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Friday, May 15, 2009

Manny's Drug Test Did Not Find HCG? Or, The Trouble With Anonymous Sources

... so what was it?
One of the sources with knowledge of the test results confirmed that the outfielder's sample was flagged for having an unusually elevated synthetic testosterone level, more than four times that of the average male. Sources also said that MLB's decision to move to suspend Ramirez would have happened only if the report showed a banned substance. Anti-doping experts said the absence of HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), coupled with the league's action, indicated that the Dodgers' outfielder used steroids.
But wait, didn't those anonymous sources earlier tell us he did test positive for HCG? Ladies and gentlemen, until we get something from somebody willing to identify him or herself, we're not going to get a straight story. And that's not going to happen because what's going on here is a real travesty: Manny's drug tests are being leaked by one organization or another that's supposed to be keeping this information secret. So Manny's being tried in the court of public opinion with a bunch of conflicting allegations coming from anonymous tipsters who have nothing to lose by their discreditable actions.

And speaking of discreditable, Buster Olney writes:

Ramirez's testosterone level was found to be more than four times the norm for the average adult male, ESPN's T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada reported earlier this week.

So for McCourt, there is evidence that what he paid for is a player whose stunning performance at age 36 might have been built on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. He agreed to a $45 million deal based on the presumption that Ramirez was clean and would continue to be a highly marketable tool.

But now McCourt might strongly suspect that what he paid for was a slugger jacked up on steroids.

Peter Gammons recently wrote a column about the stunning improvement in Ramirez's performance in 2008:

From 1998 through 2005, Ramirez averaged 41 homers a season. When he was traded July 31, he was on pace to hit 27 homers, a season after hitting 20.

In order to believe McCourt was some sort of dewy-eyed innocent in all this, you have to ignore the the Mitchell Report, which said that the Dodgers unloaded Paul LoDuca at least in part because he had stopped juicing, and that there is no difference between leagues and even divisions. (The pitching is easier in the NL West than the AL East? Who knew?) Olney can be one of the worst, most egregious hack writers out there, and while he doesn't generally sink to the level of a Jay Mariotti, he sure isn't distinguishing himself with this column.

Update: Thanks to Jon for the link today. I confess to not writing nearly as much as I have previously — about either team, but probably the Dodgers even less so — but this issue really chafes. I would also like to clarify something, too: while I have been an ardent critic of Frank McCourt's dating back to before he purchased the team, I do not believe his complicity (and I think he is complicit) makes him a villain at all here. He took a risk on a player with a known flaw, one of potentially huge ramifications to the team, and lost that gamble. Whether or not the Dodgers are "[p]rivately ... very angry with Manny Ramirez" over this fracas, as Olney writes, it's difficult to imagine how they didn't know he was juicing, and indeed it seems likely they were merely hoping he wouldn't get caught.

Update 2: Jon passes on the brief Ken Gurnick story that Manny has finally met with his teammates over the matter of his failed drug test.

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To be fair, none of the media reports I've read claimed a "positive" test in the sense of detecting a banned substance. What the test revealed, per the initial report, was an elevated level of testosterone, which is a red flag. MLB conducted its investigation, which revealed the HCG prescription. Nobody ever said he tested positive for HCG; rather, MLB simply uncovered the prescription, and Manny copped to that. HCG is on a list of restricted substances, for which Manny could have but did not apply for a therapeutic exception. Therefore, 50-game ban.

The latest rumor is that the testosterone in his system was synthetic, which would not result from use of HCG, but rather from another banned substance.
none of the media reports I've read claimed a "positive" test in the sense of detecting a banned substance.This is not true, however. Anonymous sources used in a Tim Brown/Steve Henson report on Yahoo Sports indicated the drug he tested positive for was a gonadotropin:

However, two sources said the substance Ramirez tested positive for was a gonadotropin. Major League Baseball’s list of banned substances includes the gonadotropins LH and HCG, which are most commonly used by women as fertility drugs. They also can be used to trigger testosterone production. Testosterone is depleted by steroid use, and low testosterone can cause erectile dysfunction.A subsequent ESPN story, using anonymous sources once more, claimed it was HCG specifically:

... 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.So that would be two banned substances if true (HCG and steroids).
Sorry about the formatting above; looks like Blogger ate my comment. But the quoted parts are (mostly) in italics.
Maybe it's the lawyer in me, but I don't read "identified as using" as "tested positive for." "Identified as using" is entirely consistent with finding that it had been prescribed to him. By obtaining medical records, they identified the substances he was using. The testing itself simply "showed that Ramirez had testosterone in his body that was not natural," which is also not a positive test for a banned substance. Rather, it is a positive test for something that suggests or indicates use of a banned substance. Also, for the record, I had not read that Tim Brown/Steve Henson report.
Good thing about drug test, they dont lie. Don't do drugs and you wouldn't have to worry about it huh.

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