MESA, Ariz. – In Theo Epstein’s mind, this was already case closed years ago.
Then Curt Schilling went on a media blitz last week, first telling an ESPN radio show that “former members” of the Boston Red Sox organization approached him about using performance-enhancing drugs as a “potential path” to rejuvenating his career in 2008.
Schilling then posted on his Twitter account, ruling out ex-teammates and the baseball operations department. The ESPN analyst also cleared Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer during interviews with Boston outlets and sketched out more details of the investigation.
Epstein didn’t appear eager to dredge up the past after Sunday’s welcome-to-camp news conference at Fitch Park. But in his first public response to Schilling’s story, the Cubs president of baseball operations confirmed the general outline reported by the Boston media and the commissioner’s office.
“It was the only time in my career where a player mentioned performance-enhancing drugs to me,” Epstein said. “I immediately reported it to Major League Baseball. The club did its own investigation. Major League Baseball did a very thorough investigation, including its department of investigations and including the players association.
“They had a lot of conviction about their conclusion. There was no wrongdoing and therefore no discipline on the individual in question.”
Epstein declined to name the Red Sox employee – ESPN Boston identified Mike Reinold, a medical staffer who was not retained after the 2012 season.
“Because of the investigation,” Epstein said, “the individual in question probably has been as thoroughly vetted as anyone in a big-league clubhouse and came out extremely clean. This incident should not be seen as an attack on his integrity whatsoever.”
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It was here in Arizona where Epstein and Hoyer appealed to Schilling’s ego during Thanksgiving 2003 and helped convince the big-game pitcher to accept a trade to Boston.
The Red Sox went on to reverse the curse and win two World Series titles before Schilling broke down in 2008.
Manny Ramirez – who would be suspended twice for failed drug tests – was a driving force during those championship years. So was David Ortiz, whose name was mentioned along with Ramirez in a 2009 New York Times report that identified some of the 100-plus players who tested positive for PEDs during the anonymous survey in 2003.
But everyone from The Steroid Era is under suspicion. It certainly wasn’t isolated to one team. The Cubs had made Sammy Sosa – another name on that list – their star attraction. And it would be foolish to guess who was clean and who wasn’t, even though that seems to have become an essential part of Hall of Fame voting.
This is the story that won’t go away. The Biogenesis investigation may destroy whatever chance Alex Rodriguez had to rewrite his legacy. The Miami clinic already implicated Gio Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz and linked Melky Cabrera and Ryan Braun to another doping scandal.
Last month – the day after the Baseball Writers’ Association of America didn’t elect anyone to the Hall of Fame – MLB and the union announced changes to its drug-testing program.
There will be unannounced, random blood testing for human growth hormone during the regular season and a “longitudinal profile program” for each player to track testosterone levels and other data points and detect the use of banned substances.
“It’s a big step and I applaud them for it,” Epstein said. “The entire industry has to be very vigilant. We’ve taken some blows this offseason and the only way to continue to earn the respect and faith of our fans back is to stay on top of it.”