In what can be debated as an extraordinary feat of either stick-to-it-iveness or poor judgment — or perhaps both — a professional baseball player has failed a doping test for a third time, resulting in a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball. It is the first time baseball has handed down the most severe punishment under its antidoping program.
That player, Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia, now carries unrivaled ignominy. Baseball has had far more famous players involved in drug scandals — Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire among them — but none received a lifetime ban for three failed tests for performance-enhancing substances.
Mejia’s agent, Peter Greenberg, said Mejia had no comment on Friday after Major League Baseball announced the violation.
Mejia, 26, apparently had an old-fashioned approach to drug cheating. In each case, he was caught using anabolic steroids, substances that have long been easy to detect in a urine sample. Two of his positive tests involved boldenone, a steroid that has been used in horse racing.
Mejia’s case highlights how, despite baseball’s longstanding efforts to strengthen its drug program, players continue to see huge incentives in trying to gain an edge.
Mejia grew up poor in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, shining shoes for $8 a day as a child, according to The Star-Ledger. He made his major league debut with the Mets in 2010, and in the seasons that followed, he began to scratch out the beginning of what stood to be a lucrative career as a talented relief pitcher.
He made a little less than half a million dollars in 2013 and a little more than that the next season, then jumped to $2.6 million last year, only to forfeit much of it because of his first two doping violations.
This year, again, much of his $2.4 million salary was not going to be paid because of the continuation of the second suspension.
But now, he will not make any of that salary, and his chances of making perhaps $5 million, $6 million or even $7 million a year in the seasons ahead have been tossed aside as well.
Mejia can appeal for reinstatement after one year, but the minimum length of the ban is two years.
A 6-foot, 205-pound right-handed relief pitcher who, as a rookie in 2010, was giddily compared to Mariano Rivera, Mejia rebounded from injuries to become a capable closer for the Mets in the 2014 season.
He was injured again at the start of the 2015 season, and it was then that he was first suspended for drug use, drawing an 80-game ban for testing positive for stanozolol.
“I know the rules are the rules, and I will accept my punishment, but I can honestly say I have no idea how a banned substance ended up in my system,” Mejia said at the time in a statement issued through the players’ union.
But soon after he returned from that suspension, he was penalized again, for a full season of 162 games, for testing positive for stanozolol and boldenone, synthetic derivatives of the hormone testosterone.
“I think, not surprisingly, there’s a tremendous amount of disappointment,” the Mets’ general manager, Sandy Alderson, said then. “I think to some extent anger, to some extent amazement that this could happen so soon after a previous suspension was completed, and some sadness in the sense that this is having a tremendously adverse effect on a very promising major league career, and that’s a shame.”
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Still, the Mets gave Mejia a new contract for the 2016 season, hoping he could still provide depth in their bullpen late in the 2016 season and, presumably, in seasons to come, as he was not eligible to become a free agent until the winter of 2018.
But because of his third positive test, he is no longer part of the Mets’ future. Again, the substance was boldenone.
The Mets said in statement that they were “deeply disappointed” in Mejia and “fully support M.L.B.’s policy toward eliminating performance-enhancing substances from the sport.”
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ExPeter C 13 minutes ago
Poor return on investment here, Jenrry
Joe Sabin 39 minutes ago
This is good news for the Mets. They can move on now and replace him in the lineup and in the payroll. When he was hit up the second time it…
Socrates 1 hour ago
A new major league record for Met reliever Jenrry Mejia — put it in the books !And isn’t that what baseball is all about, after all ?!
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Baseball began issuing penalties for positive doping tests in the 2004 season. After the 2005 season, the drug program was stiffened, extending the suspensions for first, second and third violations to 50 games, 100 games and a permanent ban. The penalties were stiffened again before the 2014 season, to 80 games, 162 games and a permanent ban.
Another major leaguer, the infielder Neifi Perez, also tested positive three times under baseball’s regimen. But that was for a banned stimulant, not a steroid, and the transgressions, in 2007, culminated in an 80-game suspension.
Beyond the regular round of mandatory and random tests that every player is subject to, a player who tests positive for performance-enhancing drugs is subject to six unannounced urine collections and three unannounced blood collections in the subsequent 12 months — and again each year for the rest of his career, so long as the player remains on some team’s 40-man roster.
That put Mejia under increased scrutiny and helped lead to his downfall.
The Mets signed Mejia at 17, and he advanced quickly through the organization. He made the opening-day roster just three years later, at 20, making him the youngest Met to do so since Dwight Gooden. And the Mets quickly concluded that with his young, lively arm, he would best be used as a starter.
But five starts into the 2011 season, Mejia tore an elbow ligament pitching in a minor league game and needed Tommy John surgery. He did not pitch again in the majors until September 2012. His elbow problems lingered, both mentally and physically. His 2013 season ended prematurely when he had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.
As the Mets’ current rotation began to take shape in the last few years and emerged as one of the best in baseball, the team shifted Mejia back to the bullpen. It was a role he was initially hesitant to accept because he feared that working as a reliever — not knowing when or how often he would pitch — might lead to another elbow injury.
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Mejia reluctantly gave in, and in 2014, the Mets called on him to be their closer. He slowly came to embrace the role.
He even started to follow the lead of other closers and developed his own save dance — an emphatic gesture in which he would raise both hands above his head and bring them down, as if he were breaking a board over his knee.
He recorded 28 saves in 31 chances that season and had a 3.65 E.R.A. Even after he lost his role as closer, even after his first two suspensions, he still seemed to have a viable future with a now-formidable Mets club. But no longer.