Why Haven’t the Agents Been Punished in Baseball’s Biggest Scandal?

Sam and Seth Levinson represented 13 of the 19 players connected to Biogenesis, the Florida clinic accused of supplying performance-enhancing drugs

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Now that the Biogenesis suspensions have landed, now that all the accused (save Alex Rodriguez) have empty schedules for the next 50 games, now that baseball has completed its biggest PED-related purge ever—where do we go from here? The league seems to have little in mind, no plan for structural change. Consider this: 13 of the 19 players implicated in the scandal had the same agents, Sam and Seth Levinson of ACES Sports. But they haven’t been punished. Instead, the most easily blamed parties have been thrown over the city’s walls, and baseball is clean again.

How does baseball choose its scapegoats? An article on the front page of the New York Times takes up the case of Juan Carlos Nunez, a onetime travel agent who, from “about 2006” until 2012, worked for the Levinsons. Nunez’s stated job was interpreter and assistant. Lots of agencies have people in these positions, running errands for busy players, helping them to overcome the language barrier and adjust to life in their new country. But Nunez’s errands, we learned last year, occasionally involved performance-enhancing drugs.

In August 2012, MLB investigators fingered Nunez as the man behind the web ads for the fictitious tainted supplement then-Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera supposedly took, a phrase that sounds as ridiculous now as it did then, when the Daily News broke the story. (Cabrera, who was having the best year of his career, served his suspension without an appeal, and signed in Toronto in the offseason. His OPS is down by 224 points.) The Levinsons cut ties with him. MLB barred him from access to non-public areas at all stadiums, too. He was the scapegoat.

When his name came up again this week, thanks to the Biogenesis suspensions, the same tone arose. He was again the scapegoat, again one uncontrollable wayward force. Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera blamed him for suggesting that he begin a PED regimen. The Levinsons said they had no clue what he was doing. As players’ union boss Michael Weiner told the Times: “I think Nunez is a snake. What he did was horrible. … He should have the book thrown at him.” If only baseball had never let this one man past its velvet rope, you see, then everyone would have been clean, and our post-Bonds, post-Palmeiro, post-Manny national innocence would have remained intact.

Lost in that official accounting of things: Nunez had willing clients, and more than that, willing bosses.

The Levinsons represent (or used to represent) 13 of the 19 players mentioned in the Biogenesis records. They introduced their clients to Nunez. They told their clients to work with him. Whatever managerial responsibilities they delegated to him, he was no rogue: Cabrera told a TV station in his native Nicaragua that he, Nunez, and the Levinsons had dinner together at least twice.

ACES’s defense would be more believable had nearly identical charges not been levied against the agency before. Kirk Radomski, who provided much of the information that went into the Mitchell Report, has told federal investigators that from 2005 through 2007, the Levinsons reimbursed him for steroids he bought for their clients. Paul Lo Duca, the former Mets and Dodgers catcher whose name appeared in the Mitchell Report, confirmed Radomski’s story. So too did Brian McNamee, another source of Mitchell Report evidence, who said that the Levinsons procured steroids for former Yankee reliever Mike Stanton.

Yes, the fault for using PEDs—to whatever extent such a thing is worthy of scorn—should fall primarily on the players themselves. But it’s right there in the agenting handbook, rule 5(b)(21), clearer than any of the bylaws MLB used to levy its Biogenesis suspensions: “No Player Agent… shall provide or assist any player in obtaining any substance prohibited under Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.”

The Levinsons have repeatedly said they knew nothing of what went on within their agency. They told the Times this week, they had “no involvement and no knowledge of any wrongdoing.” The league continues to investigate, but the union, which is in charge of certifying agents, has concluded its investigation into the Levinsons and cleared them. Baseball hasn’t made much sense lately—cripes, the Pirates have the game’s best record in August—but this ruling might be the most flummoxing of them all.