Starling Marte returns to baseball tonight, but he still has a long road to go to regain the trust and respect of his teammates. Here’s how he can start.
Today’s the day. Since April 19, the countdown to when embattled Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte could return from an 80-game suspension for use of Performance Enhancing Drugs was on. And now the wait is over. Marte presumably returns to the field tonight, ending what the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Rob Biertempfel most appropriately referred to yesterday as the Pirates’ “left field roulette.”
Marte was at PNC Park yesterday working out, which was allowed by his suspension. He was not allowed to be in uniform, in the dugout or in the bullpen, according to Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Marte gave a press conference while there, where he reiterated his absolute bufuddlement at getting popped for testing positive for the substance Nandrolone – an injected anabolic steroid that was reportedly a favorite of Roger Clemens. He also said, according to MLB Correspondent Alan Saunders writing for the Beaver County Times online, that his teammates have been supportive “despite some of them initially being upset with him.”
Supportive is one thing, accepting is another. So, what can Starling Marte do to win back the respect of his Pittsburgh Pirates teammates?
Let’s face it, being a professional baseball player requires a certain amount of swagger. But the absolute worst thing that Marte can do is walk into that clubhouse with an ounce of attitude. He needs to treat today, the rest of this season, the rest of his career as a gift from God. Because that’s what it is – and a hefty dose of good negotiating on the part of MLB and the MLBPA for setting PED-suspensions where they are and not for life. Having been forced to spend time away from the game for a personal foible, Marte needs to show his teammates (and Pirates fans) that he truly understands what it would be like to never be able to do this thing he loves again. And he needs to show he’s learned from it. (This also applies to Jung Ho Kang if he ever gets the chance to don a Buccos uniform again).
Okay, someone has to say this. All of this, “I have never injected myself with steroids” and “I don’t know how it ended up in my system” crap needs to stop. These are your teammates, Bruv. They’ve seen you getting pre- and post-game IVs for hydration. As professional athletes, most of them have spent time in a hospital and know that medicine is often injected into an IV while it’s simultaneously running a saline drip. Don’t insult their intelligence.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Supportive is one thing, accepting is another.[/perfectpullquote]
If he really and truly doesn’t want to go beyond that storyline, he needs to practice saying this: “I made a terrible mistake. It put my team, teammates and fans in a terrible position. For that I am sorry. It is a part of my past that I must accept, and I have. Now, I’m focused on the future and how I can help my team as they push toward a winning season and taking first place in our division.” And he needs to say it a lot. Like, every time he’s asked about steroid use.
Honor Your Teammates
Speaking of climbing out of the cellar and conquering the Milwaukee Brewers, Starling Marte needs to acknowledge the work of his teammates in his absence. Most of the questions Marte has fielded have been about the difficult first half of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ season. He’s been asked if it was hard to watch as the team struggled, how he’ll help them get on the right track, etc. That’s all part of the Pittsburgh media’s hate/hate relationship with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Let’s face it, being a professional baseball player requires a certain amount of swagger. But the absolute worst thing that Marte can do is walk into that clubhouse with an ounce of attitude.[/perfectpullquote]
The truth is, it could have been a lot worse. The Pirates could be a lot further than six games back and three games under .500. They aren’t and that says a lot about the guys in that clubhouse. The other men on the Pittsburgh Pirates have stepped up in ways we fans will never know. They’ve likely been viewed with an added veil of suspicion of PED use themselves because of the ‘ol idea of guilt by association. They’ve had to present a united front of support for their teammate, no matter what their personal feelings on the subject are. They’ve likely played injured and sick or both. In the case of John Jaso, a career catcher turned in-fielder, they’ve been unfairly maligned by media and fans alike for sub-par outfield skills.
If he hasn’t already, Marte needs to acknowledge that effort and say a big ‘ol THANK YOU to the men who had his back.
Use History as a Guide
Starling Marte has the best example of how to recover from a steroid scandal a few lockers away from him in the clubhouse. Francisco Cervelli served a 50-game suspension in 2013 for his part in the Alex Rodriguez/Biogenesis scandal. From media reports about the situation, Cervelli made a tearful admission of his wrongdoing to his coaches and teammates, and then bared all in an interview with New York Newsday in this October 8, 2013 article. He then REVISITED the issue in this Players’ Tribune article he wrote after signing a three-year contract extension with the Pirates in May 2016. (And is now being forced to relive it again, thanks to a teammate who got busted for using PEDs.)
Cervelli is the poster-child of how to make a comeback. He is loved, beloved and worshiped by Pittsburgh Pirates fans. And it seems that his teammates enjoy him as well. He exudes a passion for the game, his teammates and the fans – and even when struggling with injury or illness, seems to have boundless amounts of energy. He offered his support to Marte from the beginning, Marte told Rob King that in his interview on July 2 (read my summary of the interview here), and has kept in touch with him throughout the suspension. If Starling hasn’t pulled up a chair next to Cervy’s locker and asked for advice yet, he best be getting on that.
At the end of last season, Starling Marte exhibited some signs of being done a few games before the actual season ended. It was well-known that Marte was struggling with a back issue at that time. He was moved to the DL with one game remaining in the regular season in what some people felt was a less a step to getting him healthy and more a punishment by Pirates management for lackadaisical play as September waned.
Starling Marte needs to hit the grass at PNC Park as if his butt is on fire and keep that pace up for the rest of the season. Aside from shaking off the reputation for executing the occasional lazy play, he has a fresh body. And if there’s anything positive the Pirates can take from his 80-game suspension, it’s that. His teammates have taken 92-games worth of beatings. He has not. He needs to show it.
What is outlined above, and all of the other “tips” offered up to Starling Marte, is obviously not going to happen overnight. Just like recovering from a physical injury, recovering from a damaged reputation takes time, and work. So does rebuilding the trust and respect of those who know you best. Let’s hope Starling Marte is up to the task.
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