Salas case reflects trend for Hispanics

By By Eduardo A. Encina, Times Staff Writer
Published May 9, 2007

BALTIMORE - Rays closer Al Reyes was more surprised than most to hear the news Monday that teammate Juan Salas was slapped with a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

The 36-year-old veteran had just told Salas, whose locker is next to his and who sits next to him regularly in the bullpen, the keys to pitching: being aggressive, throwing strikes and letting the hitters put the ball in play, and that you don't need to throw 95 MPH to be successful in the big leagues.

"I was shocked when I heard, " Reyes said. "He was throwing the ball good."

Salas, a native of the Dominican Republic, became the first major-leaguer this season - but the latest of many Hispanic players - to receive a suspension for failing a drug test. An ESPN.com report before the season said 169 of 289 pro players (58.5 percent) who have tested positive for drugs since results became available in 2005 were from the Dominican Republic. That includes minor-leaguers and those playing in Dominican and Venezuelan offseason leagues.

"I don't know what it is, " said the Dominican-born Reyes. "It makes us look bad that it seems a lot of the guys who are using it are Latin guys. But they are going to learn from that. Fifty games is a big part of the season. It's a bad mistake. You break the rule, you have to pay for the mistake."

"As a whole, maybe there's some misinformation and also some deliberate decisions, " said Rays first baseman Carlos Pena, who was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to Massachusetts when he was 14. "When something like this goes down it's a blow."

Since Major League Baseball cracked down on performance-enhancing drugs in 2005, the commissioner's office as well as the federal government have focused on educating players at all levels.

"I guess you would kind of think it wouldn't be an issue anymore, " Rays infielder Ty Wigginton said.