Sanchez violates new drug policy

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 29, 2005

The Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Tampa Bay outfielder Alex Sanchez was suspended 10 days for violating baseball's new policy on performance-enhancing drugs, the first player publicly identified under the major leagues' tougher rules.

The suspension begins Monday when Tampa Bay opens its season against Toronto, the commissioner's office said Sunday.

Email newsletter signup

Under the new policy that took effect last month, steroids and other performance-enchancing substances are the only drugs to draw a 10-day suspension. Baseball officials and the players' union agreed they would not disclose the exact substance for which a player tests positive.

Sanchez said he was surprised by the suspension, adding that he uses milkshakes and multivitamins to build his energy - and blaming the positive test on something he bought over the counter.

''I'm going to fight it, because I've never taken steroids or anything like that. … I never take any steroids because I don't need them,'' said Sanchez, who was released by Detroit in mid-March and signed by the Devil Rays.

Sanchez, 28, who hit .322 with 19 stolen bases in 79 games for the Tigers last season, said he was drug tested while he was with Detroit. He was to be the Devil Rays' center fielder on opening day.

Because the suspension is without pay, Sanchez will lose $32,787 of his $600,000 salary.

Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said the team would have no comment on the suspension.

''It's surprising,'' manager Lou Piniella said. ''That's all I have to say on that.''

Piniella conceded, however, that it was frustrating to have to make a lineup change on the eve of the season opener.

''Sanchez had come in here and hit the ball,'' Piniella said. ''Now we've just got to make adjustments, and we will.''

Sanchez learned of the positive test result early Sunday and participated in a workout at Tropicana Field later in the day. He said he had not been told what banned substance was detected.

He insisted, however, that he has never used steroids.

''I know I did nothing incorrect. … I take stuff I buy over the counter. Multivitamins, protein shakes, muscle relaxants. That kind of stuff,'' Sanchez said.

''I'm surprised because look at what kind of player I am. I'm a leadoff hitter. I never hit any home runs.''

Sanchez did not identify any of the products he purchased over the counter, but described them as ''something to give me energy, put a little muscle on my body. That's it.''

''Everything on the banned list is a Schedule III controlled substance except for Human Growth Hormone,'' said Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer. ''There is nothing sold over the counter after Jan. 15, the effective date of the new (federal) legislation, that is a banned substance.''

Baseball has only urine tests, which can't detect hGH. It is possible the Sanchez took a substance that he purchased legally before Jan. 15.

Sanchez left Cuba on a rickety raft 11 years ago, leaving his family behind. He spent about 16 months in a refugee camp before finally making it to the United States. Last month, Sanchez was reunited with his mother and brother in Miami for the first time since 1994.

Asked if he was embarrassed to become the first player to be disciplined under baseball's new steroids policy, Sanchez shrugged.

''There's nothing we can do about it,'' he said.

The suspension was announced less than three weeks after several current and former players, including Mark McGwire, traveled to Washington to testify at a congressional hearing on steroids in baseball.

''The biggest penalty is being known as a steroid user. That's the No. 1 punishment you can get,'' Philadelphia pitcher Randy Wolf said. ''Whether it's 10, 30 days, a year, your name being out there and being branded is going to be the biggest punishment.''

New York Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina said the suspension drives home the reality of the tougher rules.

''I guess you don't really realize it until it actually happens, and now it has,'' Mussina said.

Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo sounded amazed that Sanchez tested positive.

''The little guy?'' Arroyo said, referring to the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Sanchez.

Red Sox second baseman Mark Bellhorn said, ''Anybody can do it. Everybody always thinks steroids are the big, bodybuilder type. Just because you take them doesn't mean you're going to be a huge dude.''

Yankees manager Joe Torre said progress is being made in cleaning up the sport.

''The fact the testing evidently worked, that's what we all want to find out. Even the players want to make sure we get the fans' trust back, and that's the only way it can happen,'' Torre said.

''You're sorry people - I don't want to say they're caught, but you're sorry people continue to think they're not going to get caught. This is a good sign. Again, you don't feel good for Sanchez. It's gives a little credibility to the way they're testing.''

Boston pitcher Matt Clement agreed:

''I guess it's good to see the policy's working,'' Clement said. ''If you stereotype who would take it, that wouldn't be the guy you would think of.''