Sacramento’s baseball legends are very vocal about the suspensions of a dozen players by Major League Baseball. The 50-game ban includes Nelson Cruz, an outfielder for the Texas Rangers, Jhonny Peralta an infielder with the Detroit Tigers, Everth Cabrera, a shortstop for the San Diego Padres and others for their role in using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). The 211-game suspension against Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez is under appeal.
“I think children are getting the message. I think parents and coaches are getting the message that it is not acceptable,” said Leon Lee, a current baseball instructor with the California International Baseball Group and former star in the minor leagues and Japanese baseball. Lee is also the father of Derrek Lee, an All-Star in 2005 and 2007 with the Chicago Cubs.
I met Leon in Folsom, where he was throwing batting practice to 19-year old prospect, Charlie Hammond.
“Now baseball’s starting to send a message,” Lee told me. “You have to do it on your own merit. I like that.”
I asked Lee about the use of performance enhancing drugs during his era, the 1970′s. “During the time I played, the amphetamines were an issue,” he said. “You know we called them greenies. You stay out until 3 o’clock in the morning, 4 o’clock in the morning, you come dragging in there and the guys say, ‘hey man just pop one of these and you’re ok’. And guys were always looking for that advantage. And hopefully kids coming up now will realize — don’t put that in your body. You don’t need that.”
Lee’s student Charlie Hammond agreed. “I’ve always been of the opinion that you should never put any substances in your body,” he said. As for the big suspensions, Hammond told me, ” It definitely shows that the consequences do not outweigh the benefits.”
Lee added, ” I think the kids are saying this is not going to be cool to do this any more.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Jerry Manuel, a former Major League manager with the Chicago White Sox and the New York Mets. “The young players have to recognize that this sport, our sport, is trying to do everything it can to keep the playing field level,” Manuel told me at his baseball academy in Elverta, California.
Manuel now runs the Jerry Manuel Foundation with his son Anthony Manuel. JMF’s mission, as stated on its Web site, is “to educate African American young men with Charter School standards and train them in the fundamentals of baseball.”
Manuel noted that baseball’s punishments seemed to affect one group of players in particular. “I’m a little bit concerned with the disproportionate number of Latin players on that list,” he told me. “Are they getting the right messages from Major League Baseball? Are they understanding that? Are they getting clarity on that? Or are they getting it from their agent,” he wondered.
I asked Manuel if baseball’s recent crackdown on steroids was perhaps getting lost in translation. “I think so,” he said. “Because I know a couple of those guys. And when I was with the Mets, one of the young men barely spoke the language. And sometimes, coming from abject poverty, you’ve got a whole group of people who you are responsible for that you got off the island — and you’re trying to do everything you can to provide not only for yourself, but for family members.”
“Does Major League Baseball need to do a better job of communicating with these players,” I asked. “Absolutely,” he said. “We need to do a better job of when these players are represented by someone, then they understand clearly the laws of the land of Major League Baseball.”
The Jerry Manuel Foundation is a magnet program for kids interested in baseball. They take classes at Alpha Middle School in Elverta. “We’ll discuss this at length,” Manuel told me. “We’ll have a day where we’ll have a home room, an hour of discussion about this particular situation. This will be one of the subjects that we will definitely attack.”
Jerry’s son Anthony Manuel is the head coach at the Foundation, where he was giving batting lessons this week to 12-year old Jackson Haney.
“There’s no room for cheating,” Anthony told me. “That’s not going to be acceptable. Hard work and (a strong) work ethic can take you a long way.”
The culture of baseball now seems to be changing, with more players than ever demanding the sport be clean, with no tolerance for PEDs. “You’re cheating the fans,” Anthony said. “You’re cheating the family, you’re cheating the game. Because it’s not real results that you’re getting.”
It was a lesson quickly absorbed by Jackson Haney. “If you break the rules, you got to pay,” he said.