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Manny Ramirez suspended 50 games for positive drug test

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  May 7, 2009 04:46 PM

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Manny Ramirez, the enigmatic slugger who spent 7 1/2 years with the Red Sox before being dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers last July, has been suspended 50 games for a positive drug test.

The suspension, which was formally announced by Major League Baseball soon after the Los Angeles Times reported it, will begin immediately during the Dodgers' home game tonight against Washington and last until July 3.

The commissioner's office didn't announce the specific violation by the 36-year-old outfielder, but a baseball source told the Globe the substances Ramirez tested positive for was human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a women's fertility drug that can be used by steroid users to restart their body's testosterone production after a steroid cycle.

ESPN first reported the drug was HCG, with the Associated Press following suit with a source confirming that was the drug as well.

HCG is similar to Clomid, the drug Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and others used as clients of BALCO.

"It's not infrequently part of the mix of the poly-drug approach to doping," said Dr. Gary Wadler, chairman of the committee that determines the banned-substances list for the World Anti-Doping Agency. "It typically is used most when people are coming off a cycle to restore to normal biophysiological feedback mechanisms."

Baseball added HCG to its list of banned substances last year.

In a press release from the MLB Players' Association this afternoon, Ramirez attributed the positive test not to steroids, but rather a medication he was given by a physician recently for a personal health issue.

"He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me," Ramirez said in the release. "Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now. I do want to say one other thing; I've taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons.

"I want to apologize to [owner] Mr. [Frank] McCourt, Mrs. McCourt, [manager] Mr. [Joe] Torre, my teammates, the Dodger organization, and to the Dodger fans. LA is a special place to me and I know everybody is disappointed. So am I. I'm sorry about this whole situation."

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig couldn't comment on the suspension because of provisions of the management-union drug agreement, spokesman Rich Levin said.

The Red Sox issued a statement this afternoon saying they would not be commenting on Ramirez.

"In accordance with the Basic Agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, the club is prohibited from commenting on the specifics or the facts of the matter related to Manny Ramirez," the Red Sox' statement read. "Major League Baseball keeps these matters confidential, and as such we do not know any more than what was released by the league. We staunchly support Major League Baseball's drug policy and commend the efforts associated with that program."

Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, and the players' association had gathered materials for a possible appeal to an arbitrator, but Ramirez decided not to file one because he didn't want to risk missing significant time in the second half of the season, the person familiar with details of the suspension told the Associated Press. The union said merely that he waived his right to contest the suspension.

The players' association said Ramirez was suspended by the commissioner under the "just cause" provision of section 8.G.2 of the joint drug agreement. That allows players to be penalized for use, sale or distribution of banned substances, even where the agreement doesn't specify a particular penalty, such as for a positive test.

The two highest-paid players in baseball have now been implicated for performance-enhancing drug use in the past four months. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, baseball's highest-paid player, was revealed in February by Sports Illustrated to have flunked a supposedly anonymous drug test, and he confirmed during a news conference several days later that he used steroids during his three seasons with the Texas Rangers.

Players in violation of the drug policy are not paid during suspension. Ramirez, due to make $25 million this year, will forfeit approximately $7.7 million in salary.

Ramirez, a lifetime .315 hitter with 533 home runs, is by far the most well-known player to be suspended by the MLB for performance-enhancing drug use. However, the majority of his power-hitting peers from the past two decades have been implicated at one time or another as the depth of baseball's steroid problem came into focus. Ramirez is 17th all-time on the home run list. As Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated points out:

Eight of those top 17 home run hitters played in what is commonly referred to as the Steroid Era. And six of those eight modern-day sluggers have been associated with performance-enhancing drugs: Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Rodriguez and Ramirez. The only modern sluggers to have escaped such a connection are Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Thome.

Ramirez, whose petulant behavior spurred by his contract status essentially forced the Red Sox to trade him at the July 31 trading deadline last season, has been a tremendously successful and popular figure during his brief time with the Dodgers.

Last season after the trade, he batted .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs in 53 games with the Dodgers, leading Los Angeles's charge to the postseason.

The Dodgers have the best record in the major leagues, at 21-8, and have won a record 13 in a row at home to start the season.

Ramirez, who signed a two-year, $45 million deal in the offseason, leads the Dodgers in batting average (.348), on-base percentage (.492) and slugging percentage (.641), and he is tied for the team lead in homers with six.

According to the Times, unconfirmed reports about Ramirez's status began circulating during Wednesday night's game. Ramirez did not appear in the clubhouse afterward, and his agent, Scott Boras, refused comment. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and manager Joe Torre said they were unaware of any failed test or pending suspension.

Ramirez had scheduled an appeal and MLB officials were in Los Angeles to meet with him on Wednesday, a source familiar with the matter told ESPN. Ramirez withdrew the appeal Wednesday and accepted the suspension. The drugs major-league players test positive for are not released by MLB or the players' union, per the collective bargaining agreement.

Ramirez's suspension probably comes as a surprise to most, though at an appearance at Southern Cal last month, former slugger Jose Canseco, who wrote the prescient tell-all "Juiced" about the steroid culture in the game, said Ramirez’s name ‘‘is most likely, 90 percent’’ on a list of 104 players that failed a drug test in 2003.

The players were promised anonymity for taking tests in 2003. Rodriguez is the only player that has been identified among that group.

Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe and David Lefort and Steve Silva of the Boston.com staff contributed to this report. Material from the LA Times and the Associated Press was also used.


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