Sources: Ramirez used fertility drug

Updated: May 8, 2009, 1:27 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LOS ANGELES -- 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 star said he did not take steroids and was prescribed medication by a doctor that contained a banned substance.

"It's a dark day for baseball and certainly for this organization," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told reporters on the field at Dodger Stadium. "This organization will never condone anything that isn't clean."

The commissioner's office didn't announce the specific violation by the 36-year-old outfielder, who apologized to the Dodgers and fans for "this whole situation."

However, testing by Major League Baseball showed that Ramirez had testosterone in his body that was not natural and came from an artificial source, two people with knowledge of the case told ESPN's Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn. The sources said that in addition to the artificial testosterone, Ramirez was identified as using the female fertility drug human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG.

The sources said Ramirez was suspended for using hCG because baseball had documentation to prove his use of the drug. A Major League Baseball source said Ramirez's representatives indicated they would fight a suspension for using artificial testosterone.

Ramirez, in a statement issued by the players' union, said: "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.

"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."

ESPN reported earlier that testing showed Ramirez had used hCG, which is typically used by steroid users to restart their bodies' natural testosterone production as they come off a steroid cycle. It is similar to Clomid, the drug Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and others used as clients of BALCO.

Ramirez's case was set off when a test in spring training revealed he had elevated levels of testosterone in his body. MLB followed up with a more comprehensive test that confirmed the testosterone had to come from an artificial source, the sources said.

While investigating, MLB obtained documents that indicated Ramirez's use of hCG, and it was those documents that formally were used to hand down the 50-game suspension. Baseball decided to suspend Ramirez for only hCG because, in the end, he would have been suspended for just the 50 games either way. There was a chance Ramirez could have proved that the testosterone did not come from a banned substance, the MLB source said.

The hCG use, a doping expert told ESPN, would have been separate from the use of the artificial testosterone reflected by MLB's testing.

Ramirez had scheduled an appeal and MLB officials were in Los Angeles to meet with him on Wednesday. Ramirez, however, withdrew the appeal Wednesday for the scheduled meeting and accepted the suspension. Under the union agreement, the drugs major league players test positive for are not named.

"We share the disappointment felt by our fans, our players, and every member of our organization," Dodgers CEO Jamie McCourt said in a team-issued statement. "We support the policies of Major League Baseball, and we will welcome Manny back upon his return."

Dodgers manager Joe Torre says Ramirez feels he disappointed his team.

"He feels very badly. Right now he's trying to gather his thoughts," Torre said Thursday at the ballpark before the Dodgers played the Washington Nationals. The Nationals rallied from a six-run deficit to beat the Dodgers 11-9.

"The worst thing I think a person can be is a disappointment to somebody else, and Manny feels like a disappointment."

Colletti and Torre said they found out about Ramirez's suspension during an early morning phone call from team owner Frank McCourt. Both said they were surprised and saddened at the news.

Torre spoke to the rest of the team during a closed-door meeting before batting practice.

"The mood was sad in the clubhouse," he said. "You can't have someone who's as much of an impact player and personality as Manny missing without it affecting people."

Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said that even though Ramirez makes them a better team, they are still capable of winning games without him.

"He's one of the best hitters of all time, so it's definitely going to be tough," Martin said. "But what can you do? You've just got to move on and keep plugging away. You have to take it either as a challenge, and that's what we're going to do."

The players' association said Ramirez was suspended by the commissioner under the "just cause" provision of section 8.G.2 of the joint drug agreement. That allows players to be penalized for use, sale or distribution of banned substances, even where the agreement doesn't specify a particular penalty, such as for a positive test.

"The commissioner's office is precluded from making any comment by the Collective Bargaining Agreement," MLB spokesman Rich Levin said.

The suspension began Thursday and barring any postponements Ramirez will be able to return to the Dodgers -- who now have the best record in baseball -- for the July 3 game at San Diego. Ramirez will lose more than $7 million of his $25 million salary.

Dodgers coach Larry Bowa said he turned on his television Thursday morning and did a double-take when he saw the news about Ramirez's suspension.

"There was a pit in your stomach, because obviously with the way we're playing [so well] right now," Bowa said in an ESPN Radio interview with Colin Cowherd. "... On the other hand, it's time for some of our young kids to grow up now. We don't have Manny for 50 games, so they're going to have to go out there and play. ... It's going to be a challenge for them."

While Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco and a long list of stars have been implicated in the use of performance-enhancing drugs, Ramirez is the most prominent suspended under the drug policy players and owners put in place seven years ago.

Last fall, Canseco pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of trying to bring hCG across the border from Mexico and was sentenced to 12 months' unsupervised probation. A self-admitted and longtime steroids user, Canseco said he sought the drug to try to restore his testosterone level.

"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. "I had to go to a doctor to get it and get my levels back."

In February, Rodriguez admitted taking steroids while playing for Texas from 2001 to '03. But testing with penalties didn't begin until 2004, and the New York Yankees third baseman doesn't appear likely to be suspended.

In his statement, Ramirez addressed Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, and 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."

His suspension was first reported by the Los Angeles Times on its Web site. Triple-A outfielder Xavier Paul has been told by the Dodgers that he will be promoted later on Thursday, according to the Times.

Ramirez became the third 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.

Only two relatively low-profile players were suspended under the major league program last year, San Francisco catcher Elizier Alfonzo and Colorado catcher Humberto Coto.

In the past, the best-known player penalized was Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro, who received a 10-day suspension in 2005, the first year of penalties for first infractions.

Ramirez was acquired by Los Angeles from Boston last July 31 and became a fan favorite. His contract negotiations became a long-running drama during the offseason, and he agreed in early March -- well after the start of spring training -- to a $45 million, two-year contract that gives him the right to void the second season and become a free agent again.

Los Angeles even renamed a section of seats in left field at Dodger Stadium "Mannywood" in his honor.

Ramirez is batting .348 with six home runs and 20 RBIs through the first 27 games of the season. Los Angeles has bolted to a 21-8 record and a 13-0 mark at home that has set the modern major league record for a home winning streak to start a season. Through Thursday's games, the Dodgers led the NL West by 5½ games.

Strength coaches around the major leagues long have preached to players that any substance they consider taking -- whether it's an over-the-counter supplement, or medication from a doctor -- should be done in consultation with the union prior to ingesting it. Players also have access to a hotline, which was established in the wake of the Mitchell report, to ask questions.

"I think most guys will trust a physician, right or wrong," one major league strength coach told ESPN.com. "I always emphasize to our players, minor league Latin players especially, don't take anything unless a team doctor gives it to you. A team doctor."

The Red Sox declined to comment on the specifics of Ramirez's suspension but added: "We staunchly support Major League Baseball's drug policy and commend the efforts associated with that program."

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."

T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada are investigative reporters for ESPN. Amy K. Nelson covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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