Crushing blow to Bucs, baseball as steroid cloud descends on Starling Marte

The Pirates lose a dynamic All-Star in his prime. Now their lineup -- and their outfielder's reputation -- is in tatters. And it's even worse for MLB, as the PED discussion returns to the sport. Justin Berl/Getty Images

Major League Baseball's reaction to Starling Marte's 80-game suspension Tuesday -- and the cloud that has now descended on the sport just two weeks into the season -- came in the form of a 51-word news release announcing the specifics. But it doesn't take a great deal of imagination to envision what an accompanying statement from commissioner Rob Manfred might look like.

Manfred would most likely herald Marte's suspension as another sign that baseball is ever vigilant in its efforts to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs. Anyone who thinks stars are immune in baseball's quest to root out the problem is mistaken.

But that's small consolation in the big picture. The Marte news is terrible for the Pittsburgh Pirates, worse for Marte and ultimately another setback for a game that's always one failed test away from trying to extricate itself from PED quicksand.

It has been almost a year since Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, the 2015 National League batting champion, received an 80-game suspension for steroid use. On the star-power scale, Marte is in a similar realm. He's a dynamic, 28-year-old outfielder with two Gold Gloves and an All-Star Game on his resume, and he stood to ascend to a face-of-the-franchise stature if the Pirates had followed through on their plans to trade Andrew McCutchen over the winter.

Gordon's punishment came out of nowhere, because he was a small, slight speedster who didn't fit the profile of the classic PED abuser. After testing positive for exogenous testosterone and clostebol last April, he apologized profusely and insisted he didn't knowingly ingest a banned substance.

Marte's PED of choice, Nandrolone, was a staple during the good old, wild west days of performance enhancement. Indeed, a quick Google search reveals a 2005 New York Times story that said 73 MLB players tested positive for Nandrolone in 2003. That was back in the days when Barry Bonds' evolving cap size was a regular topic for discussion. So naturally, people with long memories are going to be skeptical.

"Marte's positive test should be a wake-up call as to how many players are still doing PEDs," a player agent said in response to Tuesday's announcement. "Do you think a guy in the middle of a $31 million [guaranteed contract] tries steroids for the first time? And Nandrolone to boot? You don't accidentally take that stuff."

Marte's statement of apology through the MLB Players Association seemed to indicate he was also an unwitting abuser. After apologizing to his family, the Pirates, his teammates, the fans and baseball in general, he expressed remorse over the extended sabbatical that awaits him.

"Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price to pay of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much," Marte said. "With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much."

The news is an emotional jolt to Pittsburgh fans who hoped the team could return from a one-year absence and give the Chicago Cubs a run in the National League Central, and a downer for a game that's always looking for ways to promote dynamic young players. Fans can have short memories, but when Marte returns to the field in July, it will be with the sobering knowledge that he can never fully reclaim his reputation.