The over-the-counter supplement that supposedly snuck up on J.C. Romero last summer is billed as providing "Maximum testosterone production FOR HARDCORE USERS ONLY."
The supposedly harmless pills Romero popped in order to pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies were advertised to contain a substance identified as 6-OXO, which more than a year earlier had gotten a U.S. Olympic wrestler suspended from competition for two years.
The stuff he put into his body that supposedly would not have given him a nightly competitive advantage was the subject of a 2007 study that found 6-OXO “significantly increased” testosterone in the male body. That study was published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition.
So you can see how Romero was plainly blindsided by the news he'd tested positive for a substance deemed by baseball's joint drug agreement as performance enhancing. You can see why an arbitrator might have wronged the player. You can see why the players' union would be fighting this fight.
Here's what happened: Romero's positive test was for a drug not listed among the ingredients of the product – 6-OXO Extreme – he purchased. Baseball officials bought a random bottle of the same supplement and, sure enough, its laboratory found traces of the same banned drug. Romero, then, was correct; the manufacturer screwed him, and maybe the manufacturer will be kind enough to reimburse Romero the million-plus dollars he's going to lose during his suspension. Maybe the manufacturer will need a little legal prodding. Whatever.
But, that's not baseball's problem. And it is not the union's battle.
The message from baseball – both the commissioner's office and the union – to its players regarding over-the-counter supplements has been consistent: It's risky. Contamination is possible, a player ought to surmise, with products that promise, say, “maximum testosterone production.” The supplement industry is inadequately regulated. If a player chooses to use a supplement, he'd best adhere to baseball's program that certifies certain supplements. The league also maintains a hotline that, in part, helps players distinguish the safe products from the potentially hazardous ones. Romero, apparently, chose not to make that call.
In fact, according to sources familiar with Romero's story, the pitcher was told by a wise soul last summer to quit using 6-OXO Extreme, a product he picked up at a nutrition store. And he did. Then started up again. Then he tested positive. His fault.
So, Romero will miss the Phillies' first 50 games of 2009. Sergio Mitre, another pitcher who has a similar story with a different over-the-counter product, will serve his suspension recovering from surgery.
This is what zero tolerance looks like, what would have saved us from the freaks that turned baseball into a league for over-inflated clowns.
In golf, they differentiate between laying up and laying back. Romero came as close to the lake as he possibly could and, through his own negligence, rolled in, got wet.
The union's general counsel, Michael Weiner, issued a statement Tuesday, reading, in part, “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.”
Indeed, swayed by the fact some positives are more positive than others and sensing possible litigation, baseball officials in October offered to lighten Romero's sentence by half. Despite setting a dangerous precedent, the offer – had Romero accepted – would have rendered him ineligible for the World Series.
The commissioner's office was wrong to plea bargain and, fortunately for baseball, Romero did not accept. The JDA does not distinguish between intentional and unintentional drug use. The JDA distinguishes between clean and dirty.
The player is responsible for all that is in his body. Bud Selig has said it a thousand times. It's the only way the process works. Romero went looking for an edge. He went over it. See you in June.