The Trial of Gio Gonzalez

I didn’t want this to be the first post of the 2013 season, but I guess I don’t have much of a choice in the matter.

I’m going to come right out and say it: given the evidence available right now, I don’t think there is enough evidence to find that Gio Gonzalez possessed or used any banned performance-enhancing substances.

By now, you all know the story. A report in the Miami New Times seems to have uncovered a doping ring operating out of Miami. One of the players mentioned in connection with the doping ring is Nats left-hander and all-around nice guy Gio Gonzalez:

There’s also the curious case of Gio Gonzalez, the 27-year-old, Hialeah-native, left-handed hurler who won 21 games last year for the Washington Nationals. Gonzalez’s name appears five times in Bosch’s notebooks, including a specific note in the 2012 book reading, “Order 1.c.1 with Zinc/MIC/… and Aminorip. For Gio and charge $1,000.” (Aminorip is a muscle-building protein.)

Gio has denied any connection with the lab in question.

Today, the New Times released images of every time Gio’s name appears in connection with the lab in question. Also, we found out today that Anthony Bosch, who operated the lab, has also vehemently denied liability.

Those are, as I see them, all the relevant facts. Before we dive deeper, let’s pause here and consider what, precisely, we’re talking about.

The MLB drug testing and compliance regime grows out of a document called the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program [PDF]. The Joint Drug Program defines everything we need to know about what sorts of substances players are not allowed to use or possess (Section 2); and the means by which the League will impose discipline on them (Section 7).

By now, we’re all familiar with the punishment provision of the Plan: a first violation of the Plan’s “performance enhancing substance” provisions leads to an automatic 50-game suspension. (Section 7(A)(1)).

But go back and re-read the first paragraph of Section 7(A): the punishments apply to a player who “tests positive for a Performance Enhancing Substance, or otherwise violates the Program through use or possession of a Performance Enhancing Substance.” (emphasis added). The or is important: it means that punishments will apply even without a positive test–in what the jargon-lovers call “non-analytic positives.” So, the League need not show that analytical chemistry revealed the presence of a banned substance in Gio’s body: they only need to show that Gio either used or possessed a banned substance.

OK, still with me? Based on the New Timespublished images of the Bosch notebooks, this is what we think we know:

  • Gio’s name (and what some figure to be his stat line 3 games into last season) appear on the same page as a recipe for something called “Pink Cream,” that, in turns, seems to contain “Test.[osterone?], 3%” among its ingredients.
  • Another entry, the fifth in the series, contains the cocktail described in the original report: “1.c.1 with Zinc/MIC/… and Aminorip.” MIC seems to refer to a supplement injection thought (without much support) to promote weight loss. [I am aware of the irony here: I am linking to LiveStrong in a story about doping.] “Aminorip” is a proprietary amino-acid supplement. Neither contain any ingredients that are on the list of prohibited performance enhancers–nor, to my knowledge, are any of them “anabolic androgenic steroids and agents (including hormones) with antiestrogenic activity that may not be lawfully obtained or used in the United States,” that would violate Section 2(B) of the Joint Drug Agreement.
  • The most troubling entry, to my mind, is actually the fourth entry, which seems to read thus: “MAX/GIO GNZLZ/CREAMS [illegible] AMINORIP & [illegible]“. That doesn’t look good. It links either Gio or his father, Max, with “creams,” and we already suspect that the lab has been dealing in testosterone cream (which, it bears repeating is a banned substance).

But that’s all we know. Remember, to violate the Joint Drug Agreement (and thus be subject to the fifty-game suspension), the league must prove that Gio Gonzalez possessed or used a performance-enhancing substance. What we have here, so far, is evidence that the lab here prepared a “cream” (contents unknown!) for either Gio or his father, Max. There is no evidence–yet– that Gio had it on his person, in his house, in his car, in his bag, in a box with a fox, anywhere. In short, although this is worrying news, we don’t have any evidence yet that Gio has violated the Joint Drug Agreement at all.

The evidence itself is subject to question. We only “know” what we know because we assume that the materials in the New Times report are genuine: that is, that they really are what the New Times’ sources say they are. Although for now these seem to be what they say they are, Bosch, who is alleged to be their author, has himself denied them. That’s going to be subject to proof.

I’ll close with this: I can’t really pretend to be impartial. I’m a huge Nats fan, and a huge Gio Gonzalez fan. I love Gio. But this news has saddened me a bit, because it has brought him under suspicion. And, even though I don’t think there’s enough evidence for the League to punish Gio for doping, there will be a cloud over Gio’s name for as long as anyone can see his name next to an order for “CREAMS.” The slimy feeling from that association will take a very long time to disappear–if it ever does.