generally agreed that MLB today has a very thorough and effective drug or substance testing program. So do some other sports, and yet a number of athletes continue to seek an advantage despite the risk of getting caught,’’ said another man close to the baseball scene, a person who spoke on a “non-attribution basis’’ off the record. 

“Given the reputation of the Montreal lab and how thorough it is, they are very good and highly respected. They are overly cautious with so much experience. They are so careful in what they do. I find it highly unlikely they would ever be challenged on a test. The player and the agent don’t typically challenge the lab results, they try to challenge them on other issues.’’

Like all major-league players, Colabello was asked to produce a mandatory sample of urine and blood once he reported for spring training in Dunedin on a date believed to be Feb. 26, the reporting date for Jays’ position players. It was a date that coincidentally was the last day he tweeted from his Twitter handle cc20rake.

An independent program administrator, who isn’t employed by the Jays, MLB or the MLBPA, collects the urine and blood specimens from each player in conjunction with team physicals at spring training. This person monitors the collection procedures, laboratory analysis and testing protocols.

Colabello, 32, was a journeyman, who all of a sudden, spurted to quasi-stardom with the Blue Jays last season, hitting .321 with 15 homers and 54 RBI. He had spent most of his career in independent leagues.

Colabello said in a prepared statement that he received a phone call from the players’ association March 13 during the heart of spring training that there was a problem with a test he had given. He was shocked. 

After receiving a copy of the certificate of analysis provided by the medical testing officer, Colabello, his agent Brian Charles and the players’ union filed an appeal. It’s unclear on what grounds they were disputing.

Following a subsequent B test, an appeal and a rejection of the grievance by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, the commissioner’s office announced April 22 that Colabello was suspended for 80 games. He is eligible to return in late July and 10 days prior to that date, he is permitted to go on a rehab assignment in the minor leagues.

In a recent interview with Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell, Colabello denied taking the drug.

“I would never, have never and will never compromise the integrity of baseball. Ever. In my life,” Colabello said. “And whether that means taking a performance-enhancing supplement — I just wouldn’t do it. I don’t do it. I haven’t done it. I won’t do it.”

As part of the suspension, Colabello isn’t permitted to participate in post-season play, including any tie-breaker games. He isn’t allowed to receive any full or partial post-season share of monies distributed if the Jays make the post-season. However, he is allowed to be given a cash award, according to the joint drug program booklet.

Colabello may enter a treatment program at a secret location but whether he does is strictly confidential unless he prefers to reveal it. The treatment board consists of a licensed authority and a licensed physician expert in the diagnosis of treatment of chemical use.

As it stands now, Colabello loses almost $228,000 out of this year’s salary of a little more than $521,000. This is a large amount off his pay cheque because he has little seniority. However, he does not lose any service time during his suspension and the Jays have no authority to further discipline him for the positive test.

Colabello had only two hits in 29 at-bats at the time of the suspension so probably the stress was too much for him in between the revelation of the drug test March 13 and the suspension date of April 22, a period of five weeks. How that positive didn’t leak out before the suspension was announced was surprising.

“In the case of Rafael Palmeiro in 2005, just before the arbitration award came out, media started to suggest he had tested positive,’’ said the man close to the scene. “Various people knew about it. 

“In the case of Ryan Braun in 2011, it was so different because the case went public before the arbitration decision. Who leaked that info about him testing positive, I have no idea. Normally, if the arbitrator rules in favour of the player, there is no reference to it. The whole thing is confidential. Nobody knows about it unless the player says something.’’

In the end, an arbitrator ruled that Braun’s tests were mishandled by a person with a courier company in between time the player was tested and the delivery to the Montreal lab. In 2013, Braun accepted a 65-game suspension for his role in the BioGenesis scandal.

With Colabello under suspension, it means he will be subjected to six mandatory, unannounced urine tests and three unannounced blood collections in the next 12 months following the violation, according to the drug program booklet.

If Colabello was found with another positive test, the suspension for a second violation is anywhere from 162 to 183 games. A third violation would result in a permanent ban that could be appealed.

What the suspension does, too, is that it will diminish his 2017 salary. Because of his inactivity for three months, his earnings will be compressed. He is scheduled to be a Super 2 arbitration-eligible player next season, meaning he would gain service time shy of the normal three years of eligibility usually required for arbitration.

Following his return from the rehab assignment and his activation from the restricted list, the Jays could designate him for assignment or option him to the minors since he has one minor-league option remaining.

If he’s optioned to the minors, he could fall short of Super 2 arbitration status and thus would not earn much more than $550,000 next season. 

While he’s under suspension, Colabello can work out with the Jays and participate in batting practice before the gates are open to the public but there is no word on what he has been doing since his suspension started.

Comment

Danny Gallagher

Danny was born in Ted Lindsay's hometown of Renfrew, Ont. but his roots are in nearby Douglas. He played 27 consecutive seasons of top-level amateur baseball in the senior ranks in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec and thrived on organizing events himself, the major one being the highly successful 1983 Canadian senior men's tournament in Sudbury. He began covering the Montreal Expos in 1988 when he joined the Montreal Daily News. Later, he was the Expos beat writer for the Ottawa Sun and Associated Press. He has written four baseball books, including Remembering the Montreal Expos, which he co-authored with Bill Young of Hudson, Que. Gallagher and Young are currently working on a book about the ill-fated 1994 Expos squad. Gallagher can be reached here: dannogallagher@rogers.com