Francisco Cervelli has explained why he claims he took PEDs: to recover more quickly from a broken foot in 2011 so he could get back on the field. Sorry, Francisco, I admire your grit and your remorse, but I’m not buying your excuse.
Major-league players have access to team doctors when they injure themselves. These doctors have just as great an interest as the player in getting the player back on the field. If a player doesn’t like the advice or treatment he gets from the team doctor, the CBA allows him to get a second opinion. If a medication might help a player recover more quickly, the team physician or the player’s own doctor will prescribe it because it’s in their interest to do so.
The Joint Drug Agreement does not prevent players from using medications, even ones on the prohibited-substances list. The Agreement has a detailed explanation of how a player can get a therapeutic-use exemption that allows him to take a prohibited substance for a legitimate medical reason without violating the Agreement.
The catch is that the player must have: (1) a "valid, medically appropriate prescription" from a licensed physician for the prohibited substance; and (2) a "documented medical need" for the substance under "the standards accepted in the United States and Canada for the prescription…" He must follow the Agreement’s application process to get approval and, if his application is denied, he can appeal the denial.
Why wouldn’t Cervelli follow the Agreement if he simply wanted help healing his broken foot? A reasonable answer is that there is more going on here: he wanted chemical help to jump-start his career. Why else would a player with access to first-rate sports-medicine care patronize a seedy store-front anti-aging clinic? Why else would a player bypass the entire medical profession to obtain medication?
There’s really no good reason to accept Cervelli’s explanation at face value because he has lied about Biogenesis in the past. Earlier this year, he told CBS Sports, "I checked with doctors, people, and somebody recommended me to Biogenesis. I went there for, maybe, suggestions, and that's it. I walked away with nothing. No [therapy]. I just went there, talked, and that's it."
It’s fair to believe that Cervelli went to Biogenesis for more than help with an injury. He was a fringe player fighting for a roster spot as a back-up catcher. Winning a roster spot and holding it could spell the difference between a comfortable life financially and working for a whole lot less in the minor leagues. It’s the difference between charter flights and bus rides, between first-class hotels and cheap motels, between living out his dream as a major-leaguer and carrying the tag of not good enough. His fears were well-founded. Last year, he lost the back-up catcher’s job to Chris Stewart and spent the season riding the buses in Triple A. Now, at the age of 27, he’s in danger of being released.
Whether we believe Cervelli probably doesn’t matter much. He accepted his punishment and served his suspension, so he should be able to carry on with his career as far as his talent carries him and as long as his health holds out. The irony is that what I suspect is the real reason for his PED use is more compelling and more understandable than his explanation. Most of us abandoned our major-league dreams in Little League or high school when we realized that we weren’t even good enough to dream. How much more frustrating must it be to be as close to his dream as Cervelli was and realize your talent may be just a bit short? Who among us would not be tempted to seek any kind of help to put us over the hump?
Is Cervelli’s situation different from Andy Pettitte’s? A bit. Pettitte was an established major-league star when he used PEDs. That makes it easier to accept his explanation that he used PEDs only to help him recover from an elbow injury.