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Major League Baseball will announce tomorrow that it has suspended J.C. Romero for 50 games for violating its substance policy.
Romero was not accused or found guilty of knowingly using a banned, performance-enhancing substance. Baseball and Romero agree that he used only an over-the-counter supplement he bought in a retail store in Cherry Hill. Romero is being suspended for 50 games and losing about $1.25 million in salary because, an abritrator ruled, he was "negligent" in not knowing what was in the supplement.
"One thing I'm going to say, I'm a man and I'm accountable for my actions," the Phillies reliever said in a telephone interview with The Inquirer's Phil Sheridan. "If I'm guilty of something, you know what? I will face it. But I'm not guilty, and I'm not letting people that don't really know me judge me over something and accuse me of something that I didn't do."
There seems to be quite a bit of gray area and confusion about what happened and why. Romero is not afraid of speaking out. He's not about to sit and take his punishment quietly because he believes he did nothing wrong.
"If people are intimidated because Major League [Baseball] is a big organization, so be it," Romero said. "But they are not going to make an example of me thinking that I'm just a [dumb]ass Puerto Rican. It's not going to happen. It's not the way I'm built. For me to keep my mouth shut? That's not the right thing to do. If they want to bump me out of the game, so be it. What am I going to do, just sit back and take it? When I know in my heart I'm innocent? That doesn't fly well with me and it doesn't fly well in my house, either."
Regardless, the Phillies lose one of their top relief pitchers until June 1. The Phillies weren't commenting last night because MLB hasn't officially announced the suspension, but you're probably wondering what the Phillies are going to do while Romero is out. The answer: They likely will work with what they have. Lefthander Scott Eyre's role certainly has been elevated with Romero out of the picture. Lefthander Mike Zagurski is coming back from Tommy John surgery. He could be an option. Lefthander J.A. Happ also could be an option, if he doesn't win a spot in the rotation. The Phillies also could stick with Eyre as the only lefthander in the bullpen and go with the best arms available (a philosophy Ruben Amaro Jr. has talked about in the past). There are some top free agent lefthanders out there like Joe Beimel, but the Phillies are unlikely to pursue them because Romero will be back at some point and they probably feel they can hold the fort until he's back.
Update (10:09 a.m.): It's official. MLB announced it has suspended Romero for 50 games "for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance in violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program."
Update (11:02 a.m.): The players' union released a statement regarding the suspensions of Sergio Mitre and Romero:
“Sergio Mitre and J.C. Romero were suspended for fifty games each by the Commissioner because they tested positive during the 2008 regular season for a Performance Enhancing Substance. Those suspensions were upheld by a neutral third-party arbitrator after hearing. We strongly disagree with the Commissioner’s discipline and with the arbitrator’s decision.
“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."