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 and was given medication by a doctor 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 to The Associated Press 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 may stop producing testosterone when users go off steroids, which can cause sperm counts to decrease and testicles to shrink.
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Ramirez's suspension was based not on the 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 accused of lying to Congress about his own alleged steroid use.
No matter which way baseball turns, the legitimacy of many of its recent home run and pitching records are 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 said he used them.
In every case, players once believed to be locks for the Hall of Fame may 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.
And that prompted yet another apology from another ballplayer. 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.
While Ramirez had little to say, Canseco, who planned a news conference Thursday night in Los Angeles, 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, told the AP. "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.
"We share the disappointment felt by our fans, our players, and every member of our organization," Dodgers chief executive officer Jamie McCourt said in a statement. "We will welcome Manny back upon his return."
Ramirez was not mentioned in the Mitchell Report in December 2007, MLB's official report on drug use, and there had not been whispers that he was among the sport's juiced players.
Rodriguez and Ramirez are the two highest-paid players in the majors. With this suspension, six of the top 17 home run hitters in history now have been covered by the cloud of performance-enhancing drugs.
"It's kind of shocking that he got caught up in anything, honestly. Manny likes to play stupid, but he's a pretty bright guy. And he's definitely aware of a lot of things that he tries to act like he's completely oblivious to," said Cincinnati pitcher Bronson Arroyo, Ramirez's former Boston teammate.
Baseball added HCG to its list of banned substances last year. HCG is prescribed to stimulate female fertility and testosterone production in men and to treat delayed puberty in boys.
"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."
Reaction to Ramirez's ban came swiftly, from major league clubhouses to the White House.
"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.
The penalty left the best team in the majors without its driving force and free spirit for nearly one-third of the season.
Ramirez's suspension began Thursday. Barring any postponements, he will be able to return to the Dodgers for the July 3 game at San Diego. Ramirez will lose $7,650,273 of his $25 million salary.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig couldn't comment on the suspension because of provisions of the management-union drug agreement, spokesman Rich Levin said.
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 said. The union said merely that he waived his right to contest the suspension.
Ramirez is batting .348 with six home runs and 20 RBIs through the first 27 games of the season.
His suspension comes a day after the Dodgers broke the modern major league record for a home winning streak to open a season with their 13th consecutive victory. They play Washington again Thursday night.
Losing Ramirez to suspension could be a huge blow financially for the Dodgers. The slugger has been single-handedly responsible for increasing attendance, merchandise sales and interest in the team, in addition to helping it win the NL West after his late-season arrival in 2008.
Los Angeles even renamed a section of seats in left field at Dodger Stadium "Mannywood" in his honor. Hours after the suspension, the team removed a reference to those seats from its Web site.
Ramirez's suspension came a day before Rodriguez was likely to rejoin the New York Yankees. Rodriguez has been on the disabled list since having hip surgery.
In his statement, Ramirez addressed Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, and manager Joe Torre.
"I want to apologize to Mr. McCourt, Mrs. McCourt, Mr. Torre, my teammates, the Dodger organization, and to the Dodger fans," 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."
Ramirez became the fourth player suspended this year under the major league program, following Philadelphia reliever J.C. Romero, Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre and San Francisco pitcher Kelvin Pichardo.
In St. Louis, a clubhouse attendant stuck his head into manager Tony La Russa's office and said, "Manny Ramirez, 50 games, steroids."
La Russa's reaction: "You're kidding me."