FENNO: In Biogenesis mess, Gio Gonzalez didn’t get benefit of doubt

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

An unusual line rested at the bottom of Monday’s press release announcing 12 suspensions in the Biogenesis scandal.

“Major League Baseball’s investigation found no violations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program by either Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez or Baltimore Orioles infielder Danny Valencia.”

Those words at 3:16 p.m. put an official end to six months of speculation about Gonzalez’s connection — or lack thereof — to the notorious anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Fla.

But no quiet acquittal can undo the damage from the left-hander’s name being dragged through the scandal’s sludge of human-growth hormone and pink cream and injections by self-proclaimed doctor Anthony Bosch.

For all the bombast about maintaining baseball’s integrity and reputations sullied by use of performance-enhancing drugs, the person hurt most by the mess was the one who did nothing wrong. Gonzalez is clean. Yet through no fault of his own, the 27-year-old will always be linked to a group of players who took a chemically aided shortcut and earned the game’s most widespread discipline since the Black Sox handed over the 1919 World Series to gamblers.

That’s the real tragedy.

Back in January, the Miami New Times connected Gonzalez to Biogenesis in the report that broke open the national story and, for good measure, published handwritten notes from Bosch that mentioned the pitcher’s name five times. From the start, Gonzalez’s denials were unwavering and unambiguous. He never set foot in the clinic. He never met Bosch. He never used PEDs of any variety.

Not helping matters, though, was an Instagram photo Gonzalez posted during the offseason with former University of Miami trainer Jimmy Goins. The man Gonzalez called his “offseason strength coach” was also mentioned in Bosch’s notebooks.

Gonzalez is earnest and good-natured. Energetic. Not one to hold his tongue. You believe him when he speaks.

But doubt edging into all-out cynicism is one of the fiercest byproducts of MLB’s steroid era. We expect outraged denials right up until they turn into feeble, excuse-ridden apologies when the evidence is insurmountable. We’re not prepared for truth. Duplicity is expected. Stringent denunciations are the norm. The script isn’t exactly original.

That’s the one, for example, Jesus Montero followed earlier this year. He repeatedly proclaimed his innocence to Mariners beat writers. Even denied knowing Bosch. Then he earned one of the 50-game suspensions.

And, really, trust has been the steroid era’s great victim. Chris Davis slugs his way to the best season of his young career and questions follow about PED use immediately follow. No evidence. The era has left the notion of being innocent until proven guilty as quaint as flannel uniforms and spitballs.

At some point, though, truth becomes secondary to perception. Gonzalez and Biogenesis appeared in the same sentence. The rest didn’t seem to matter.

Gonzalez passed blood and urine doping tests on Jan. 31.

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