Don't tell Mike Morse baseball's steroids policy is too lenient. On Sept. 7 the Mariners' shortstop, 23, was suspended 10 games for failing a drug test. But this isn't another case of a player getting caught with his pants down. (More on that later.) Morse admits to drug use but swears it ended 18 months ago. If so, his ban exposes another flaw in baseball's much-maligned program: multiple punishments for the same offense.
In November and December of 2003, while a White Sox minor leaguer, Morse injected the steroid nandrolone to speed his recovery from a torn thigh muscle. He switched a month later to stanozolol (the steroid Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for) and, he says, stopped using before spring training in 2004. Still, he got busted that May and was suspended for 15 days. Morse says he made a bad choice: "I wanted to get my leg healed, not be able to hit 40 homers."
Two months later Morse tested positive in the minors again. Then, shortly after being called up by the Mariners in May, he flunked his first test as a major leaguer. Both times, he says, his system contained nothing but residue of the steroids he took in the winter of 2003-04.
He could very well be telling the truth. Nandrolone traces can stay in the body for up to 18 months. "Athletes have long known to avoid nandrolone," says Charles Yesalis, a Penn State sports science professor. "It's too easy to get caught." The three-person panel that heard Morse's appeal bought his argument. (Morse dropped his pants to show the panel his injured leg.) It acknowledged that low levels in his system were probably remnants from 2003--but upheld his ban.
And there's nothing Morse can do about it. Rookies have a clean slate when called up from the minors. The appeals panel couldn't consider Morse's old tests; thus, it couldn't prove his nandrolone level has fallen. The panel said the suspension "may be unfair," but it had to obey the rules negotiated by baseball and its union.
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