So how are you going to react to seeing Starling Marte when he strolls onto the PNC Park lawn Tuesday night for the first time since he was busted for steroids? I have a suggestion: Boo Marte when he is introduced before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Boo him even more loudly when he is introduced before his first at-bat. Then, get over it.
No need to thank me.
Marte needs to know you are disgusted with him. He sabotaged the Pirates' season with his 80-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug. Who knows where the team would be if it had him all season? It probably wouldn't be 42-47, 7 games behind the Brewers in the National League Central Division. It might even be in first place in the lousy division.
Shame on Marte.
Boo your hearts out.
But after Marte's first at-bat? You need to remember he still plays for your team and isn't going away anytime soon. He has a six-year, $31 million contract through 2019 with club options for 2020 and 2021. The better he does, the better your team will do. A little support from you wouldn't hurt. I know, that's distasteful. But it's true. At the very least, if you want to see the Pirates win, you should give Marte a fair chance to turn the boos to cheers.
I have no idea how long Marte had been using steroids. He says it was a one-time thing, but I'm too cynical to believe that. It's a lot easier to speculate about why Marte turned to performance-enhancing drugs. Maybe he wanted to be able to work out longer to become stronger. Maybe he wanted to be able to recover from injuries faster after playing in just three of the final 27 games last season because of a back issue. Or maybe he just wanted to hit more home runs after finishing with only nine last season. He had to know a lot of people were counting on him to replace some of the power lost when Jung Ho Kang drove himself drunk right out of baseball.
Marte's reasons don't matter at this point. All that matters is he is back. All eyeballs – including those in his clubhouse – will be on him to see if he can again become the Pirates' best overall player. He's a two-time Gold Glove winner, was an All-Star last season and has enough speed that he stole 47 bases a year ago.
The prediction here is Marte will be that player, maybe even better. Too many others have returned from drug suspensions to be great to think that he can't do it. Seattle Mariners star Nelson Cruz heads that list. Perhaps you saw him Tuesday night at the All-Star Game posing for a picture with home plate umpire Joe West? Cruz has 17 home runs and 70 RBIs this season after averaging 42 home runs from 2014-16 after his suspension. There are other examples with Pirates ties. Marlon Byrd played a big part down the stretch in 2013 to help the team end 20 years of losing and make the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Edinson Volquez was good enough to get the ball for the wild-card game against San Francisco in 2014. Francisco Cervelli has played well enough here to get a three-year, $31 million contract extension through the 2019 season.
Marte has to have similar success to earn your cheers again.
I get that Marte's path back as a drug cheat is different and more difficult than the others. The suspensions of Byrd, Volquez and Cervelli happened with other teams. You don't care about the impact on those clubs. But Marte's suspension happened here. You lived it. You have seen what it has done to the Pirates. You are sickened by it. But all of that can be overcome. Dee Gordon is the proof. He won the 2015 National League batting championship with the Miami Marlins before being suspended last season. No one on South Beach seems to be holding that suspension against him. Of course, it helps that he's hitting well again this season with 32 stolen bases.
Marte has said and done all the right things since his suspension April 18. He immediately apologized to the Pirates and their fans in a statement. He was smart to apologize directly to his teammates before leaving the club in St. Louis and, reportedly, was in tears when he did. He would be wise to speak to those teammates again before the game Tuesday night. Most have no use for cheaters in baseball and are repulsed by the thought.
"I made a mistake, and I learned from it," Marte told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Stephen J. Nesbitt earlier this month. "I want to continue to show that I can play ...
"I don't know what the fans will do, what their expectations will be. I know I will try my best to contribute to the team."
That's all Marte can do at this point.
It's up to you to decide if you will eventually welcome him back.
I'm certain you will if he performs.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Ron Cook is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.