May 07, 2009

Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance, incurring an immediate 50-game suspension and serving as the highest-profile reminder yet that the use of such drugs in the testing era may have been reduced, but not eradicated.

Ramirez will be able to return to the Dodgers -- who currently have the best record in baseball -- on July 3. He will lose about $7.65 million of his $25 million salary.

Ramirez, a baseball source told, explained to baseball officials he was uncertain he was taking a banned substance and may have had a medical reason for using the substance. After consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association and his representatives, Ramirez has decided not to challenge the suspension, according to an MLBPA statement.

A source said that the substance was HCG, human chorionic gonadotropin, which is prescribed to stimulate female fertility and testosterone production in men and to treat delayed puberty in boys. HCG is not classified as a steroid but was clearly defined as a banned performance enhancer according to the drug agreement between baseball and its players association. Banned substances can only be taken with prior knowledge and medical clearance from baseball's drug-program administrators. Such exceptions are known as Therapeutic Use Exemptions, or TUEs. The suspension is an indication Ramirez did not have a TUE for the substance.

Ramirez said in a statement released by the MLBPA: "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."

Ramirez is the first major star to be suspended under baseball's stricter drug-testing rules that went into effect in 2003. Until now, baseball and the players union have portrayed drug use as having been nearly eradicated in the past few years, pointing out that the major drug-related stories -- involving Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and the revelations in the Mitchell Report -- involved drug use prior to the 2003 tightening of the program.

Ramirez is the third player suspended this year under the new rules, following Philadelphia reliever J.C. Romero and Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre. Last year, just two players were suspended under the program: Giants catcher Elizier Alfonzo and Rockies catcher Humberto Coto.

Ramirez ranks 17th on the all-time home-run list with 533. Eight of those top 17 home run hitters played in what is commonly referred to as the Steroid Era.

MLB added HCG to its list of banned substances last year. "It's not infrequently part of the mix of the poly-drug approach to doping," Dr. Gary Wadler, chairman of the committee that determines the banned-substances list for the World Anti-Doping Agency, told the AP. "It typically is used most when people are coming off a cycle to restore to normal biophysiological feedback mechanisms."

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