Tigers dealing with mixed emotions regarding Peralta
CLEVELAND -- Tigers players and officials might have spoken a thousand words about suspended teammate Jhonny Peralta on Saturday. The few words that came up most often were the first words out of team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski's mouth when he addressed the media about it at Progressive Field.
"It's very mixed emotions, mixed feelings," Dombrowski said.
Many players agreed. For those that didn't say it, the tone of their voice made it evident.
"No, no," second baseman Omar Infante said when asked if he feels differently about his teammate, "I don't know, man. I don't know what to say."
Some didn't say anything. Manager Jim Leyland relayed a message before his pregame session that he wouldn't answer questions about Peralta. When asked for his reaction just over a minute into the session, he cut off the question and broke off the interview.
"See you later," Leyland said. "That's the end of the press conference."
Like a growing number of players around baseball, many Tigers want the game to be clean. This is a team with several superstars, and many are tired of the questions that come up with so many superstar performances. They've watched standout players on other teams suspended and felt angry, indignant.
This is one of their own. Peralta was one of the more popular players on the team, a quiet, steady performer who made two All-Star teams in the last three years while enduring criticism about his play at shortstop.
The way Peralta carried himself, it was hard not to like him. Now, the way his situation came down, it was hard not to feel at least something of the opposite.
"Sometimes, people make bad decisions," Torii Hunter said. "He's a great teammate. We love him. He's funny, very funny. But I hate that this has happened, and he's going to deal with it."
Justin Verlander cited Hunter's reaction in his sentiment.
"Everybody looks at their own lives," Verlander said. "You can look back at it and you made a mistake. He's my brother. We fight and bleed and sweat together on the baseball field. If my brother makes a mistake, and especially if he owns up to it and serves the time, I don't see how you can hold a grudge or anything like that."
As mixed as the sentiments were Monday, they might actually be more conflicted in September, as Peralta's suspension nears its final days. Part of the timing for Major League Baseball's discipline, part of the motivation for not appealing, was the chance to have everything over by season's end, and for suspended players to be available for postseason play.
In Peralta's case, he'll be eligible to return for the final series of the regular season. Ironically, it'll be in Miami, the center of the Biogenesis scandal. If Peralta's role in the case seems murky, it's clear compared to his potential role for that series.
Nobody, from Dombrowski to Leyland to the players, wanted to address the chances of Peralta returning, or the reception the players would have toward it.
"That's not something we're going to tackle at this point," Dombrowski said. "We don't have to make that decision. That's way down the road. We'll focus on what we need to do, which is to win a ballgame today."
Peralta was a huge part of the Tigers' season to get to first place by this point, let alone the eight-game winning streak they took to Progressive Field on Monday. Even as the speculation surrounding his future grew, Peralta kept performing.
Yet in the heart of a playoff race, hours before one of the most important series so far this season, he's gone -- maybe not just for 50 games, but maybe for the season, and maybe from Detroit for good for an admitted mistake.
At some point, they'll have to make their feelings known about Peralta's presence in September and beyond. Monday was too soon.
"To be honest with you, that's something I haven't even thought about yet," Verlander said. "He's my teammate and I love him. But there's a lot of things that go into that and I haven't had time to think about that yet."
The irony is that Peralta could've stuck around if he appealed the suspension, and he might have been able to stretch out the process to season's end. Yet doing so would've amounted to another denial.
As much as the Tigers could've used him, all who talked were publicly glad he accepted the suspension.
"You can't play the what-if game," Max Scherzer said. "Guess what, he stepped up. He owned up to it and he accepted the punishment. That's just the facts. You can't play what-ifs. This is the reality of it and he's doing what he can to get back on the field and earn the trust of everybody. That's what I think, in the clubhouse, that's what we will respect."
Not even a month ago, Scherzer was among the most vocal critics of Ryan Braun, suggesting players who are suspended under the Drug Prevention and Treatment program should be eligible to have their contracts voided. Even Monday, he reiterated his belief that suspensions should be harsher, whether it's a first-time offense or a potential two-strike policy.
Only now, he was talking about a friend. Those sentiments were being recounted to him as he talked about his teammate of the past three-plus seasons.
"It's pretty apparent how I feel toward cheaters," Scherzer said. "With Jhonny, it's disappointing, it really is."
Likewise, Hunter has defended the system, saying the fact that players still get caught means the system works. This time, the system caught a teammate.
"I hate that he chose that, but he's been punished for it and he's going to serve his 50 games. I'm pretty sure he won't do it again," Hunter said. "But if you know Jhonny, and a lot of people don't know Jhonny, [he's an] awesome guy. He just made a mistake and now he's going to pay for it. He's going to serve his time and go from there. But guys out there, there's going to always be guys that try to beat the system. You can't do nothing about it. That's part of life.
"In the real world, people are going to murder. They're going to do everything. They're going to be corrupt. They're going to steal money. Whatever it may be, people are going to try to beat the system, whether it's in this game or outside this game. And then when you get caught, be a man and take your punishment. That's all you can ask for."
From a selfish standpoint, Hunter admitted, it made sense for Peralta to accept the suspension now and get it out of the way before he becomes a free agent this winter, even if it hurts the Tigers right now.
When asked if the acceptance was a letdown from the teams' standpoint, Hunter laughed.
"He didn't let us down," he said. "This started in Spring Training. How can he let us down when he banged under the scrutiny? He banged. He helped us win. I thank him."
Peralta's a free agent at season's end, and the Tigers have already identified Jose Iglesias -- the slick-fielding shortstop acquired from Boston last week to protect the Tigers from a potential suspension -- as the shortstop of the future. If Peralta doesn't return at season's end, there's a chance Sunday was the last time several teammates will see him.
He drove from Detroit to Cleveland separate from the team Sunday night, and he wasn't at the ballpark on Monday. He reportedly talked to a few close teammates ahead of time. The one time he talked directly to Dombrowski was on Sunday.
"He asked if he could speak with me, and he spoke with me before the game," Dombrowski said. "He went out and played very well again yesterday. His comments were very apologetic, very remorseful, very sorry, and also I think it says in his statement how he feels, but it didn't seem like it really shook him as far as his performance is concerned."