More on Mitre; Dissecting Romero's claims

IIAMTS: Why should we believe Mitre’s story?
Sosnick: Paul and Sergio have been dealing with this issue for months, working with the MLBPA. Based on what I know about the situation, I believe there is zero chance that Sergio would be making this up.

IIATMS: It was noted in Peter Gammons’ original article that Romero claims he was offered a more lenient suspension (25 games) if he plead guilty. Was Mitre offered that same deal?
Sosnick
: Mitre was not offered that deal. A lot of scenarios were bantered around as possibilities but Mitre was never offered a choice. My partner Paul Cobbe handled the entire deal with Mitre and the MLBPA hearing/appeals process. He was never offered a choice. We hoped for zero games; it came down as a 50 game [suspension] for both Romero and Mitre. We, along with the MLBPA thought that was unfair. If Romero claims he was offered 25 games to admit guilt, that comes as a surprise to us since Mitre was never made that offer.

IIATMS: Who knew about this and for how long?
Sosnick
: Only myself, Paul and Sergio [and the MLBPA] were aware. We’ve been working on it for months. Paul and Sergio have been to NYC to discuss and meet with MLB officials. Once we knew that the league would release this today, the only person that I called was Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman, out of respect for him and our working relationship. We released Sergio’s statement after the Romero statement was released.

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A few things that I’ve been thinking about since the news broke and it’s only now, after I have had a chance to re-read everything and digest it all, that some things are becoming clearer.

First of all, while I am fortunate to have a good relationship with Sosnick, I do not work FOR him. Just because Sosnick told me that he doesn’t believe Mitre intentionally did anything wrong doesn’t mean you or I have to believe him. I’m presenting his side since I have access; decide for yourself.

That said, I think Paul Cobbe’s statement on behalf of Mitre was spot on. Nothing resonates more than someone taking responsibility for their actions, even if it means certain punishment. Man-up, as they say. Mitre manned-up. Mitre’s entire statement (emphasis mine):


“Although being suspended for 50 games is tough to accept, I think that it is important to understand that I am in full support of drug testing in Baseball. I did take the supplement in question, and accept full responsibility for taking it. What has been difficult for me to understand is that I legally purchased this supplement at GNC, and had no intention nor desire to cheat or to circumvent the system in any way. As confirmed through the drug testing and grievance processes, it contained a “contaminant” amount of an illegal, performance-enhancing drug. This was not listed as an ingredient on the packaging, should not have been in the supplement and certainly should not have been available for legal purchase at a store. Despite this, I do accept my punishment because, as a professional, I have a responsibility for what I put into my body. For this I will suffer a significant financial penalty and, more importantly, it will affect my reputation. I only hope that this will help others avoid being punished for having taken a product bought legally at a retail store.”

Whether you or I believe that Mitre was unknowingly taking a substance that was against the rules is almost immaterial here. What is important is that he acknowledged it and takes responsibility for his actions.

What also struck me here is how much his statement felt like the similar tactic that Andy Pettitte took last Spring in speaking out in the face of the Mitchell Report fallout. Different circumstances, to be sure, but I can tell you that more people respected Pettitte for admitting his guilt than the morbid path that Roger Clemens decided to take. Clemens, as you will never forget, blamed everyone else and never took responsibility for his actions.

I went back over some of the other things that I read about the Romero ‘situation’, since that clearly had greater legs than Mitre’s. Peter Gammons’ timeline shows us that this was ongoing in the Fall, through the playoffs and actually during the World Series! Pretty interesting how long this process takes to germinate.

What really sticks out is Romero’s response, how he blamed everyone he could seemingly think of, from the MLBPA (the very organization who serves as his advocate and also happens to be the most powerful union in perhaps the world), to GNC, to the manufacturer, down to his trainer on the Phillies.

Regarding the 25 game “offer” that Romero suggested that he received from MLB [EDIT: see update at end], Romero’s comments come across as Clemens-esque. The first comment is particularly insulting:

“But they are not going to make an example of me thinking that I’m just a (dumb) Puerto Rican. it’s not going to happen. it’s not the way I’m built.

“For me to keep my mouth shut? That’s not the right thing to do. If they want to bump me out of the game, so be it. What am I going to do, just sit back and take it? When I know in my heart I’m innocent? That doesn’t fly well with me and it doesn’t fly well in my house, either.”

Sounds like Clemens’ initial reaction, too, but I’m willing to give Romero a break here since we don’t know all the facts and we don’t have the benefit of the Mitchell Report to rely upon.

So let’s dig deeper since some things begin to look very sketchy when laid out on a kitchen table:

What did the MLBPA know and when did they know it?

According to the Gammons article, Romero claims that “he spoke to Michael Weiner at the MLBPA and told him he did not know the cause of the positive test. On Oct. 1, Weiner told Romero that the specific supplement was indeed the cause of the failed test and that because it was purchased over the counter in the U.S., he believed the case would be dropped.”

Why, then, would Michael Weiner, MLBPA’s General Counsel, issue a tersely written “Statement Statement In Response to Media Reports on the Suspension of J.C. Romero” emailed to all MLBPA personnel? Press stories here has to only refer to that Gammons source article, essentially coming from Romero’s mouth. So what did Weiner have to say about one of his dues-paying Union members’ claims?


Some press stories have stated that the Association advised players that the particular supplement J.C. took was safe. Others have suggested that the Association knew, in adva

nce of the positive tests, that this supplement contained a banned substance. Neither is accurate. The Association knew nothing about the particular supplements involved here prior to learning of these positive results.

“There also has been a suggestion in some reports that the MLBPA misled its members about the potential dangers of nutritional supplements. That suggestion, too, is not accurate. We have and will continue to do our utmost to counsel players with regard to compliance with our Program.

Friends, that is the general counsel of the world’s most powerful union effectively calling “bullsh*t” on one of its members. Do not take this lightly. Weiner is essentially calling Romero (and his claims) a liar. I cannot believe, for a second, that the senior attorney for the union would publish a comment like this without it being a bulletproof statement.

It makes me wonder if there really was a firm offer to accept a lesser penalty for pleading guilty. Maybe it was a trial balloon. Who knows? But no matter what, Weiner’s calling him out on it.

Weiner goes on to then say that he thinks the punishment is too harsh and unfair but the statement abruptly ends there. That’s Weiner doing his job after slamming the door. Weiner issued a joint release for Mitre and Romero that also criticized the ruling.

The Union respects the arbitration process and treats the decision as final. In our view, though, the resulting discipline imposed upon Mitre and Romero is unfair. These players should not be suspended. Their unknowing actions plainly are distinguishable from those of a person who intentionally used an illegal performance-enhancing substance.

He’s sticking up for his Union members, as you’d expect, but it’s the MLBPA email with the time stamp of 01/06/2009 01:05 PM To: All MLBPA Personnel that is particularly scathing.

What’s certainly possible: Romero, like Mitre, unknowingly took something from GNC that contained elements that are against the MLB drug policy. However, attacking the MLBPA is not the way to go about defending yourself.

The GNC Supplement in question:
Will Carroll from Baseball Prospectus had an interesting little piece on what Romero was supposedly taking: Ergopharm 6-OXO Extreme. Notes Carroll:

According to multiple sources (and also reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer), Romero tested positive for 6-OXO Extreme, a product that enhances testosterone production in ways very similar to anabolic steroids. While legal and still available at your local GNC, 6-OXO Extreme has always carried a warning that it could result in positive tests. If you look at the above link, you’ll be able to find the same warning in the online information.

But it gets better, or worse, if you’re Romero. 6-OXO is a product of Ergopharm. Ergopharm is owned and operated by a guy you might remember: Patrick Arnold. Yes, that one. Arnold was the source for the THG used by BALCO. Arnold served several months in jail due to his involvement and is now back in business.

If Romero didn’t know what he was taking, he sure got unlucky in picking the product marked “for hardcore users only” and with a connection that baseball fans would rather forget.

Whoops. Rob Neyer had the logical comment worth repeating:

Here’s a crazy idea: Read the label, and if the label says the product may be banned by an athletic association and you’re a professional athlete subject to drug testing “ don’t take that drug.

The Inquirer article did secure a comment from Arnold, which puts Romero in a further negative light, if you ask me:

In an e-mail exchange, Arnold said there was nothing in his supplement that should have created a positive drug test.

“We have funded two independent clinical studies (one done at Baylor University) that have been peer reviewed,” Arnold wrote. “These studies demonstrated the efficacy and safety of the product. We also have funded studies that have demonstrated the compound’s compliance with FDA regulation. Furthermore, we funded another study at (the University of Illinois) in Chicago using classical protocols that demonstrated that 6-OXO is absolutely not an anabolic steroid.”


Why didn’t MLB alert its players about this OTC product?
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer article referenced by Carroll:

In July, Romero showed the new supplement to Phillies strength coach Dong Lien, who recommended that Romero get a second opinion before using it. Romero then showed it to his personal nutritionist, “the guy I’ve been working with since I’ve been in major-league baseball,” Romero said.

That nutritionist checked the product’s label and saw nothing on MLB’s banned list. Romero began taking the supplement at that point.

Meanwhile, according to the arbitrator’s report, Lien sent a sample of the supplement to MLB for testing. The tests showed the supplement contained a substance that could result in a positive drug test. A copy of those results was sent to commissioner Bud Selig’s office in July.

Considering it was the first time a banned substance was found in an FDA-regulated, over-the-counter supplement – one available to every major-leaguer and millions of youths – that should have sounded alarms. But no one from MLB, the players association or the Phillies told Romero that there was a problem with the supplement.

Note the timing: In July. Unfortunately, the MLBPA memo citing certain OTC supplements may trigger positive tests came in November. Again from the Inquirer:

The Major League Baseball Players Association has told players that supplements purchased in U.S. retail stores should be safe and within the guidelines of baseball’s drug-testing program. The union acknowledged giving that advice in a letter it sent out to players and their advisers in November. That letter, which arrived too late to help Romero, informed players that three over-the-counter supplements were found to create positive tests under baseball’s drug program.


The Phillies response:
From GM Ruben Amaro:

“I feel very confident with how our staff handles — and has handled — these situations, both [trainer] Scott Sheridan and Dong Lien. I have absolutely no problem with the way they handled their roles,” Amaro said. “It’s unfortunate that J.C. and the Phillies have to deal with this situation, but that’s how it is.”

Standing by his staff.

Conclusion:
Right now, regarding Mitre, we have a player who admits to taking something that triggered a positive test. He’s taken responsibility for his actions. He might be lying to us and we will never know, but this is all we have right now. I commend him for his statement.

Honestly, I think that Romero might be as unwittingly guilty as Mitre at

the core of it all. But his plan of attack on his Union, his team/trainers, plus the supplement in question and his not taking any responsibility for his actions is disturbing. What I have presented above is purely conjecture based upon various reports issued. I am not claiming that Romero is lying about the circumstances or the MLBPA’s actions. What really is bugging me is Weiner’s statement flatly calling Romero’s claims false. That’s a big red flag to me.

We’ve seen a lot written how Romero’s not getting a fair shake because it seems that everyone is believing Romero’s story that the MLBPA was aware of this supplement’s potential for causing positive tests yet they did nothing to help him. I’m not sold that’s the truth.

I don’t know what the truth really is –and doubt I will ever know– but there are just some very curious things that Romero’s comments and their reaction brought to the surface.

UPDATE (1/7/09, 10:55am): Reader Larry Selzer was good enough to provide this link with Rob Manfred’s admission that a 25 game suspension was indeed offered to Romero. Seems that MLB didn’t want a player who has tested positive in the World Series. Thanks, Larry!

“We generally do not negotiate discipline in the drug area,” MLB’s executive vice president for labor and human resources Rob Manfred said. “If he appealed it would go beyond the World Series. We offered to reduce the suspension to avoid him being in the World Series. … I think a scientist will tell you that the [banned] substance was no longer in [Romero’s] system, but the appearance of it – you prefer to avoid. With any drug program, the goal is to remove the athlete as quickly as possible.”

Again, all this does is tell us there is so much more we don’t know. It still does not change the fact that Romero’s attack on everyone else rather than taking any responsiblity is a bad PR move. I’m OK with a player protesting the claims and professing his innocence, but I would not have recommended Romero’s tactics.


UPDATE
(1/9/09, 11:15am)
: An update from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, with an interesting tidbit on the company certifying supplements:

NSF International, a not-for-profit organization based in Ann Arbor, Mich., certifies supplements for Major League Baseball, the NFL and the PGA Tour. EgroPharm, the manufacturer of 6-OXO Extreme, is not one of NSF’s approved companies and any product that purported to be a testosterone booster, like 6-OXO Extreme, should be avoided by professional athletes who are tested, according to Ed Wyszumiala, NSF’s general manager of dietary supplement programs.

There is a certain segment of the market where we’re not convinced isn’t adulterating their products,” Wyszumiala said. “Maybe this is a case where a company would spike a product in order to gain market share.
[…]
Oftentimes, what’s on the label is not in the bottle,” said Lori Bestervelt, senior vice president and chief technical officer at NSF. “The only way you know is through testing the product and having a certification process.

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