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Roundtable: Fernando Tatis Jr. apologizes to Padres fans

 August 26, 2022 at 12:00 PM PDT

S1: It's a story that many of us can relate to on a human level , but few have experienced it on such a big stage. A San Diego cultural sensation disappoints those close to him and the millions who've cheered him on around the world. Now we wait to see if he can redeem himself. This Week on KPBS Roundtable , we're looking at the public apology from Fernando Tatis Jr. And how this is about much more than the game of baseball.

S2: I go to the front office. San Diego Padres. Peter Seidler. A.J. Preller. I felt every fan of this city. I felt in my country. I felt my family , parents. I'm really sorry.

S1: It's a big change from the smiling , laughing , slugging baseball phenom that Padre fans have grown to love. Fernando Tatis Jr , the shortstop who just a year ago graced the cover of Major League Baseball's marquee video game , now expressing sadness and remorse over how his fortunes have turned on a dime over the last couple of weeks. His contract , one of the richest in baseball history , is safe. But his cachet with fans in San Diego and beyond will take some time to rebuild. Here on roundtable this week , we're talking about his story and how it serves as a case study in how stars deal with personal missteps when the whole world is watching. Our guests this week are Allison Edmonds , who covers sports for KUSI. Maria Torres , she covers Major League Baseball and its pipeline of young prospects for the athletic. And Dan Good is here. He's the author of the book Playing Through the Pain. It's about the downfall of former Padres star Ken Caminiti and his well-documented use of steroids. I want to thank you all so much for being here. Alison , first question's going to go to you here. You know , we heard the story about Tatis having ringworm and using a cream that had this banned substance in it.

S3: You know , he really just showed so much remorse. You know , people were asking him , why did you use this cream ? And , you know , he says the skin infection. Whether or not it was ringworm. No , no idea. Skin infection is what he he went with the other day. So and he it was very interesting him saying that he didn't consult doctors here in the United States , that he was handed this cream. But he was like , did you look at the back ? Did you look at the ingredients ? Did you look all these things ? And you just kept saying , I messed up. I messed up. So honestly , I really don't know what kind of was going through his mind. I think as a as a kid , you know , he was given this medicine. It was something that was making him feel good , whether it was for the skin infection , as well as maybe to relieve some of that pain from the wrist and some of these other injuries that he had is up for up for up for negotiation. You know , I think that he definitely it was something to help more than just the skin infection. And I think he just kind of kept using it and didn't really think of the consequences at the time. And we kind of ended up here and he was handed the suspension. I think the fact that he didn't appeal said suspension really shows that whatever he did , he knows was wrong. And we kind of just have to move forward and go from there.

S1: You just sort of alluded to it there. You were in the scrum there in the dugout when he was taking questions from the media.

S3: He had a clean test , he said , back in March. But that's a lot of months between March and July. And he is definitely still going through all that risk recovery and stuff throughout that time. So , you know , it's one of those things that I feel like I still don't have a complete answer for because it was not clear. But yeah , that's where we're at right now. So.

S1: And Maria , we know that you actually just got back from the Dominican Republic this week , and that's where Fernando Tatis Jr calls home. And he's really a beloved figure there.

S3: There's definitely a lot of anger there , a lot of people upset. I think people generally are just kind of like disturbed that one of their brightest shining stars , someone who's like image , has been used in so many commercials , so many billboards plastered around the country that it's kind of like he's kind of created a bad precedent. I mean , naturally , he's not the first person from that country to have been suspended for performance enhancing drugs. But I think that , you know , he is so young that just has made people really upset that this is the kid , that this is the guy , I mean , the major league player that kids in the Dominican Republic are looking up to.

S1: And not just kids in the Dominican Republic. He's on all those Gatorade commercials and everything. Major League Baseball propping him up. But Dan , we know that you also follow the Padres very closely.

S4: I think that really stood out to me. But really , this is an inflection point for him. This is a moment of truth. You know , he can learn from these things , these mistakes , these issues , and grow from this and become the player that , you know , his teammates and fans expect him to be or he can go in a different direction and really fell short of the lofty expectations that have been raised for him. It's really up for him at this point to figure out what kind of player and what kind of career he's going to have from here.

S1: And Maria. We know that Tatiana's identity , it's very much wrapped up in his Dominican upbringing. Earlier this year , you co-wrote an in-depth investigation into the system that funnels these young teenage players to Major League Baseball. We'll get more into that in a little bit. But first , can you explain to our audience , you know , why baseball is so important there , not just as entertainment , but as a way for boys to support themselves and also their families.

S3: The Dominican Republic is a very impoverished country. I think at the time of that investigation , I think about 25% of the population was was considered impoverished. And if you ever visit the Dominican Republic and you go outside of Santo Domingo , which is the capital city , you are instantly hit with the image of , you know , little shacks all clustered together in kind of back country areas. They tend to , like survive or sustain themselves with little pumps of water. Sometimes they even need to get new ones built. It's still a third world country. It still hasn't been fully developed. And so many of the kids who are in the baseball pipeline come from those backgrounds because they've seen so many players and I mean so many people from the Dominican Republic kind of step up and become Hall of Fame caliber players. You're talking David Ortiz , Pedro Martinez , more who haven't gotten into the Hall of Fame yet and might still be in the future. But those are the types of players these kids , you know , grew up looking up to and seeing what a difference those the fame and the money does for their families and their people back home. I don't want to say it's easy , because by far there's no way that , you know , becoming a major leaguer and becoming a steady major leaguer and becoming a Hall of Fame caliber player is easy , but it's almost like that. The easiest way for them to make sure that their families are going to be okay in the long run and , you know , kind of gain that wealth.

S1: Allison We know that Fernando situation is a little bit different from many growing up in the Dominican Republic. He's a second generation MLB player.

S3: I think that it really came into play with this whole suspension thing. You know , when things were coming out , when stories were coming out , and there was a lot of stuff from his dad , Fernando Tatis senior , defending him , kind of saying , you know , this is what happened , this is the story , all this kind of stuff. And I think it really kind of showed the pressure that Fernando is under , not only as a young superstar of the game , but something someone who is a second generation MLB player , someone who is trying to live up to those expectations , trying to be there for his family , kind of like Ray was mentioning. It really seems like family is super important in the Dominican especially , you know , and family is such a big thing , I know , for Fernando. And so I know he wants to be there , support his family , be there for his family. So I think that might kind of change the pressure. I think he he felt pressure to get back. So I think whether this was something that he was using to improve his performance so that he could get back quicker and all that kind of stuff , I guess we'll never fully know , but I definitely think that there was that sense of like , I want to be back , I want to be there for my fans , my family , and I really want to prove that I can like carry on this this legacy in the major leagues.

S1: And Maria , we know that you touched on this earlier , how Tatis is really a beloved figure in his hometown in the Dominican. So as one of his teammates we're talking about Juan Soto , he's viewed by many to be at the same level or maybe even a step of headed in some areas. Both are 23 years old.

S3: He comes from much more humble beginnings. His father was not a major League Baseball player. His father played rec baseball , and his family had to sacrifice a lot for him to be two , to dedicate himself to to baseball. But as far as , you know , dealing with with early career success , Juan Soto has been always very levelheaded , very even keeled. He hasn't when all the trade rumors were swirling around him this summer during the All-Star Game and after , he never once made it seem like he was in doubt of what Washington wanted for him , what the Nationals , what he you know , what the Nationals meant to him. He was always very , very complimentary of everybody in that organization. And he's I mean , he's just very polished in that way. He doesn't seem to let any kind of negativity ruin ruin anything for him.

S1: And Maria , you have a feature on Dominican baseball , and it's really an eye opener in regards to how young boys are scouted by those associated with major league teams.

S3: Professional players. They did that by establishing the MLB Partnership Program with the trainers in Latin American countries , and that program allows trainers some extra access to MLB and it allows MLB extra access to the programs that produce a lot of these players. And that that means they could show up unannounced anytime and at a baseball academy and and test players for steroids. And it's a big draw for MLB. It should be helpful to trainers as well , except for the fact that there are there are not as many trainers in the program as there are trainers in the world. And by trainers , again , I just mean the those who have run amateur baseball academies to prepare youth to to sign me or to sign professional contracts. And there's there's dozens , hundreds of people who are who work with with baseball players who are not part of that partnership program. And as a result , they can get away with a lot of PEDs easily because they're not under constant vigilance. And I know that in talking with trainers in the Dominican Republic specifically there there's a lot of concern that 12 year old kids who showed up on the scene didn't who didn't look like anything amounting to what a prospect would be very quickly becomes one. Whether that's because he suddenly finds a little bit more power or a little bit more mileage or velocity , excuse me , in in his arm when he's on the mound , it happens a lot. And I know it's something that really bothers trainers there.

S1: You're listening to KPBS roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman , here with reporters Alison Edmunds and Maria Torres. Author Dan Good is also here with us. And he has an interesting contrast from a different Padres era. For those who weren't around at the time or weren't watching.

S4: He was really the engine that drove that team to the West title in 1996 and helped to lead them to the pennant in 1998. He brought a swagger. He brought a presence , a grittiness to the clubhouse. You know , he was a clubhouse enforcer and he was such a great leader during that era. During that stage of his career in 1996 , his MVP season , he tore his rotator cuff the first week of the year , and he played the entire season with a torn rotator cuff and so many other injuries. And it really sent a message to everybody else in that clubhouse that he would follow my lead. You know , you have to set this example. And to the fans , they love that they ate that up. They love seeing somebody , you know , putting themselves out there every day and playing their hardest and doing their best to help the team win.

S1: And Caminiti , he wasn't caught at the time , but he later admitted to using steroids during his career.

S4: There were many reasons why I ended up using you know , he started using steroids in the back end of his career post age 30. You know , he wasn't exactly the player he used to be at that point. Along with that , he started to doubt himself again. The injuries were piling up with the shoulders , rotator cuff. He was worried he wasn't going to be able to play. He was worried he was going to not be able to help the team , you know , and that really forced him to continue building that program and , you know , taking steroids. And he had so much success with steroids when he started using them that he didn't want to stop. He liked the way he felt. He liked the way he felt when he used them. He liked the way they made him look. He was really , you know , bulked up and he liked that. So there was a lot of reasons why he started using it and there's a lot of reasons why he kept using. But ultimately they worked and they helped him.

S1: And based on what we heard Tuesday , Fernando Tatis Jr took a positive step forward. But this can go many ways and it remains to be seen how this will eventually end up. We know how KAMENETZ story ended his life unraveled , unfortunately , with drug addiction and other problems.

S4: I know in 2002 , Bruce Bochy , then the manager of the Padres , brought Ken back to spring training to talk to the players , talk to his , you know , former teammates , some of them , you know , about the struggles he was facing and the difficulties , you know. And then when Josh Hamilton was having his issues , I know that Ken was used as a cautionary tale at that point. I don't know that Fernando was in that ballpark yet. I don't know that we can definitively say that he's following that path. But I think we look at the yellow flags , we look at the issues popping up , the immaturity , you know , in some of those things were things that popped up during the early part of Ken's career with , you know , he was showing up late to spring training or he got arrested for DUI and those were causes for concern , they think , in Fernando's case , similarly , you're seeing causes for concern , maybe not in the same avenue , but , you know , these are signs of immaturity , signs of , you know , issues underneath the surface. And , you know , hopefully he can learn from these things and move forward because there's a lot of players who do have issues early in their careers , straighten themselves out and go on to have wonderful careers. So I do think he's at a stage where , you know , this is a chance for him to , you know , regroup and , you know , kind of become the player and person he needs to be.

S1: One thing that's definitely changed between now and then is money tatis in particular , he's going to be paid in excess of $300 million by the Friars. What do any of you think about , you know , how that kind of money can change someone's mentality and how they make decisions about their work ? And if we can , we'll start with Alison and Maria here.

S3: Yeah , I absolutely think that , you know , when you're given that much money at such a young age , I think it comes with kind of what I was saying earlier. I feel like it kind of comes with a lot of pressure to perform and that kind of stuff. Not only are you have this much money to , you know , kind of use at your own will , you know , buy new cars , buy houses , all that kind of stuff. But it also comes with a pressure like , you know , I'm the face of this team. I have $300 million , this huge contract , the biggest contract the Padres have ever given out. I'm the face of Gatorade. I'm the face of all these things. And so I think that that kind of changes it from the beginning. And I think even now he knows , you know , the other day talking about all the sponsorships , people are like , you know , you have all these sponsorships , you're the face of baseball. You know , how does this , you think , change your image moving forward ? You know , and I think that money , regardless of the money , just his entire image , he knows that he has to live up to expectations. You know , his his response was , you know , I'm going to give people a story to believe in me again. So I think his mentality really now moving forward is like , hey , you know , I'm going to go out there and be the best I can be. And I think it's kind of instead of more of like following a path maybe the wrong way , I think he's really going to work hard to come back and be stronger than ever and earn that money and earn that contract and and earn the kind of respect back of the baseball world.


S3: It does. Like Anderson mentioned , just the pressure of living up to it definitely sets in. I think you've seen , you know , in Anaheim , for instance , with Mike Trout , he's I don't think he's ever felt like he could , you know , take his foot off the gas there. Obviously , there's been a lot that has happened in that in that with that franchise since that contract was signed. But it's not been for his lack of trying. It's not been for his lack of effort. And if anything , it kind of makes players work harder. It works. It makes them and motivates them to to really live up to what the team is doing there with those contracts. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. And you mentioned a lot has changed since he signed that contract and that's why fans were so excited and also so disappointed can have tatis back in this big three. But Dan we know that the steroid era in the nineties and twins it remains a sore spot in the game. Some of the biggest stars from then like home run king Barry Bonds , they're still not accepted into the Hall of Fame.

S4: You know , when you look at David Ortiz being elected to the Hall of Fame despite failing a drug test in 2003 , you know , I think there is a bit of that stigma lifting. At the same time , the writers , the voters for the Hall of Fame have really taken a hard line stance on players who have failed drug test or been suspended for PD use. Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez come to mind. You know , I think 15 , 20 years from now , if voters are voting on Fernando , I think if they can look at this and say that this was a youthful transgression and a mistake , I think they'll be able to look past it. You know , there has been some softening to the steroids era and there's been dozens and dozens of players from that era who are now in the Hall of Fame that we know nothing about whether or not they use steroids. So , you know , I think that , you know , now that there are more guardrails in place , it's important for players to really better police. What is going on with their body , what they're putting into their body , what they're putting on their body. But , you know , I think the writers , the voters have softened their stance a little bit , even if Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and some others remain on the outside.

S1: Yeah , I mean , we know athletes just like the rest of society , they get in trouble for all kinds of bad behavior.

S3: There's I mean , there's Google right there at your disposal. If you have a phone , which all of these players definitely have phones and they also have people who manage them who should be looking after what they're putting into their bodies in addition to just the players policing themselves. So I think that's what makes it really hard to just kind of overcome that that stigma that we were talking about.

S1: And Alison , I don't need to tell you this , but Padre fans , we know that their star for a winner here still chasing their first championship. And by the time tatis his suspension ends early next season , how do you think he'll be received locally ? I mean , we know that fans are upset , but if he comes back next season , hits 50 homeruns , is all forgiven.

S3: I think that's a question that even fans are asking themselves right now for sure. But I notice completely after he talks the other day , you know , mostly through the Twitter verse , but I notice almost the complete 180 from a majority of fans. I feel like a majority of fans were like , Hey , look , he stands up. He owned up to it. He didn't try to be like , No , I didn't do it. He said , I'm sorry I did it. I'm going to come back stronger than ever. And I think it was well received. It really seemed like a lot of fans that were like , you know , I'm not wearing a Fernando talk to his junior jersey ever again. Really came around and were like , you know what ? If he's going to really own up and man up and really he's going to go get that shoulder surgery. Now , he's going to really come back in May at 110% ready to give this team everything that he has and try to get that 50 home run season , you know , maybe finally play his first full season of the in the major leagues. And I think fans will I think it'll be both ways , but I think a majority of fans will receive him well when he comes back , as long as everything kind of continues to go smoothly here over the next six months or so. And I. There will , of course , be some fans and fans in other stadiums and stuff who might resort to the boos or not respect him the same. But I do think a majority of Padres fans will will be ready to receive him because he is a part of this team for a really long time. And I think it's too long to hold a grudge.

S1: Yeah , we've kind of heard some of that split even in the Padres locker room. You know , some players like Manny Machado saying , you know , people forgive and people forget , but some others , you know , still disappointed and not so happy with them.

S3: You know , you've got people , you know , just generally saying that they they can't trust cheaters. And then others who can kind of understand the background that talk to use comes from and understands the the pressure of playing under a huge contract. So time will tell ultimately how how this all shakes out. But just that mix of sympathy and anger is still kind of simmering there.

S1: And finally , let's get to a little bit of some baseball predictions. And now you guys don't have a magic crystal ball , but we're going to ask you to try to find one here today. Tatis coming back. It was going to be a huge deal with Soto and Machado. Now he's not here.

S3: I know they have a little bit of a rough go here , but I think the morale in the clubhouse after this last homestand is really like this is rock bottom. I know Bob Melvin was like , hey , you know , this is this rock bottom. We can only go up from here. So I think once I know Soto had a little bit of back tightness and stuff last week , I think once he comes back , I feel like this team is really kind of starting to gel. They're still kind of working out some things here and there , but I really think if they come back starting tonight and really are able to push through this last 30 plus games of the season , I think there's a good chance. I mean , right now they're still in the wild card hunt here. So I think there's a good chance that they at least get that third wild card spot and are able to make a postseason appearance.

S1: At the start of the show. You guys listen to some of tatis his apology. But now let's revisit a moment filled with a lot more joy and optimism. It's when he signed that big contract extension last year. Here's how Fernando was looking forward at the time.

S2: I'm embracing this moment right now. It's just it just feels great. It feels great. You know , when you when you just a kid dreaming on the field , when my dad was playing and I see myself playing on the big leagues , being a winner , being one of the best of all the time and now is , you know , is getting more complete. But with Andres , I'm just grateful for everything. And to the city of San Diego. We're here to stay. And I'm I'm you know , I love this city. I love the fans. I love the culture. I love the vibe. And I'm all about winning. And I'm all about winning in San Diego.

S1: What a flashback there. That was Fernando Tatis Jr from February of last year. It's a sentiment that Padres fans hope will return as he works to put this chapter behind them. I want to thank our guests this week , Alison Edmonds from KUSI , Maria Torres from The Athletic and the author of Playing Through the Pain. Dan Good , I'm Matt Hoffman , will be back with you all next week.

Tony Trinh, a Padres fan from Rancho Bernardo, holds up a Tatis Jr. jersey in front of Petco Park in Downtown San Diego, Calif. Feb. 18, 2021.
Matt Hoffman
Tony Trinh, a Padres fan from Rancho Bernardo, holds up a Tatis Jr. jersey in front of Petco Park in Downtown San Diego, Calif. Feb. 18, 2021.
An apology from Padres star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. underscores the ongoing issues of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball and the pressure on athletes to perform at a high level.

Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion on the MLB suspension of Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., the larger issues of performance enhancing drugs in sports and how athletes handle missteps in the public eye. Guests include KUSI sports reporter Allison Edmonds, MLB reporter Maria Torres from The Athletic and Dan Good, author of, "Playing Through The Pain."