NEW YORK – Manny Ramirez joined a growing lineup of All-Stars linked to drugs Thursday, with the dreadlocked slugger banished for 50 games by a sport that cannot shake free from scandal.
The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder was suspended by Major League Baseball, adding a further stamp to what will forever be known as the Steroids Era.
Ramirez said he did not take steroids, but a doctor gave him medication that contained a banned substance. A person familiar with the details of the suspension said Ramirez used the female fertility drug HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the banned substance wasn’t announced.
HCG is popular among steroid users because it can mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of the drugs. The body might stop producing testosterone when users go off steroids, potentially causing sperm counts to decrease and testicles to shrink.
Ramirez’s suspension was based not on a spring training urine test result but rather evidence obtained afterward, a second person familiar with the suspension said, speaking on condition of anonymity because those details were not released. MLB had concluded the spring test was positive, but the person said the players’ association would have challenged the result because of “testing issues.”
Ranked 17th on the career home run list with 533, Ramirez became the most prominent baseball player to be penalized for drugs.
His ban came three months after Alex Rodriguez admitted using steroids, and at a time when Barry Bonds is under federal indictment and Roger Clemens is being investigated by a federal grand jury to determine whether he lied when he told Congress he never used steroids or human growth hormone.
No matter which way baseball turns, the legitimacy of many of its recent home run and pitching records is being questioned. Sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have been tainted by steroid allegations, Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for a banned drug, and Jose Canseco admitted that he used them.
In every case, players once thought to be locks for the Hall of Fame might now be locked out.
“You can’t have arguably the greatest pitcher of our era, arguably the two greatest players of our era and now another very, very good player be under this cloud of suspicion and not feel like it has ruined it for everybody,” Atlanta star Chipper Jones said.
“But what are you going to do? You can’t be born in a different era. It is the Steroid Era,” he said.
The 36-year-old Ramirez told the Dodgers and fans he was sorry for “this whole situation.”
“Recently, I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was OK to give me,” Ramirez said in a statement issued by the players’ union.
“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.”
His suspension was first reported by the Los Angeles Times on its Web site.
Ramirez was not mentioned in the Mitchell Report, MLB’s official report on drug use, and there had not been whispers that he was among the sport’s juiced players.
Baseball added HCG to its list of banned substances last year. HCG is prescribed to stimulate female fertility, to stimulate testosterone production in men and to treat delayed puberty in boys.
While Ramirez had little to say, Canseco was quick to explain why someone might use HCG.
“It could be that a player used it because he used steroids and went cold-turkey and needed HCG to get his levels back to normal. I had to use it when I quit steroids cold-turkey,” said Canseco, who pleaded guilty last November to a misdemeanor of trying to bring HCG across the Mexican border into the United States illegally. “I had to go to a doctor to get it and get my levels back.”
Because MLB imposed the suspension as required by the drug agreement, the Dodgers cannot further discipline Ramirez.