It's a lousy result, a 50-game suspension for Phils reliever J.C. Romero.
And it's the union's fault.
You have heard the basics by now: that Romero bought a supplement in a Cherry Hill nutrition store, that a Phillies' trainer was unable to tell him if it was OK, that the label did not contain any of baseball's banned substances, and that Romero subsequently tested positive. Romero has told the Inquirer and ESPN.com that he did not knowingly ingest a banned substance.
People want to paint baseball as the villain here. That's wrong. It's the union.
The most telling quote in any of the reporting so far came from a November letter that the union sent to players. Quoting from the ESPN.com story, which cited the letter:
"We have previously told you there is no reason to believe a supplement bought at a U.S. based retail store could cause you to test positive under our Drug Program. That is no longer true. We have recently learned of three substances which can be bought over the counter at stores in the United States that will cause you to test positive. These three supplements were purchased at a GNC and Vitamin Shoppe in the U.S."
Fat lot of good it does Romero now.
You can't blame baseball for the suspension -- or for the suspension of Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre -- because "I didn't know" cannot be a valid excuse if your intention is to run a serious drug-testing program. But if the reason Romero ultimately took the supplement, the reason he thought it was OK, was because he bought it over the counter and the union gave its universal blessing to every bottle of synthetically-engineered crap on every store shelf in the whole entire United States of America, well, it would seem to me that the union has some explaining to do. As in, how could it possibly take such an irresponsibly-liberal approach to this business?
For its part, the union issued a statement:
"Mitre and Romero both legally purchased nutritional supplements from national chain
stores in the United States. Nothing on the labels of those supplements indicated that they
contained a trace amount of a substance prohibited under Major League Baseball's Joint Drug
Prevention and Treatment Program. Neither player intentionally ingested this prohibited
substance, but the arbitrator nevertheless found, wrongly in our view, that the players' conduct
violated the Program’s "no fault or negligence" standard.
"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.
"The Association and the Commissioner's Office must now act to prevent future similar
occurrences within baseball. The Association remains committed to a strong Joint Drug Program,
but will continue to advocate forcefully for fair treatment of our members."
To repeat: fat lot of good it does Romero now.