How about Edinson Volquez? Fans loved him in 2014 when he was the Pirates’ most consistent starting pitcher. He was good enough to get the ball for the National League wild-card game against San Francisco.
And Marlon Byrd? His time with the Pirates was brief, but it certainly was impactful. His big hits down the stretch helped the franchise end 20 years of losing. I still can hear the PNC Park fans roar when he hit a home run off Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto in the 2013 NL wild-card game, prompting a “Cue-to!” chant that perhaps led to Cueto dropping the ball on the mound right before giving up another home run to Russell Martin.
As long as Marte plays well and helps the Pirates win, of course.
In the short term, Marte’s suspension is devastating for the team. Even before it, the Pirates were a long shot to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons because of their difficulty in scoring runs without their best power threat, Jung Ho Kang, who is stuck in South Korea in a DUI mess. Now, they have lost their best overall hitter and best defensive player, a two-time Gold Glove winner. “Probably, truly the only five-tool player I’ve ever played with,” Gerrit Cole gushed after Marte beat the Atlanta Braves with a two-run home run in the 10th inning April 9. “He can just do so many special things.”
Marte knows what his suspension does to the Pirates. That’s why he reportedly cried when he faced his teammates Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis after the suspension was announced. I’m not sure how he looked any of them in the eye after letting the club down in such a bad way. Most people would be too embarrassed to do it.
It’s nice to think Marte didn’t try to fool the players — many of whom have no use for cheaters and want them out of baseball — with the same explanation he used to try to fool the public. “Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake,” he said in a statement. “I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much.”
Marte is a world-class athlete. Do you believe he took injections without knowing what he was injecting? I always asked the same question about Barry Bonds. Does anyone out there really believe he didn’t know what was in “the cream and the clear” that he was using?
Marte tested positive for the anabolic steroid Nandrolone early in spring training, according to USA Today, and went through baseball’s appeal process before his suspension was announced. It’s hard to say when and why he turned to the drug. Maybe he was embarrassed about hitting nine home runs last season. You know, a vanity thing, a Bonds thing, if you will. Or maybe he believed he would have to hit more homers to cover for the 21 that Kang hit in just 318 at-bats last season. Or maybe he just wanted to feel stronger for a longer time and heal faster. He played in only three of the final 27 games last season because of a back injury.
Whatever the reason, Marte gambled and lost in a big way.
I’ve read and heard speculation that the Pirates won’t get fair value now from Marte’s six-year, $31 million contract through 2019 and the two options the club has on him in 2020-21. I don’t believe that for one second.
Players often come back and thrive after a drug suspension. It’s not just Cervelli, Byrd and Volquez, who went on to become a World Series star with the Kansas City Royals. Nelson Cruz has averaged 42 home runs a season for the Seattle Mariners since his 50-game suspension in 2013. He was nabbed in the same Biogenesis scandal as Cervelli and Antonio Bastardo, not to mention Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun. Bartolo Colon still is effective at 43 with the Atlanta Braves and is one of the game’s most lovable characters with fans because he’s grossly overweight. He was suspended for 50 games in 2012. Dee Gordon is showing no signs of slowing down with the Miami Marlins after his 80-game suspension last season. He is a former All-Star, won a National League batting title and is a Gold Glove winner.
I’ve also read and heard speculation that Pirates fans will turn on Marte. I don’t believe that, either.
His situation is different than Cervelli’s, Volquez’s and Byrd’s because they weren’t playing for the Pirates at the time of their suspension. No one seemed to care much about what happened to them with other teams. But even with a player in Marte’s situation, the hometown fans will be quick to forgive and forget and give him another chance. Gordon is a good example of that in Miami. Cheater or not, the fans will embrace a player as long as he’s getting big hits, making great plays and helping their team win.
Marte made the National League All-Star team last season and will make more before his Pirates career is finished. He will get many more standing ovations at PNC Park.
Ron Cook: email@example.com and Twitter @RonCookPG. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.