Jenrry Mejia has a fascinating story to share. He grew up in Santo Domingo and earned money shining shoes for about $8 a day, not taking up baseball until he turned 15.
“I didn’t like baseball,” Mejia told Star-Ledger reporter Brian Costa in 2010. “I just wanted to make money.”
But as a teen, Mejia realized there could be a big payoff if he was good enough at baseball. Two years later, the Mets signed him for $16,500.
By 2009, Mejia was regarded as one of the best prospects in all of baseball. He made the 2010 Mets’ Opening Day roster, becoming the youngest Mets’ rookie to do that since Dwight Gooden.
But Jerry Manuel couldn’t quite figure out how to use his young reliever and by the end of June, Mejia was sent down to the minor leagues to resume working as a starting pitcher. As a September call-up, Mejia made his first major league start against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Mejia did not make the big league roster in 2011. He left his fifth Triple-A start of the season with elbow discomfort, and was diagnosed with a complete tear of his medial collateral ligament. Mejia needed Tommy John surgery that cost him the rest of the season.
Mejia worked through the rehab process and returned to the Mets’ roster in September of 2012… but the team still couldn’t decide if he was a starter or a reliever.
Shoulder inflammation delayed the beginning of Mejia’s major league season in 2013 until July and a bone spur in his right elbow ended it after just five starts.
Mejia beat out veterans Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan for a starting rotation spot in 2014, but was pulled out of that starter’s role for good in mid-May. The Mets needed a closer more than they needed a struggling starter, so they gave him a shot and Mejia excelled.
Mejia was penciled in as the Mets closer for 2015, but experienced elbow inflammation while warming up for a save opportunity on Opening Day. While on the disabled list for that injury, Mejia was suspended for his first violation of Major League Baseball’s performance enhancing drugs testing policy.
Before completing his original 80-game suspension, Mejia reportedly tested positive again. He did appear in one game for the Mets last season before Major League Baseball announced this second violation and suspended him for 162 games.
Mejia still had 99 games left on that second suspension when Major League Baseball announced a third violation today that triggered a permanent ban. Mejia can petition for reinstatement after two years, but his Major League Baseball career is likely over. And since most other professional leagues honor MLB suspensions, Mejia will probably have to find another way to make money now.
Unless someone manages to convince Mejia to tell them, we’ll be left to guess why he started using performance enhancing drugs or continued to use them after he was caught.
Mejia beat the odds to get signed, especially considering his late start in baseball. He beat the odds again to make it to the major leagues, and one more time when he showed signs that he could become a star.
He couldn’t beat the odds against cheating without getting caught, so what once seemed like a remarkable rags-to-riches story is just a sad one.