The medical records revealed the evidence: a prescription from a physician for human chorionic gonadotropin, also known as hCG, a female fertility drug occasionally prescribed to men with hypogonadism, a reproductive-system defect that results in low sperm development. (Produced naturally in women upon conception, hCG triggers a positive result in home pregnancy strip tests.)
The steroid community is also well acquainted with hCG. Over time, a steroid user's body may grow so accustomed to pharmaceutical testosterone that his natural production of the hormone gets "tricked" into slowing or even shutting down. To combat such a side effect, the user can take hCG, an injectable drug, three weeks after a steroid cycle to kick-start his natural testosterone production. Because of this link to steroids, the International Olympic Committee has banned hCG since 1987. Baseball did not ban it until last May. Years of negotiations between MLB and the union over what to include on the banned substance list had produced agreements only on well-known anabolic steroids, not the agents that boost drug regimens such as hCG and clomid, another female fertility drug. After the public relations hit from the Mitchell Report, however, both sides were pressured into tightening their drug policy, leading to the May 23, 2008 agreement that included the ban of hCG. Assuming Ramirez was not using hCG as a follow-up to a steroid cycle, the use of the testosterone booster could still improve strength and recovery time.
Ramirez was cornered. Even if he chose to challenge the Section 8.B.1 violation, baseball could charge him with a violation of 8.G.2, also known as a nonanalytical positive in which overwhelming evidence other than a positive drug test indicates use of a banned substance—in this case the hCG prescription. If Ramirez appealed that charge, he might have to disclose why he was being treated for a condition such as hypogonadism in the first place. Even then, there was no getting around the fact that the drug in question was on baseball's banned list.
In limited cases players have applied for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) to use a banned substance for an existing medical condition. Ramirez did not apply for a TUE. And so Ramirez was left with no good options, only one that seemed less worse than the other. He was staring at a 50-game ban anyway—the 8.G.2 violation carries the same penalty as the 8.B.1 penalty. Last Wednesday, in the middle innings of the Dodgers-Nationals game, Ramirez, Boras and the union gave up the appeal. Ramirez would accept the 8.G.2 violation.
In the days following the suspension, Ramirez spoke with Torre, Colletti, McCourt and many of his teammates and Dodgers support personnel, some of them in person. Several described Ramirez as "very uncomfortable" and "embarrassed" that such a sensitive personal matter—seeking help for a testosterone production problem—had become public. A little red-faced themselves, the Dodgers shut down Mannywood and offered refunds to anybody who had bought tickets in the section. They replaced Ramirez in leftfield with Juan Pierre, a singles hitter who has fewer home runs in his 1,313-game career (13) than Ramirez has in 80 games with the Dodgers (23). They also lost two straight games at Dodger Stadium after beginning the year with an MLB-record 13--0 start at home.
"My concern on Thursday was the same as my concern was on Wednesday: pitching," says Colletti.
Ramirez stands to lose nearly $8 million in salary during his suspension, which, barring any schedule changes, would end on July 3 in San Diego. The Dodgers, however, will not immediately have all of that money to spend. Ramirez's $25 million salary this year was to be paid over four years: $10 million this year and $5 million in each of the next three seasons, leaving the Dodgers with a savings of $2.7 million for their 2009 payroll.
During his suspension Ramirez can work out and travel with the team, so long as he is not in uniform when ballpark gates are open. The Dodgers are hoping that Ramirez does indeed work out with the club, though they do not expect it will happen for several weeks. "We're hoping that he'll come around and hang out with us before the next road trip and keep us entertained," outfielder Andre Ethier says, "but no one needs to go out of their comfort zone and try to replace him because he's his own show and you can't duplicate that."
While McCourt was furious with his star, his manager was more measured. "This is all about giving the guy the benefit of the doubt," says Torre. "I'm not of a mind to abandon the guy. And if I'm going to be naive as far as believing what he says, so be it. Shouting doesn't solve the problem. There's a human being there I'm concerned about." Asked if McCourt's midnight call with the news of the suspension surprised him, Torre replied, "It's still surprising, and I hope it's always surprising. You do wonder, when are the calls going to stop?"