Agents of Misfortune? Probing Their PED Links, if Any
September 17, 2012 by Jeff Kallman • Print Story •
Just when you might have thought it safe to think baseball's war with actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances had turned toward a kind of quiet conquest, 2012 has reminded us that battles may be won, but the war isn't quite finished yet. From Melky Cabrera's synthetic testosterone and an associate's clumsy bid to shield it with a fake website to Bartolo Colon's synthetic testosterone.
And, to a point or two around the periphery, part of which seems to involve Cabrera's associate a little further and the infamous Mitchell Report a little deeper. Deeper as in a depth to which the report may not have gone, for all its flaws and fineries alike.
The report didn't quite go so far as to draw in information that might have linked a players' agent or two to the provision of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances. But a former player has, now. Two major newspapers at least, if not jumping all over it, are stepping gently but firmly onto the carpet. And the Major League Baseball Players' Association is just as interested as baseball government now in getting to, shall we say, the bottom of just which agents to which extent have abetted the aforesaid provisions, then or even now.
Baseball government was already trying to find Cabrera's source when Paul Lo Duca, the former Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets catcher, named in the Mitchell Report over his use and apparent advocacy of human growth hormone, came into their view once again, and Lo Duca may be cooperating with the new probe. It involves his former agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, at whom USA Today baseball writer Bob Nightengale says Lo Duca is pointing a firm and troubling finger.
"Three people with knowledge of the investigation" told Nightengale baseball government wants to know whether the Levinsons hooked Lo Duca up with Kirk Radomski, the former Mets' clubhouse attendant who turned out to be in the steroid distribution mess up to his earlobes. This has emerged in the process of the Cabrera investigation, which launched after the San Francisco Giants' outfielder was suspended fifty games over a failed test for synthetic testosterone last month.
"The people told USA Today Sports that Lo Duca alleges Seth and Sam Levinson, through their firm ACES Inc., introduced him to Radomski," Nightengale continues. "Lo Duca also alleges a checking account was opened for Lo Duca to pay Radomski for steroids, human growth hormone, amphetamines and sexual-enhancement drugs, according to the people." The paper also says it got hold of "a copy of one check, showing the names of Lo Duca and Samuel W. Levinson/CO ACES Inc. as joint account holders. The check, dated Aug. 7, 2004, shows the same address as the Levinsons' Brooklyn office."
The New York Times goes a half-step further. "[I]n recent weeks," write Michael D. Schmidt and Juliet Macur, "questions have arisen about why information that might have implicated two of the game's more prominent agents in providing their clients with drugs never made it into the report."
"The two people Mitchell based much of his report on — a convicted steroids dealer and a trainer — have confirmed that they told Mitchell in the course of his investigation that the agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, played a role in helping their clients procure steroids.
"It is unclear what, if anything, Mitchell and his team of lawyers did with the information about the Levinsons. But the Levinsons, who are brothers, are not named in the report. Several of the players they represented are."
The Levinsons are not talking yet, if at all, other than to suggest Lo Duca signed the aforesaid and possible other checks without the agents' knowing about it. The Mitchell Report included copies of cashed checks among its evidence about which players bought which actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, redacting information on those checks usually when it involved players' home addresses, the Times noted. Usually, but not exclusively. The report compilers redacted check information on those written by Lo Duca on an account the former catcher had joint with the Levinsons' agency, on which the checks themselves included the Levinsons' Brooklyn office address.
If you don't count a last call with the 2010 Colorado Rockies (he signed as a backup that January and was released four months later), Lo Duca retired after the 2008 season, following a modest 2007 in Washington and a cup of coffee with the Florida Marlins in late 2008. Rather an ignominious finish for a man once considered among the National League's catching elite.
When the Dodgers traded Lo Duca to the Marlins at the 2004 non-waiver trade deadline, with outfielder Juan Encarnacion and relief star Guillermo Mota, the deal stunned Los Angeles. The Dodgers themselves mourned the loss of one of the team leaders; Lo Duca, for his part, wept when talking to reporters before departing. The Marlins, for their part, flipped Lo Duca to the Mets for a pair of minor leaguers at 2005′s end, part of a Marlins' salary dump.
Little by little, details of Lo Duca's hGH involvement swelled, to the point where he might have been seen as the Dodgers' Johnny Appleseed when it came to the substance. The Mitchell Report noted three checks from Lo Duca to Radomski, with whom the catcher dealt by phone but never in person, and a trend of Lo Duca having introduced a number of Dodger teammates to Radomski — including closing star Eric Gagne (who has since admitted to and regretted using hGH in a battle against his frequent injuries), starting pitcher Kevin Brown (who'd later be murdered, as a Yankee, to open Game 7 of the Boston Red Sox's improbably impossible 2004 American League Championship Series conquest), and relief pitcher Matt Herges.
The report also cites a 2003 meeting among Dodger officials, apparently looking toward 2004, that bumped into whether some players were dipping into the AA/PED waters. "Steroids aren't being used anymore on [Lo Duca]. Big part of this. Might have some value to trade ... Florida might have interest … Got off the steroids … Took away a lot of hard line drives ... Can get comparable value back would consider trading ... If you do trade him, will get back on the stuff and try to show you he can have a good year. That's his makeup. Comes to play. Last year of contract, playing for '05." As in, 2005, the year in which baseball government banned hGH at last.
If the Dodgers unloaded Lo Duca (he and his two fellow travelers were traded for Hee Seop Choi, Brad Penny, and a minor leaguer) and Mota (who has just returned from a second suspension involving clenbuterol, a decongestant believed able to increase aerobic capacity) in a bid to rid their clubhouse of their number one steroid purveyor, it wasn't much discussed in those terms when the deal was made. The Dodgers believed Brad Penny to be the key to the deal since they needed rotation help at the time.
Nobody until now has suggested much in the way of anything in terms of whether any player's agent had any hand in a client's involvement with the substances.
But would it prove a real shock to learn if any agents did? Shuddering over Scott Boras's hardball contract negotiating is about as rare as a sacrifice fly. But Boras has a parallel reputation for fierce protection of his clients, all the way to their physical health. He was and remains on board absolutely with the Washington Nationals' Strasburg Plan; he probably based it on his earlier experience representing one-time Atlanta Braves pitching star Steve Avery, whose career was compromised, then ruined by an armpit muscle injury. Discovering any agent helping his client attain actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances without a legitimate medical prescription, even if the basic idea is swifter injury recovery, is something else entirely.
The suspicions could cause headaches for the Levinsons, above and beyond Lo Duca's finger pointing. Among the players they now represent is another Met star, third baseman David Wright; Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia; ex-Red Sox and current Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon; former Phillies and current Dodger outfielder Shane Victorino; and, Cincinnati Reds third baseman Scott Rolen.
None of those players has ever been suspected of any involvement in actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances. They should not be suspected now, without a crazy little thing called evidence. But Juan Nunez, the Cabrera associate who posted the phony Website on which Cabrera planned to lean in a grievance he dropped when the Nunez scheme was exposed, is a Levinsons' consultant who's since been barred from major league clubhouses. And if Lo Duca proves right about their steerage to Radomski, it may bring suspicion against any Levinson client or associate. Not to mention a swift exodus from their counsel.
The Mitchell Report emerged just days after Lo Duca, then a free agent, signed a one-season deal with the Nationals. When spring training 2008 opened, Lo Duca issued a statement: "In regards to the Mitchell Report," it said, "I apologize to my family, all my fans and the entire baseball community for mistakes in judgment I made." Pressed for a bit more at the time by the Los Angeles Times, he said he respected former Sen. George Mitchell's work and that the probers were "cleaning up the game. I'm 100% in favor of the report. It's not a lie. I'm not saying that to say that. I am. But I just never spoke to him."
He's speaking now, apparently, about his former agents. The Levinsons deny Lo Duca's implications admantly. "The allegations against us have no merit and are utterly baseless," said Seth Levinson in a statement. "We've spent 27 years representing players with heart and integrity, and baseless accusations are certainly never going to stop us." And Wright, who could be looking at a contract extension worth nine figures with the Mets, has defended the Levinsons to CBS Sports. "I had a long conversation with them about it," he told CBS's Jon Heyman. "Of course you want to be informed. I have all the faith and trust in the world in these guys. I've seen firsthand the integrity they have for the game."
Heaven help the Levinsons and their current clients if Lo Duca proves right, they prove wrong, and the Mitchell Report proves negligent in bypassing any role played by any sports agent in the mess. Letting juicy stories get in the way of facts isn't likely to fall out of style any time soon. Neither is guilt by association.