Dominican Republic’s Ramirez drugs ban rocks baseball
LOS ANGELES, USA (AFP) — Baseball was reeling with the 50-game suspension of Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Manny Ramirez for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti called it "a dark day for baseball in a lot of ways," as Ramirez became the first marquee player to be suspended under Major League Baseball’s stepped-up drug policy.
But the free-spirited slugger is just the latest big name to be linked to drugs in a game in which the damaging Mitchell Report investigation turned up a wealth of evidence of steroid use.
Ramirez, of the Dominican Republic, denied taking steroids and said the problem stems from medication he took for personal medical reasons.
"Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid," Ramirez said in a statement. "I have taken and passed 15 drug tests over the past five seasons."
US sports broadcaster ESPN reported that Ramirez tested positive for the drug human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG.
It is a women’s fertility drug, but athletes like it because it restarts their natural testosterone level after they stop using steroids, ESPN said.
"Certainly it caught us all by surprise," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "And I hope to heck I’m always surprised when something like this happens."
But drug scandals have in fact become commonplace in the game.
This is the second doping scandal to hit the sport in the past few months, and Ramirez’s suspension means that American baseball’s two highest paid players have failed drug tests.
In February, New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez admitted to using steroids between 2001 and 2003 – before the current anti-doping policy was in place.
Rodriguez is the sport’s highest-paid player and like Ramirez is considered one of the greatest home-run hitters of all time.
All-time home run king Barry Bonds is facing a federal perjury trial linked to his denial of using performance-enhancing drugs and pitcher Roger Clemens is being investigated for possibly lying when he told Congress he never used performance-enhancers.
The issue has become so prominent that even the White House reacted.
"It’s a tragedy. It’s a shame. My sense is, it’s a great embarrassment on Major League Baseball," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Ramirez’s ban, which will cost him 7.7 million dollars in salary, is effective immediately which means he will not be eligible to return to the Los Angeles lineup until July 3.
The loss of the 12-time All-Star is a big blow for the Dodgers, who have won a modern major league record 13 straight home games to start the season.
"Disappointment especially after the elation of winning last night’s game," Torre said of his feelings. "And then to have somebody punch a hole in it. Disappointment and saddened is where I go emotionally."
Torre said the Dodgers would welcome Ramirez back in July, although they also backed baseball’s punishment.
"We are going to support him. We are going to do what we can to help him through this. That isn’t to say we condone what went on," Torre added. "MLB has to be strict and I certainly agree with that."
Ramirez, who turns 37 later this month, re-signed with the Dodgers as a free agent this spring after finding few other takers willing to take on his huge salary.
Los Angeles eventually inked him to a two-year deal that pays him 25 million dollars in the first year and 20 million dollars in the second.
In 27 games, he is hitting .348 with six home runs and 20 runs batted in. He ranks 17th on the career home run list with 533.
In March, Ramirez said he "wasn’t tempted" to use drugs.
On Thursday, he apologized to Dodgers management, his teammates and the Dodgers’ fans.
"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," Ramirez said. "LA is a special place to me and I know everybody is disappointed. So am I. I’m sorry about this whole situation."
Under baseball’s anti-doping policy, a player receives a 50-game suspension for a first positive drug test, a 100-game suspension for a second positive test and a lifetime ban for a third positive test.