Bravo, dear readers. We're at about 2,000 e-mails and counting on Rick Ankiel, and many encouraged me to perform acts heretofore believed anatomically impossible.
Somewhere among the muck and mire, however, were some thought-provoking letters that will allow me to further elucidate my point of view on Ankiel and human growth hormone's place in baseball.
Before I get there, a correction: In the story, I originally said HGH provides an artificial testosterone boost. That was incorrect. HGH does not stimulate testosterone. It does facilitate the production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which, like testosterone, has anabolic (muscle-building) properties in adults. I apologize for the error and hope it doesn't cloud the broader viewpoint.
On to the letters:
Is there no distinction between using a drug for rehabilitation purposes and using it just to use it? During the time that he was getting these shipments, wasn't Rick Ankiel still rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, and not in the majors? Wouldn't this be considered a rehabilitation drug? I don't see how we can tarnish his reputation for using a drug for rehab purposes.
Red Wing, Minn.
Might as well start with the biggest question mark. To begin with, I will refer to the Food and Drug Administration's information page on somatropin, the synthetic version of human growth hormone:
"FDA approves Omnitrope (somatropin [rDNA origin]) for the long-term treatment of pediatric patients who have growth failure due to an inadequate secretion of endogenous growth hormone and for long-term replacement therapy in adults with growth hormone deficiency of either childhood or adult-onset etiology."
Essentially, there are two legal uses for HGH: children with growth problems and adults with growth hormone deficiency. Other cases, such as the wasting effects of AIDS, also merit legitimate HGH prescriptions. Now, if Ankiel did suffer from growth hormone deficiency – which was what I meant when referring to him as a healthy 24-year-old, not his baseball health – his prescription is understandable.
In his explanation, Ankiel did not say that. He said he received it to help rehabilitate his arm. This is where the HGH story muddies. More than a year ago, around the time of the Jason Grimsley bust, I wrote a story raising this very question: Why isn't HGH legal for injury rehabilitation? What differentiates it from dozens of medications deemed OK by the FDA, the same FDA that approved Vioxx and other dangerous drugs?
I have no doubt Ankiel's health improved because of human growth hormone. Whether that makes it right is an area that remains gray. But the FDA doesn't allow it.
Your passion about performance-enhancing drugs is consistent. But your strong opposition seems to be undercut by things like your comment, "Sure, there will always be enablers, like doctor William Gogan, who, according to the Daily News, provided the HGH prescription to Ankiel." It's almost like in the midst of urging a crack down on drug users, you wrote, "Sure, there will always be drug dealers and distributors," as though that was a potential distraction from the real problem. If indeed he did use illegal drugs, the number of people actually harmed by Ankiel's actions is pretty small. But if Dr. Gogan is abusing his position of trust by providing unneeded prescriptions for convenience drugs, the number of people actually harmed could be much larger. If we must condemn Ankiel for his actions, then with greater force we must also condemn Gogan. And if we must call on baseball to crack down on the Ankiels of the sport, then with greater force we must call on medical associations to crack down on the Gogans of their profession. And he certainly deserves a stronger criticism than your rather mild "sure, there will always be people like him" comment.
The only reason we're talking about Rick Ankiel is that the government has started to do crack down on the rogue doctors and pharmacists who have bastardized the use of performance-enhancing prescription drugs. It's no surprise Albany County, N.Y., District Attorney David Soares focused his investigation on Florida. The anti-aging business is booming, and with previously lax enforcement of off-label prescriptions – doctors providing drugs for reasons not deemed legal by the FDA – pharmacies made a killing promoting themselves as the Fountain of Youth.
So far, Soares has handed down 22 indictments and booked nine convictions. Expect plenty more. Because the Ankiels of the world aren't who the government wants to bust; they're minnows. Soares wants to choke off the pipeline before it can get to the athletes.
Any way you cut it, Rick Ankiel's comeback is a great story and possibly the story of the 2007 baseball season. Two-thousand four was a lifetime ago for baseball. HGH was not illegal. It became banned in 2005, which, by the way, is when Rick Ankiel stopped receiving it from his supplier. The man did nothing wrong. He hasn't popped on a urinalysis. He hasn't snapped off in the clubhouse or at home and beat his wife/girlfriend/dog/goldfish in a steroid-induced rage. Don't get me wrong. People like Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro deserve every bit of the criticism that they receive, but Ankiel doesn't belong grouped in with the likes of the people that were huddling in the corner of the locker room sticking needles of known banned substances into their hind quarters, because he wasn't.
Spc. David Deromedi
Fort Lewis, Wash.
OK, in order:
No, HGH was not banned by Major League Baseball in 2004. But it was not legal in the minor leagues, where Ankiel pitched the majority of his innings that season. (He was on the major-league disabled list, and thus not subjected to minor-league testing.) MLB in April 2004 added it to the list of banned substances for the World Baseball Classic that would take place in 2006, laying the groundwork for the outlawing of HGH in January 2005. And, hey, it's not like Ankiel – or any baseball player – didn't understand the implications of HGH.
Ankiel stopped receiving shipments of HGH from Signature Pharmacy at the end of 2004. It is folly, though, to assume that he did not continue taking them. Maybe he did; maybe he didn't. The evidence is not there to indict him, but it isn't there to exonerate him, either.
He never tested positive for HGH because no urine or blood test exists for it exists, making it all the more alluring.
And, hey, if Ankiel was so comfortable with taking HGH to rehabilitate his injury, why did it take a federal investigation to uncover it? It doesn't seem logical to hide something – especially from your bosses, who pay for your body's output and thus seem to deserve to know what's going into it – if there is no problem.
Do you really think Rick is still getting a performance boost from something that he stopped taking (three) years ago? Give the guy a break. He took performance enhancers to try and save his pitching career, not to come back as a hitter.
Never did I write that his accomplishments this season have anything to do with HGH. I did say that it would be irresponsible to look at them without taking into account his past. To light up Bonds for allegedly taking performance-enhancing drugs without giving Ankiel the same kind of treatment would be unfair, because, remember, when all of the details emerged on Bonds' previous use, it wasn't exactly same-day information. It referred back to 2001.
What Ankiel has done on the field is remarkable. Performance-enhancing drugs cannot give someone the ability to switch from major-league pitcher to major-league hitter. That takes amazing talent. That said, if this didn't force you to take off your Cardinal-colored glasses, then you're either naïve or don't care about professional athletes taking performance enhancers.
Oh, yeah. Because he changed from a pitcher to an outfielder, that renders any previous use OK? Sorry. Not buying that one.
Thanks for tarnishing what really was a feel-good story about baseball, and one of the few.
I'll let Nikolai Gogol take this one: "It is no use to blame the looking glass if your face is awry."
There's more to this story than the "Rick Ankiel: Pure, Good, Natural," and "Rick Ankiel: Sinister Steroid User" that you and your colleagues have portrayed over the last month since his call-up from Triple-A. Could it be possible that he did something desperate at a desperate hour when he was trying to resurrect his career? Absolutely. Why, though, can the media not investigate the course of events that actually occurred? Go ask the guy what happened. He's been through professional hell and had his ability unravel over several years. Oh, and he got to recover from Tommy John surgery as a little added bonus. Talking about what he did or took is peanuts compared to going through that. My point is this: You have to put this story in a human context instead of this unrealistic, binary world of good and bad.
I'll happily do so: Phenom flames out. Wants to regain his mojo. Faces a decision. Do or don't. Does. Still flames out. Against all good judgment, switches positions. Looks solid. Gets hurt. Makes it back anyway. Leads team back into pennant race. Toast of the sport. Amazing fortitude. Crash. Past decisions come back to haunt. And now: We can only wait and see.
Your point is well-taken. Ankiel did face professional hell, and in the midst of it, he made a decision that influenced his career. For better or worse, only he can say. But it's something with which he must live, and from the way he addressed it, he seemed more than content with that decision.
I understand you are writing a column and must make a decision about the direction your writing takes, but I do believe you have chosen poorly here. The fact that Ankiel was coming off Tommy John surgery, took the HGH before it was a banned substance and procured the hormone through a legal script is enough for me. He has done nothing wrong. It is that simple. I think if these details are in the story, fans will give him the pass he deserves. Again, he has done nothing wrong. Don't be afraid to think outside the box on this one. A column titled "Ankiel linked to HGH? So what?" would capture a few readers as well. It could also serve to distinguish you from the pile of columnists who often sound as if they have lived the lives of saints. Trust me, fans can make this distinction.
Which is exactly why I printed this letter. I made my points. Paul did an excellent job encompassing everyone else's.
Now it's on you to decide.