Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Romero suspended; no appeals planned
ESPN.com news services
NEW YORK -- Phillies reliever J.C. Romero was officially suspended Tuesday for the first 50 games of next season after testing positive for a banned substance.
The suspension was announced by Major League Baseball. It was first reported by ESPN's Peter Gammons on Monday.
The suspension will cost Romero $1.25 million in salary, Gammons reported.
A source familiar with the hearings told ESPN's T.J. Quinn that Romero tested positive after taking 6-oxo, a diet supplement created by Patrick Arnold, the chemist who designed THG. It is advertised as a legal testosterone-booster, and Romero argued that he was not aware there was anything in the supplement that could cause a positive test.
He is the third athlete to be suspended for using the substance, following Greco-Roman wrestler Nathan Piasecki and hammer thrower Scott Boothby.
Neither Romero nor the Players Association plans to appeal the case further. "That process has played itself out completely," said Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock.
Romero is allowed to participate in spring training workouts and games. And Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said during a Tuesday conference call that the team plans to use him in exhibition games this spring.
During Romero's 50-game suspension, he will remain in Clearwater, Fla., working out in extended spring training, Proefrock said. In May, Romero will be permitted to pitch in minor-league games during a 16-day rehab option immediately before his suspension is lifted.
Romero's status for the World Baseball Classic remains unresolved. Romero had been expected to pitch for Puerto Rico. Amaro said that issue is now a matter of discussion between MLB and the players' union.
Amaro Jr. declined to address specifics of Romero's suspension. Asked whether he thought Romero had made a mistake or whether mistakes were also made by the team, the Majore League Baseball Players Association and MLB, Amaro replied: "I'm not going to qualify that. It was unfortunate that a substance was found in J.C.'s testing. And frankly, it's something we have to deal with, and we'll move forward."
Amaro also said: "We care about J.C. and appreciate his contributions over the course of the year and a half he's been with us. We also staunchly support Major League Baseball's drug policy and commend the efforts associated with that program."
Major League Baseball on Tuesday also announced a 50-game suspension for New York Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre, who, like Romero, said had no desire to break baseball rules and that he took a banned substance unwittingly after purchasing a legal supplement at a GNC store.
"I still cannot see where I did something wrong," Romero told Gammons on Monday. "There is nothing that should take away from the rings of my teammates. I didn't cheat. I tried to follow the rules."
MLBPA general counsel Michael Weiner, in a statement released by the players' union, condemned the suspensions, saying the players legally purchased their supplements and therefore did not violate the program's "no fault or negligence" standard.
"The union respects the arbitration process and treats the decision as final," Weiner said. " In our view, though, the resulting discipline imposed upon Mitre and Romero is unfair. These players should not be suspended. Their unknowing actions plainly are distinguishable from those of a person who intentionally used an illegal performance-enhancing substance.
"The Association and the Commissioner's Office must now act to prevent future similar occurrences within baseball. The Association remains committed to a strong Joint Drug Program, but will continue to advocate forcefully for fair treatment of our members."
Although Romero's grievance hearing was held in Tampa around the time the World Series began, Amaro said he and other Phillies personnel had no knowledge at the time that the hearing was taking place or that Romero had tested positive.
Baseball's drug policy requires complete confidentiality in these cases between a positive test and the announcement of test results. So only Romero and Phillies strength coach Dong Lien were aware of the hearing, Amaro said.
"I had no idea it was happening. None of us did," Amaro said. "Only the people who were involved in the hearing (knew). I had no knowledge at all that he was in a hearing. None."
According to Romero, he bought a supplement at the GNC store in Cherry Hil, N.J. He said he had it checked by his personal nutritionist, who said there was nothing in the supplement that was illegal. Romero said he mentioned it to Phillies strength and conditioning coach Dong Lien.
"I feel very confident with how our staff handles -- and has handled -- these situations, both [trainer] Scott Sheridan and Dong Lien. I have absolutely no problem with the way they handled their roles," Amaro said. "It's unfortunate that J.C. and the Phillies have to deal with this situation, but that's how it is."
Romero said he was tested on Aug. 26 and Sept. 19. On Sept. 23, players' association counsel Bob Lenaghan informed Romero he had tested positive.
Romero said the players' association sent a Nov. 21 letter to players that stated, "We have previously told you there is no reason to believe a supplement bought at a U.S. based retail store could cause you to test positive under our Drug Program. That is no longer true. We have recently learned of three substances which can be bought over the counter at stores in the United States that will cause you to test positive. These three supplements were purchased at a GNC and Vitamin Shoppe in the U.S."
In a statement, the MLBPA's Weiner said: "Some press stories have stated that the Association advised players that the particular supplement J.C. took was safe. Others have suggested that the Association knew, in advance of the positive tests, that this supplement contained a banned substance. Neither is accurate. The Association knew nothing about the particular supplements involved here prior to learning of these positive results.
"There also has been a suggestion in some reports that the MLBPA misled its members about the potential dangers of nutritional supplements. That suggestion, too, is not accurate. We have and will continue to do our utmost to counsel players with regard to compliance with our Program."
In 2006, Romero tested positive for a precursor of testosterone, which he said was a fertility supplement his wife, Erin, and he were taking. The case was dropped.
Information from The Associated Press, ESPN's Peter Gammons and ESPN.com's Jayson Stark are included in this report