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The Romero Suspension

A flurry of moves took place yesterday, with Pat Burrell joining the Rays, Milton Bradley signing with the Cubs, and Jason Giambi going back to Oakland. With all of this activity it was very easy to miss the news that Phillies reliever J.C. Romero received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance. Conflicting stories emerged, as did a plethora of opinions regarding whether or not the suspension was unfair.

Romero, a key component of the Phillies bullpen, claims that he bought a supplement from a GNC store in New Jersey over the summer. The supplement in question was not banned at the time of his purchase, yet made it onto a revised list issued a bit later on. He tested positive in September but took the case to arbitration, enabling him to remain eligible for post-season play.

The arbitrator shot down Romero’s claim and ruled he was guilty of negligence. This will ultimately cost Romero 50 games and $1.25 mil.

Thanks to Will Carroll, who wrote about the supplement in question, we have some new information which may or may not remove the sympathetic feelings one may develop towards Romero. From Will’s recent post:

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.

Unfortunately for Romero, 6-OXO is a product developed by a company owned by Patrick Arnold, the primary supplier of THG to Balco. And, according to Will’s post, the substance that tested positive was androstenedione, which may conjure up images of Mark McGwire in your mind.

My feeling is that, if Romero did in fact break the rules, he deserves to be punished. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. feels the same way, as his recent statement seemingly backed major league baseball as opposed to his own supposedly wronged player. Ouch. This case, however, features some extenuating circumstances, as Romero did buy the product prior to its banning.

And, on top of that, while newer bottles display a warning that the supplement may cause positive drug tests, the bottle presented by J.C. in his hearing did not. It really feels like he is getting jobbed here, or made an example of. Perhaps he should never have bought the supplement, but if it was legal at the time of the purchase, and the purchase date can be proven, 50-games seems very excessive. Then again, the MLBPA did issue a revised list that apparently did show OXO-6 as banned.

I’m a bit torn here. This seems like an excessive punishment given the case presented by Romero, but it really seems like he could have exercised a bit more caution. Then again, he did speak to several different sources that cleared the supplement as safe. Either the Phillies training staff needs to be re-evaluated or Romero is receiving unfair treatment. After all, he spoke with just about everyone on his team whose job is to ensure this does not happen, and yet it did happen.

Do I feel bad that he is suspended 50 games for something that realistically should not have happened, given the circumstances? Yeah, and doubly so since I’m a Phillies fan. Double-checking with your training staff is a good start, but still, there have to be other people to get second, third, and fourth opinions from when the consequences involve 50-game suspensions and $1.25 mil fines. Especially when I can read a Rob Neyer article, click a link, and discover that this supplement has andro.

These things should not happen, from the perspectives of Romero, the training staff, and the MLBPA.