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Published: Friday, 5/8/2009

Drug offense sidelines Ramirez for 50 games

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK - Manny Ramirez joined a growing lineup of all-stars linked to drugs yesterday, with the dreadlocked slugger banished for 50 games by a sport that cannot shake free from scandal.

The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder was suspended by Major League Baseball, adding a further stamp to what will forever be known as the Steroids Era.

Ramirez said he did not take steroids and was given medication by a doctor that contained a banned substance. A person familiar with the details of the suspension said Ramirez used the female fertility drug HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin.

HCG is popular among steroid users because it can mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of the drugs. The body may stop producing testosterone when users go off steroids, which can cause sperm counts to decrease and testicles to shrink.

Ramirez's suspension was based not on the test result but rather evidence obtained afterward, a second person familiar with the suspension said, speaking on condition of anonymity because those details were not released.

MLB had concluded the spring test was positive, but the person said the players' association would have challenged the result because of "testing issues."

Ramirez notified the players' union that he would not appeal.

Ranked 17th on the career home run list with 533, Ramirez became the most prominent baseball player to be penalized for drugs. His ban came three months after Alex Rodriguez admitted using steroids and at a time when Barry Bonds is under federal indictment and Roger Clemens is accused of lying to Congress about his own alleged steroid use.

No matter which way baseball turns, the legitimacy of many of its recent home run and pitching records are being questioned. Sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have been tainted by steroid allegations, Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for a banned drug, and Jose Canseco said he used steroids.

"You can't have arguably the greatest pitcher of our era, arguably the two greatest players of our era, and now another very, very good player be under this cloud of suspicion and not feel like it has ruined it for everybody," Atlanta star Chipper Jones said.

"But what are you going to do? You can't be born in a different era. It is the Steroid Era," he said.

The 36-year-old Ramirez told the Dodgers and fans he was sorry for "this whole situation."

"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," Ramirez said in a statement.

"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."

While Ramirez had little to say, Canseco was quick to explain why someone might use HCG.

"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, who pleaded guilty last November to a misdemeanor of trying to illegally bring HCG across the Mexican border. "I had to go to a doctor to get it and get my levels back."

Because MLB imposed the suspension as required by the drug agreement, the Dodgers cannot further discipline Ramirez.

"We share the disappointment felt by our fans, our players, and every member of our organization," Dodgers chief executive officer Jamie McCourt said in a statement. "We will welcome Manny back upon his return."

Rodriguez and Ramirez are the two highest-paid players in the majors. With this suspension, six of the top 17 home run hitters in history now have been covered by the cloud of performance-enhancing drugs.

Baseball added HCG to its list of banned substances last year. HCG is prescribed to stimulate female fertility and testosterone production in men and to treat delayed puberty in boys.

Reaction to Ramirez's ban came swiftly, from clubhouses to the White House.

"It's a tragedy. It's a shame. My sense is, it's a great embarrassment on Major League Baseball," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Ramirez's suspension began yesterday. Barring any postponements, he will be able to return to the Dodgers for the July 3 game at San Diego. Ramirez will lose $7,650,273 of his $25 million salary.

Ramirez is batting .348 with six home runs and 20 RBIs through the first 27 games of the season.



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