Questions remain on what A-Rod took

Updated: February 18, 2009, 2:17 PM ET
By Mike Fish | ESPN.com

Dr. Don Catlin, the anti-doping sleuth who broke the code on the seemingly undetectable drugs in the BALCO drug case, has never heard of a performance-enhancing substance described by Alex Rodriguez on Tuesday as "boli."

At his high-drama news conference in Tampa, Fla., Rodriguez blamed a positive drug test in 2003 on a substance that goes by the street name of "boli" in the Dominican Republic. He fleshed out his story, saying that an unnamed cousin sold him on the value of the substance, purchased over the counter in the Dominican, and proceeded to inject him about twice a month in six-month cycles from 2001 until 2003.

Catlin and other anti-doping experts, as well as convicted steroid supplier Kirk Radomski, were at a loss to identify the substance vaguely described by Rodriguez. Speculation centered on the steroids Primobolan, D-bol or Dianabol, and Bolasterone, in part because of the name similarities to "boli."

Rodriguez wasn't asked to further identify the drug during a 27-minute Q&A session with reporters at the New York Yankees complex in Tampa. His agent, Scott Boras, did not respond to a message left Tuesday night seeking clarification on the drug.

"I have a pretty good screening device, but that's a new name," Catlin told ESPN.com.

In initially reporting the story last week, Sports Illustrated said unnamed sources indicated that Rodriguez had tested positive for Primobolan and testosterone. Catlin told ESPN.com, however, that it is "very, very unlikely" that a single injected drug could have produced two positive tests -- unless it was tainted, which he acknowledged is plausible with substances purchased in the Dominican Republic.

"Primobolan is a separate and distinct chemical," said Catlin, president of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Anti-Doping Research Inc. "You identify it as a specific structure, and we know how to do it. Testosterone has a separate and distinctly different fingerprint."

ESPN.com reported last week that several sources who asked to be anonymous -- including someone with extensive experience using and dealing in steroids, a doctor, and a law enforcement official -- said it wasn't likely that use of a single substance could have resulted in a positive test for both Primobolan and testosterone.

Asked whether a second substance would have to be in the player's system to produce the Primobolan and testosterone positives, Catlin said, "Yeah, I would think so, for sure. Probably in that day and age, my speculation would be the sample had a high T/E ratio [elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone is a marker of testosterone use] and that was taken as evidence of the use of testosterone."

Radomski, a leading steroid supplier to players for more than a decade, also said the name "boli" was news to him. He likewise thought it unusual that Primobolan or something like it would have produced a positive test for testosterone.

"He must have been taking something else with it, unless the drug was tainted," said Radomski, who said he never dealt with Rodriguez. "I've been in the business a long time and never heard of that."

The catch is that Rodriguez, who was playing for the Texas Rangers during the period in question, described the substance as having been purchased in the Dominican Republic. If that was the case, Catlin said, the lack of regulatory controls in the Latin American country could lend credence to A-Rod's version of events.

"That is different," Catlin said. "If you are in the Dominican Republic and buy Primobolan, there may well be testosterone in it. And vice versa."

But unanswered questions persist, even after the latest uncomfortable turn by Rodriguez in the media spotlight.

"There was no discussion today about testosterone," said Dr. Gary Wadler, who serves on the World Anti-Doping Agency's Prohibited List and Methods Committee. "Nobody asked about it. Nobody asked what 'boli' was. Somebody should have said, 'Look, what is "boli"? Is it shorthand for Dianabol or Primobolan?' Now we're left with more speculation."

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com.