NEW YORK (AP) - Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball on Thursday, becoming the latest high-profile player ensnared in the sport's drug scandals.
The Los Angeles Dodgers star said he did not take steroids, blaming medication prescribed by a doctor.
A person familiar with the details of the suspension said Ramirez provided a urine sample during spring training that tested positive for HCG, human chorionic gonadotropin. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the banned substance wasn't announced.
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.
"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."
The 36-year-old outfielder apologized to the Dodgers and fans 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 issued by the players' union.
"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."
Baseball added HCG to its list of banned substances last year. Last November, former AL MVP Jose Canseco pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of trying to bring HCG across the Mexican border into the United States illegally and was sentenced to 12 months' unsupervised probation.
Ramirez's suspension began Thursday. Barring any postponements he will be able to return to the Dodgers - whose 21-8 record is the best in the major leagues - for the July 3 game at San Diego. Ramirez will lose $7,650,273 of his $25 million salary.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig couldn't comment on the suspension because of provisions of the management-union drug agreement, spokesman Rich Levin said.
"I wouldn't have been surprised if anybody in the game turned up on anything prior to '04, but since '04, I feel like the game's been pretty clean," said Cincinnati pitcher Bronson Arroyo, Ramirez's former Boston teammate. "It's kind of shocking that he got caught up in anything, honestly. Manny likes to play stupid, but he's a pretty bright guy. And he's definitely aware of a lot of
things that he tries to act like he's completely oblivious to."
While Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Canseco and a long list of stars have been implicated in the use of performance-enhancing drugs, Ramirez is the most prominent suspended under the drug policy players and owners agreed to in August 2002.
"This shows baseball is getting more serious in terms of the testing program, and that's a good thing," World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman said. "It's another step in the right direction, but it is still fall short in terms of sanctions. Also, it is regrettable that the sport does not identify
substances involved in positive cases. Baseball needs to be transparent."
Canseco, David Bell and Jay Gibbons have been linked in media reports to HCG use, according to the December 2007 Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball.
Baseball lawyers traveled to Los Angeles for a possible appeal to an arbitrator that would have started Wednesday, but Ramirez decided not to file one because he didn't want to risk missing significant time in the second half of the season, the person familiar with details of the suspension said. The union said merely that he waived his right to contest the suspension.
Ramirez is batting .348 with six home runs and 20 RBIs through the first 27 games of the season.
His suspension comes a day after the Dodgers broke the modern major league record for a home winning streak to open a season with their 13th consecutive victory. They play Washington again Thursday night.
Losing Ramirez to suspension could be a huge blow financially for the Dodgers. The slugger has been single-handedly responsible for increasing attendance, merchandise sales and interest in the team, in addition to helping them win the NL West after his late season arrival in 2008.
Los Angeles even renamed a section of seats in left field at Dodger Stadium "Mannywood" in his honor.
Ramirez's suspension came a day before Rodriguez was likely to rejoin the New York Yankees. Rodriguez has been on the disabled list since having hip surgery.
In February, Rodriguez admitted taking steroids while playing for Texas from 2001-03 and acknowledged testing positive under a 2003 survey. But testing with penalties didn't begin until 2004, and the New York Yankees third baseman doesn't appear likely to be suspended.
The players' association said Ramirez was suspended by the commissioner under the "just cause" provision of section 8.G.2 of the joint drug agreement. That allows players to be penalized for use, sale or distribution of banned substances, even where the agreement doesn't specify a particular penalty, such as for a positive test.
In his statement, Ramirez addressed Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, and manager Joe Torre.
"I want to apologize to Mr. McCourt, Mrs. McCourt, Mr. Torre, my teammates, the Dodger organization, and to the Dodger fans," Ramirez said. "LA is a special place to me, and I know everybody is disappointed. So am I. I'm sorry about this whole situation."
His suspension was first reported by the Los Angeles Times on its Web site.
Ramirez, 17th on the career home run list with 533, became the fourth player suspended this year under the major league program, following Philadelphia reliever J.C. Romero, Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre and San Francisco pitcher Kelvin Pichardo.
Just two relatively low-profile players were suspended under the major league program last year, San Francisco catcher Elizier Alfonzo and Colorado catcher Humberto Coto.
In the past, the best-known player penalized was Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro, who received a 10-day suspension in 2005, the first year of penalties for first infractions.
Ramirez was acquired by Los Angeles from Boston last July 31 and became a fan favorite. His contract negotiations became a long-running drama during the offseason, and he agreed in early March - well after the start of spring training - to a $45 million, two-year contract that gives him the right to void the second season and become a free agent again.
In St. Louis, a clubhouse attendant stuck his head into manager Tony La Russa's office and said "Manny Ramirez, 50 games, steroids."
La Russa's reaction: "You're kidding me."
AP Sports Writers Joe Kay, Bernie Wilson and Stephen Wilson, and Associated Press Writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.
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