San Diego Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. says ‘no excuses’ for 80-game drug suspension, will have shoulder surgery

SAN DIEGO — Fernando Tatis Jr. sat on the shelter bench on the side of first base at Petco Park Tuesday afternoon and spoke for 250 seconds without being prompted. It was measured yet unwritten, composed yet noticeably discouraged. He lamented all the people he had “failed” by testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, and he vowed to make amends.

“I’ve seen my dreams turn into my worst nightmares,” Tatis said while flanked by AJ Preller, president of baseball operations for the San Diego Padres, and surrounded by dozens of members of the media.

“There is no one else to blame but myself. I haven’t made the right decisions in the last few weeks, months, even since the beginning of the year. I made a mistake and I regret every single step I took these days. But it’s a long way forward. It’s a very long way forward. I will remember how that feels and I will make myself never to be in that position again. I know I’ve got a lot of love that I need to reclaim. I have a lot to do.”

Eleven days earlier, Major League Baseball announced that 23-year-old Tatis had tested positive for the anabolic steroid clostebol, triggering an 80-game suspension and immediately making him one of the most prominent players to be punished under his drug program, alongside the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Robinson Cano. Tatis found out about his suspension at the end of July, he said, and briefly considered appealing.

On the morning of August 12, with the announcement of his suspension on the horizon, Tatis booked a flight from San Antonio, where he was in the final stages of his rehabilitation assignment, without notifying the team.

“I freaked out,” Tatis said. “I’m freaking out.”

Six days later, when the Padres returned from their road trip, Tatis met with Preller in person. He then met with Padres chairman Peter Seidler on Saturday, and Tatis conducted a 15-20 minute players-only meeting at the Padres clubhouse early Tuesday afternoon, just before addressing the media for the first time.

“A lot of tough love,” Tatis said of those meetings, who spent about 20 minutes answering questions in two languages. “But at the same time, I feel like there was great communication. There were fair words. At the end of the day, they gave me a chance.”

Tatis stuck to his initial claim that the positive test was triggered by a skin drug containing the steroid, one his father identified as Trofobol on a TV show in his native Dominican Republic. Tatis said he had been “dealing with skin infections” for some time and that he received the drugs in the Dominican Republic, out of reach of the Padres’ medical staff. He called it “a stupid mistake” not to check that the drug didn’t contain a banned substance.

“There are no excuses,” said Tatis. “There are no excuses. I need to work a lot better on what’s going on in my body. There is no excuse for these actions.”

Tatis reiterated that he tested positive for steroids because he was recklessly trying to fight a skin condition – he and his father previously said it was ringworm – and not because he was trying to improve his performance or himself to recover faster from the wrist injury that had prevented him all season. When asked what he would say to fans who don’t believe his version of events, Tatis said: “That I’m going to give them a story to make them believe in me again.”

The delay between Tatis testing positive and the announcement of his suspension was due to him briefly navigating the appeals process — a process that, under the terms of a drug policy jointly agreed by MLB and the MLB Players Association, is to be conducted in secret, without the knowledge of the team. Tatis said he “felt like he had a very strong case” but was tipped off by what he vaguely referred to as his “team” that he was unlikely to prevail, prompting him to get involved straight away to begin serving the suspension.

“Any relationship worth having — there’s going to be some great moments, there’s going to be some challenging moments,” Preller said. “I’ve talked a lot with Fernando about mistakes. We all make mistakes. I’ve made a lot of mistakes here as general manager of this team because I’m sure Padres fans will let me know from time to time. But the key is, how you learn from those mistakes, how you grow from those mistakes, and what you do in the future.

Tatis’ charisma, flair and otherworldly talent made him one of the faces of the sport from an early age, earning him a historic 14-year, $340 million extension from the Padres in February 2021. Tatis is the first player in baseball history to hit 80 home runs and 50 stolen bases in the first 300 games of his career. But by the end of this year, he will have played just 273 regular-season games out of a possible 546 in his first four seasons. He missed the final seven weeks of the 2019 season with a lower back stress reaction and spent all of 2021 dealing with a bulky left shoulder. And he will ultimately miss all of 2022 due to factors that seemed well under his control – a wrist injury that likely occurred during a motorcycle accident in December and now a positive drugs test that will also rob him of the early part of the 2023 campaign .

Tatis said on Tuesday he regrets getting on the bike and announced he will soon undergo the shoulder surgery he originally decided against at the end of the 2021 season. A date has not yet been set, but Tatis is expected to be ready for all baseball activities by the start of spring training, which he will be allowed to attend while still suspended.

“I felt it coming back a bit,” Tatis said when asked why he decided to go ahead with the surgery. “I wasn’t the best version out there.”

Tatis’ suspension was a major blow to a Padres team with championship ambitions. Less than two weeks earlier, Preller had significantly bolstered a needy lineup with Juan Soto, a 23-year-old who is already one of the best hitters in baseball history. Josh Bell and Brandon Drury have also been added. The expectation was that once Tatis returned, the Padres would field one of the most dynamic offenses in the sport, combined with a decorated pitching staff that Josh Hader had added.

Tatis’ suspension was announced to the team 30 minutes before a Friday night game in Washington, DC. After it was over, some of the Padres players – most notably Joe Musgrove and Mike Clevinger – made sharp comments about Tatis’s maturity and reliability. On Tuesday, the players hit more sympathetic tones.

“People make mistakes,” Musgrove said. “It’s something we’re definitely not going to deny him for the rest of his career. I know there are fans out there that will do that, and people will feel how they want to feel, but it’s something I stressed to him – – I think the most important people are them People in this room and the staff and the people you’re going to play with. I thought he did a really good job of explaining to us what happened and how sorry he is and the remorse he has shown. It’s not an easy conversation, but I think the first step to changing things around here and preparing everyone for when he comes back was this conversation.

Padres third baseman Manny Machado offered his comments.

“We all make mistakes, and in the end we have to look at ourselves in the mirror,” Machado said. “We’ve all made stupid mistakes. At the end of the day, we just have to get over it and learn from it. He came here and spoke to the group and said what he had to say. At the end of the day, we’re all family in here, we all support each other.”

Tatis was remorseful in his conversation with teammates, which was followed by a private meeting with Padres manager Bob Melvin. Eventually, Tatis asked his teammates for help on the surge that was sure to follow, especially in terms of his public image.

When asked what he would say to kids who used to admire him and now can’t, Tatis said: “I get that. I get how they feel. I was a fan. I grew up with that game. And if my favorite player had done it.” If I had done something I did, I would have felt the same way. I would have been disappointed. I would have felt disappointed. I really understand how you feel. But one thing I will make sure is that when I come back, I regain their trust.” San Diego Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. says ‘no excuses’ for 80-game drug suspension, will have shoulder surgery

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