When the word came that Mets’ pitcher Jenrry Mejia had received a lifetime ban from major league baseball for failing his third test for performance-enhancing drugs, a couple of possible headlines came to mind. I could have gone with “You’re Once, Twice, 3 Times a Failure,” but my mind went back to the old song we sang on long car trips about Dear Liza and Dear Henry. Readers of a certain age will recall singing that song or hearing it on Sesame Street when that show was a brand new TV phenomenon. The fact is essentially a sad one-a man of 26 with pitching talent won’t be allowed to use it because of repeatedly making the same bad decision, to use performance enhancing drugs. Mejia’s name joins those of the permanently banned-Shoeless Joe Jackson and his 7 henchmen, Prince Hal Chase and Pete Rose, all banned for gambling. He is the first to face a lifetime ban for trying to gain an unfair advantage through chemistry. This ban does have some fine print. He can apply for reinstatement after one year, but must sit out two full seasons. So, assuming he is reinstated he can’t pitch with intent until 2018 at the earliest.
When Mejia joined the Mets in 2010, he was the youngest man to make their opening day roster since Dwight Gooden, another great pitcher who sacrificed his career on the altar of drugs, though these were recreational. Mejia lost more than two seasons with Tommy John Surgery, from April 2011 to July 2013. He was converted from starter to closer in May 2014. He completed an 80-game suspension, then received a 162-game suspension less than a week later, leading to where we stand now. Mets fans know what another arm in the bull pen would have meant during the 2015 run to the national league championship. They might not have needed to spend 12 million dollars on lefty Antonio Bastardo, a move they made when they found out the facts about Mejia that went public last night. Fans have the luxury his former employer does not have, the luxury to wonder why and what might have been. The team must move on to spring training and forget their rogue closer.
Nathan Eovaldi is 26 today. He hails from Alvin, Texas as did hall of famer Nolan Ryan. The Dodgers drafted him in round 11 in 2008. Had they not done, he planned to go to Texas A&M. He got his first taste of the majors in August, 2011 with the Dodgers. He was traded to the Marlins in 2012, then to the Yankees in December 2014. His first Yankee start was in a memorable game. I was in a New Jersey hospital with a roommate who fortunately also enjoyed baseball. The game went 19 innings with the Yankees losing 6-5. It ended around 2:30 A.M. Our nurses were kind enough not to make either of us turn our TV sets off. For the season his record was 14-3 with a 4.20 ERA, by far the best record he has compiled to date.
Donnie Moore was born on this day in 1954 and died by his own hand on July 18, 1989. His is one of the tragic stories in what is supposed to be a joyous game. He had pitched in the bigs as early as 1975 with the Cubs who made him a first-round draft choice. He was with the 1982 Braves who made the NLCS. He was an All-Star in 1985. But the moment fans remember is the moment that put him in the ranks of Ralph Branca and Bill Buckner. Just say the name and the play comes to mind. In game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, with the Angels leading the Red Sox 5-4 and leading in games 3 games to 1, needing just a strike to put Anaheim in the World Series he gave up a two-run home run to Dave Henderson. Though the Angels tied the game in the 9th, Boston won the game in 11 innings, then won games 6 and 7 to reach the World Series. For the next two seasons Angels fans booed every time Moore took the hill. After the Angels released him he never played in the majors again. On July 18, following an argument in which he shot and wounded his wife, Moore turned the gun on himself. While he’s not baseball’s only suicide he’s easily the best known player to end his life.
Sal Bando is 72 today. He’s best known as the third baseman for the Oakland A’s who won the World Series 3 times in a row, 1972-74. He played with the A’s when they were still in Kansas City as early as September 1966. They had drafted him in round 6 of the first major league draft in 1965 following his college career at Arizona State. With Oakland he was an All-Star 4 times. He went to the Brewers in 1977. He played until 1981, and was their general manager between 1991 and 1999. If he’s remembered for anything in that post, it is the fact that Paul Molitor went to the Bluejays via free agency when Bando could have made him an offer. That happened at the end of 1992. The next season Molitor was MVP of the World Series as the Bluejays took the Phillies in 6 games.
Prince Hal Chase gets his second mention in this column. He was born this day in 1883 and died in 1947. While he once won a batting championship and was considered a fielding first baseman second to none by his peers, Harold Homer “Prince Hal” Chase was banned after the Black Sox scandal of 1919 for a history of gambling on the game going back to 1910. Late in life he admitted to it and expressed considerable remorse for his gambling.0