Before Major League Baseball dropped the hammer on Marlon Byrd, he was crafting a nice late-career revival story in Cleveland. Tangible evidence came in the form of five home runs, 19 RBIs, a .452 slugging percentage and some timely hits for an Indians team that really needed offense.
Byrd put up those numbers for a base salary of $1 million, at a time when MLB seems to be doing its best to make the mid- to late-30s position player obsolete. Just ask Jonny Gomes, Alex Rios, David Murphy, Corey Hart and all the other veterans who have plenty of free time now to attend T-ball games, flip steaks on the grill or practice their putting strokes as they contemplate moving on to the next chapters of their lives.
Chances are this latest suspension marks the end of Byrd's career. He'll be 39 years old when his 162-game ban ends next summer, with two PED busts on his résumé, and it's hard to envision teams will be climbing all over themselves to throw him a lifeline.
Regardless of what happens to Byrd, one thing is virtually certain: There will be more drug-related suspensions to come.
Some simple math: Byrd became the 58th player to receive a suspension under MLB's joint drug testing program since January. Of that total, 48 have been caught under the minor league program and an additional 10 have been flagged under the major league program.
The list of busted big leaguers includes Byrd, Cincinnati's Juan Duran, the New York Mets' Jenrry Mejia, Cleveland's Abraham Almonte, Philadelphia's Daniel Stumpf, Toronto's Chris Colabello, Miami's Dee Gordon, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Josh Ravin, Kansas City's Raul Mondesi and free agent Taylor Teagarden. Mejia, as a three-time offender, received a permanent ban, while the other nine players were popped for a total of 772 games.
Feel free to draw any conclusion you wish. Maybe all these names are a product of a more exacting testing regimen, and baseball should be applauded for a system that's tough enough to root out offenders that other professional sports might let slide.
Perhaps it says something about the inherent desire of athletes to compete, try to survive a grueling season or recover more quickly from injury. Maybe some guys just cheated and were unlucky or not smart enough to avoid getting caught.
One thing you won't get from the above list is a definitive "type'' of steroid offender. Stumpf was a Rule 5 pick trying to stick with the Phillies. Colabello is the consummate striver and a guy who made the folks back home in Massachusetts proud by overcoming tremendous odds to reach the majors. Gordon is a Gold Glove winner and batting champion with a major league pedigree. Mondesi is a budding prospect with a major league pedigree. And Teagarden was unfortunate enough to show up in an Al Jazeera documentary that was supposed to be a major blot on Peyton Manning's career.
Most of the players who got caught released statements that followed a similar script. Some were contrite, others seemed confused, and most issued some sort of apology to teammates, fans and their employers. Byrd, for his part, said his positive test for the peptide Ipamorelin was most likely attributable to a tainted supplement. He declined to appeal his 162-game suspension because, he said, "I alone am responsible for what I put in my body.''
Through 15 years with 10 major league teams, Byrd has earned a reputation as difficult at times -- and a bit of a clubhouse lawyer. But I've always found him to be friendly and engaging. When the Indians were in Philadelphia two weeks ago, I talked to him at length about his killer workout regimen -- which includes kettle bells, Bulgarian bags and Muay Thai kicking boxing. Regardless of how much help he was receiving from his medicine cabinet, Byrd clearly put in a lot of sweat and time.
If this is the end, Byrd will go out with 159 career home runs, a .275 batting average, one All-Star Game appearance and a mere 22 postseason at-bats with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013. While he's serving his ban, MLB and the Players Association will continue to grapple with some heavy PED-related issues in collective bargaining. And in a mind-numbing scenario that has become exhausting and exasperating, we can only guess which baseball player will be next.