- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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New York Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre has received a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy. Like Philadelphia Phillies reliever J.C. Romero, Mitre claims he had no desire to break baseball rules and that he took the banned substance unwittingly after purchasing a legal supplement at a GNC store in Florida.
The commissioner's office on Tuesday officially announced Mitre's suspension.
Mitre told ESPN.com that he takes "full responsibility" for his actions. He said he failed a drug test because a trace amount of androstenedione appeared without his knowledge in a nutritional supplement that he bought at GNC.
"Although being suspended for 50 games is tough to accept, I think that it is important to understand that I am in full support of drug testing in baseball," Mitre said in a statement released through his agent, Paul Cobbe. "I did take the supplement in question and accept full responsibility for taking it. What has been difficult for me to understand is that I legally purchased this supplement at GNC and had no intention nor desire to cheat or to circumvent the system in any way.
"As confirmed through the drug testing and grievance processes, it contained a 'contaminant' amount of an illegal, performance-enhancing drug. This was not listed as an ingredient on the packaging, should not have been in the supplement and certainly should not have been available for legal purchase at a store."
Union general counsel Michael Weiner, in a statement released by the players' union on Tuesday, 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."
Mitre, 27, underwent reconstructive elbow surgery in July and was rehabilitating at the Florida Marlins' spring training facility when he bought an unidentified supplement at a GNC outlet in Jupiter, Fla. He failed a random drug test in late August and said he was surprised to learn that the test revealed a trace amount of androstenedione in his urine.
Androstenedione, or andro, is a natural steroid hormone that produces testosterone in the body. The substance received widespread attention in 1998 when an Associated Press reporter spotted a bottle in St. Louis first baseman Mark McGwire's locker stall. Andro was legal in baseball at the time, but it was banned in 2004 as part of the game's new drug testing agreement.
Mitre filed a grievance in September, but lost his case. He's not expected to return from Tommy John surgery until midseason, and will serve his suspension and be docked 50 days of pay while on the disabled list.
Mitre has a 10-23 record in five major league seasons with the Chicago Cubs and the Marlins. In November, the Yankees signed him to a split contract that will pay him about $1.5 million if he makes the major league roster.
While Mitre stands to lose only about $60,000 or $70,000 from the minor league salary he's docked while rehabbing from his injury, he's more concerned with the public perception that results from his suspension. Like Romero, he wants the public to understand the circumstances that led to the disciplinary action against him.
"I accept my punishment because, as a professional, I have a responsibility for what I put into my body," Mitre said. "For this I will suffer a significant financial penalty and, more importantly, it will affect my reputation. I only hope that this will help others avoid being punished for having taken a product bought legally at a retail store."
Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider.
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