View Full Version : Juan Gonzalez in Steroid Probe

07-30-2006, 09:46 AM
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Great piece of investigative reporting in today's New York Daily News by TJ Quinn, Michael O'Keeffe and Christian Red. These guys consistently (along with the San Francisco Chronicle writers) do some of the best investigative sports journalism in our world today.

This is a potential blockbuster- It mentions Juan Gonzalez (a teammate of Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco in Texas) and his trainer Angel Presinal who worked with some of the biggest latin players- Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Miguel Tejada, Adrian Beltre, Moises Alou, Jose Guillen, Ervin Santana, Ruben Sierra, Francisco Cordero, Jose Mesa and Juan Guzman, among others. The reason I bring up Texas is, you may recall Jose Canseco in his book says Texas has many users on their team suggesting that Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez were among them.
Here's the story...

Bag men
Sunday, July 30th, 2006

Three weeks after 9/11, with airline security tightened like a tourniquet, Canadian Border Service agents at Pearson International Airport in Toronto noticed that a gym bag coming off a Cleveland Indians charter flight had no label on it, nothing to identify the owner.
That was an instant red flag, and when agents unzipped the bag they found five ampules of anabolic steroids, pills of the anabolic drug clenbuterol, along with hypodermic needles. Agents notified Toronto police and Cleveland personnel, and they allowed the bag to proceed to the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel, where the club was staying, to see who claimed it.

According to a Canadian Border Service Agency seizure report, the man who picked up the bag was Angel (Nao) Presinal, then 48, a fitness trainer to the Dominican Republic's national basketball and boxing teams and the World Baseball Classic team, who has worked with some of the biggest names ever to come to the major leagues from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico: Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Miguel Tejada, Adrian Beltre, Moises Alou, Jose Guillen, Ervin Santana, Ruben Sierra, Francisco Cordero, Jose Mesa and Juan Guzman, among others.

"He is very well-respected throughout the island," Dominican sports minister Felipe Payano told the Daily News from his office in Santo Domingo. "His reputation is spotless."

On this October 2001 night, however, Presinal was one of the satellites in two-time American League MVP Juan Gonzalez's entourage.

According to the seizure report, when agents stopped Presinal he said the bag and everything in it belonged to Gonzalez, then an outfielder for the Indians. Agents questioned both men for four hours before deciding they didn't have enough evidence to link the bag to either of them. Gonzalez and Presinal were allowed to go free, and the bag was confiscated.

Five years later, the former companions still have opposing takes on what happened that night, and they are still tossing the bag back and forth like a hot potato.

Presinal, reached on a cell phone in Anaheim, denies that the bag was his and says he rushed out of Toronto that night because he was worried about losing his travel visa.

"I talked with Juan and told him, 'You know I had nothing to do with this bag. You have to talk with the officials,'" Presinal tells the Daily News in Spanish. "Juan told me, 'Don't worry about that or your visa. Go back to Seattle (where Cleveland would play the Mariners in the playoffs five days later). Wait for me and I'll resolve everything.'"

Presinal got on a plane and was never seen around the Indians again.

Gonzalez, 36, declined to speak to a Daily News reporter in person at a recent Long Island Ducks game, where he is hitting .315 in the independent Atlantic League and attempting a major league comeback. His agent, Alan Nero, issued a statement on his behalf: "Toward the end of the 2001 season, while I was playing for the Cleveland Indians, an individual (Angel Presinal), who was traveling with me, was stopped at the border by Canadian authorities. A bag he was carrying was confiscated. To this day I am not aware of its contents. Upon finding out of the incident, I immediately contacted MLB Security. Shortly thereafter I terminated my association with Presinal."

Major League Baseball and Cleveland Indians officials, asked about the incident last week, confirmed the details of the CBSA report. MLB cited its own investigation, compiled by the MLB security office in the days after the bag was seized.

"The Canadians (said) they don't have enough information to proceed criminally, for reasons that still escape us," says Rob Manfred, MLB's senior vice president for business and labor.

Rumors persisted in baseball for years that there had been an incident in Canada, with some versions saying it was a Yankee who was caught, or that it happened in Montreal. Somehow an accurate account never leaked out.

But what followed that night underscores baseball's conversion from ignorance to action in the fight against doping, and how difficult it is even now for officials to keep players away from outsiders who could be a conduit to illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Five years later, while Barry Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, a convicted steroid trafficker, is fighting a subpoena to testify against Bonds, baseball admits it is still prohibitively difficult to keep track of 750 players and all their associates.

Baseball tried to address the issue of rogue trainers and unaccountable entourages before the 2003 season, sending word out to clubs that only team personnel and accredited media would be allowed in clubhouses. The Presinal incident played a part in that, Manfred says, but the larger issue was general clubhouse security. Personal trainers such as Jason Giambi's friend Bobby Alejo suddenly found themselves banned. Others, such as Bonds' friend Harvey Shields, were hired as club employees to get around the ban, even though they effectively work for only one player. The rule didn't prevent Anderson from working in the Giants' clubhouse right until the time his home was raided by federal agents in September 2003.

But there is also the issue of Gonzalez's possible connection to performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball did not begin testing until two years later. The 2001 incident is the sort of story that is likely to find a place in former Sen. George Mitchell's investigation into baseball's doping history.

Gonzalez, long rumored to be a steroid user during his career and named in Jose Canseco's book "Juiced" as one of the players Canseco injected personally, paid no price for his connection to the seizure. He has never tested positive.

Presinal, on the other hand, was declared a pariah by Major League Baseball. Four months after the incident, the New York office informed the resident security agents for all 30 teams that Presinal was not to be allowed anyplace in the ballpark the general public couldn't go. MLB officials say they are pleased with the way the security office handled the affair, that they properly investigated Presinal and did what they could to keep him away from players.

Last year, however, according to Mariano Rivera, Presinal was in the American League clubhouse during the All-Star game in Detroit. (Rivera says that was his only encounter with Presinal and that he never worked with the trainer.) Presinal has also continued to train players since the 2001 incident, most of them pitchers with the Los Angeles Angels, notably 2005 A.L. Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon.

MLB's official report says Presinal eventually admitted ownership of the bag, although the CBSA report does not say that, and Presinal denies it. Cleveland officials also say they have no recollection of Presinal saying the bag was his. But even given MLB's official stance that Presinal was the culprit in the incident, Manfred expresses some sympathy: Among Los Angeles, Cleveland and even some MLB personnel, there is wide agreement that Presinal may have unfairly taken the entire blame.

"He took the fall, no question," says Cleveland media relations director Bart Swain. "I can remember we weren't exactly laughing about it, but we talked about how, this guy, we never saw him again. Juan only spent another week or two with us and he didn't come back."

* * *

When the Indians went into Toronto on Oct. 4, 2001, they were preparing for their final regular-season series, already secure as the AL Central Division leaders. "We were getting ready for the playoffs, and this happened," Swain says.

Those in the organization who knew about the seizure were terrified the news would leak to the media. One team employee who heard about the incident that night said a club official came to him in the hotel bar and said, "Man, the (----) is going to hit the fan."

According to Swain and several former team employees who requested anonymity, then-general manager John Hart, assistant GM Mark Shapiro (now the GM), equipment manager Teddy Walsh (now with Seattle), travel director Mike Seghi and resident security agent Jim Davidson were all aware that there had been an incident involving law enforcement, but few in the organization knew the details.

"It didn't really get around," says Swain, who heard the news the following day from Seghi. "No players knew."

One former team employee says, "There was a buzz that something happened and that it had to do with Juan, but we never really found out what."

Five days after the bag was seized, Cleveland opened its divisional playoff series with the Mariners, and Gonzalez nearly carried the team to the ALCS, hitting .348 with two home runs and five RBI in the five-game series loss.

By that point in Gonzalez's career, with his weight significantly lower than in previous seasons, speculation was that he had stopped using steroids. In "Juiced," Canseco writes that while with the Texas Rangers, he introduced Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro to steroids in 1992, Canseco's first year with the club.

"I personally injected each of those three guys many times, until they became more familiar with how to use a needle and could inject themselves," Canseco writes. "Juan grew bigger and bigger and didn't know when to stop. Eventually he would go all the way up to 255."

Canseco says that the three players later turned to their own contacts for steroids.

Gonzalez signed a one-year deal with Cleveland in 2001 after rejecting an eight-year, $140 million contract with the Tigers. He thought he deserved better than the Detroit's offer, and believed a strong year in Cleveland could get him a gargantuan contract.

For that one year, the Indians got far more than an outfielder. Gonzalez also brought his own entourage, which included Presinal, a man named Joshue Perez, described as his "valet," a spiritual adviser named Jose Agosto, and another friend and confidante named Luis Mayoral.

"I think (the entourage) was just part of the package," Swain says.

The four men stayed in the same hotel as Gonzalez during spring training, all lived in the same Cleveland apartment building, all at Gonzalez's expense. He would fly them to road games, sending them ahead of the team, a practice many players use with their trainers and advisers.

"They were just 'Juan's guys,' and you didn't deal with them," one former member of the Indians' support staff says. "You never really knew who those guys were, but they went everywhere with him."

Swain says Cleveland's staff left Gonzalez's entourage on its own because, "That's what John (Hart) wanted." Hart, now a senior adviser to the Rangers, did not return calls for comment.

It was precisely the sort of arrangement that makes baseball's guardians cringe.

* * *

Before he came to Cleveland with Gonzalez, Presinal was already known in Latin America for having worked with Pedro Martinez for several offseasons, and serving as the strength coach for the island nation's national boxing and basketball teams. (Martinez's agent, Fernando Cuza, did not return several calls for comment.)

Presinal was a popular and frequent guest in clubhouses, but not everyone was happy he was there. A former Cleveland employee says he once saw Presinal working on one of the team's best pitchers, "and I immediately turned around and walked to the trainer's room," he says. "I told our head trainer, 'You need to look at this. This guy's out here playing doctor.'"

Presinal was so ingrained in Gonzalez's baseball life that when Gonzalez arrived at the 1998 All-Star Game in Denver, the trainer was already waiting at his locker.

After the bag was discovered in Toronto, however, Presinal's fortune changed.

Presinal was not an MLB employee, and while he was not charged with a crime he was connected to a steroid-related incident and thus promptly banned.

Manfred says that once Davidson, Cleveland's resident security agent (RSA), informed MLB security in New York about the Toronto incident, MLB sent agents to Cleveland to begin their own investigation, guided by the belief that the bag belonged to Presinal.

"We go to Cleveland, conduct an investigation, find out where he lives, get in touch with local authorities. The guy checks out, but he never resurfaces in Cleveland," Manfred says. "This, I think, is good from our perspective."

But baseball officials admit they face a dilemma when it comes to dealing with personal trainers such as Presinal: In this case, they have no real proof he dispensed drugs to players. An MLB executive speaking on the condition of anonymity says MLB checked out all the players Presinal has been associated with, and that none has tested positive for illegal performance enhancers, although several of his clients have been suspected over the years. Presinal also has never been connected to another doping-related incident.

"It would be far from the first time someone took a fall for a player," the executive says.

Manfred says baseball officials had no choice but to take the course of action they did, banning Presinal but not punishing Gonzalez.

"Remember, at the time we don't have a steroid policy," Manfred says. "What we do is, I've got the following situation, based on what we're told, that it is not a player bag."

While Presinal says the bag was not his, he also curiously tells the Daily News that the items in it were not steroids.

"There was a misunderstanding," he says in Spanish. "What was in the bag was a flu medicine that you can buy in the Dominican Republic without prescription. It's to treat colds."

The seizure report however, says that beyond a general description of "anabolic steroids," the bag also contained clenbuterol, a stimulant that is not a steroid but is still an anabolic, or muscle-building, drug, Dolo-neurobion, a vitamin B compound, and a substance labeled Soladek, which drug experts could not identify. Clenbuterol is illegal in the United States without a prescription and was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency at the time. The drug is now banned in baseball.

Neither Gonzalez nor MLB's security report, as described by Manfred, offers an explanation as to why a 48-year-old trainer working for one player would have been carrying illegal drugs only for his own use.

Manfred says that after Presinal left the Indians he went "underground," but baseball did its best to keep an eye out for him.

"The guy surfaces in Texas (where Gonzalez signed in 2002), and the RSA notices the guy, notifies MLB security, and we get in touch with the club and make sure the guy has absolutely no access to the clubhouse or field and is kept away from players," Manfred says. "He goes underground again.

"At some point, in either '02 or '03, the RSA with the Anaheim team actually picks the guy out in the stands. We do the same drill with the Anaheim guy: no clubhouse, no access." Manfred says he does not know whether Presinal had been in either clubhouse.

* * *

Presinal, who says he is in failing health, never acted like a man who was operating underground. Just this past spring he appeared with the Dominican team during the spring's World Baseball Classic, although MLB did not name him as an official trainer and strength coach.

"I became aware of that after the fact," Manfred says. "I want to be clear about that: we appointed two trainers per team, neither of whom was Mr. Presinal."

Mets third base coach Manny Acta, the manager for the Dominican WBC team, says he had no idea Presinal was unwelcome. "All I can tell you is he was our strength and conditioning guy and he did a great job," Acta says. "He's a motivator with a great attitude. A lot of the players asked for him."

Angels vice president for communications Tim Mead says he wasn't aware of the 2001 incident, but says the Angels were aware Presinal was not allowed in restricted areas. He also says the club was fairly comfortable with Presinal's outside work with its players because officials were told of MLB's findings that Presinal had a good reputation in the Dominican and had not been involved in other incidents.

"Our training staff and our medical staff have complete control of the players at the ballpark and their program, as much as they can control," Mead says. "Bartolo Colon works very closely with Angel, but we've had no issues whatsoever with him."

* * *

Presinal no longer associates with Juan Gonzalez but he remains a big presence in Bartolo Colon's life. He and Colon were comfortable enough to discuss their relationship with the Los Angeles Times just last year, and allowed their photo to be taken together at Colon's home. Colon's agent, Mitch Frankel, says he was not aware of the 2001 incident. He asked that questions for Colon be sent to him in an E-mail, and as of press time he had not responded.

According to that July 2005 Times article, Colon hired Presinal in 2003 and rented an apartment for him near Anaheim. Much as Gonzalez did, Colon flew the trainer from city to city, covering Presinal's air fare and putting him up in hotels.

Presinal was also confident about the success of Colon's workouts in that 2005 article, as they worked to overcome the pitcher's disabling back problems.

"When he gets to 95%, I'm telling you right now," Presinal told the paper, "he's going to get the Cy Young." Colon, of course, went on to win the Cy Young award.

Two of the Angels trainers, Adam Nevala and Armando Rivas, traveled to the Dominican to see Colon and other players just after the 2005 season ended, and reportedly consulted with Presinal while they were there.

Manfred says he was not aware that Angels personnel had had such direct contact with Presinal, and would not say whether he was concerned about it. "I can't comment on the Angels thing because frankly I'm not aware of how pervasive the involvement is," he says.

Several other players have been openly associated with Presinal, then-Angels outfielder Jose Guillen in 2004 and pitchers Kelvim Escobar and Ervin Santana last winter.

Those relationships are Presinal's lifeblood. He breaks down in tears twice during recent interviews, saying a story about the incident could end his 30-year career.

But he says he will rely on his reputation in the Dominican to sustain him, and that he has never advocated drug use.

"If you have time," he says in Spanish, "come in November and December and you can see all of these people who train under me. Young athletes. I work with them so they can become superstars. You can see how hard these players work. It's all clean work.

"And I always tell these kids that if they have a medical problem, to be responsible. Don't just talk to any doctor. Make sure you be careful. Don't get mixed up with any steroids or other stuff."

As for Gonzalez, he says their relationship ended long ago.

"I don't have much contact with him anymore. I don't know what happened with him," Presinal says. "I was there when he was winning two MVPs. I was there helping him mentally, physically. I was by his side," he says. "People change. Sometime players look for new people to work with or change. His mind went elsewhere. I didn't like that way and I said, 'It's better you go your own way. And I'll take my own way.'"

Additional reporting by Sam Borden, Adam Rubin and Rodolfo Queblee

07-30-2006, 10:16 PM
Surprise, surprise.