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Ramirez Handed 50-Game Ban

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Manny Ramirez was on a roll. He was hitting .348, near the top of the majors. His team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, had the best record in baseball, and he was making $25 million this year. Now, that performance is sullied, and a good chunk of the money is gone. Ramirez has been suspended for 50 games, for violating baseball's drug policy. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: In announcing this suspension today, Major League Baseball issued a statement without saying what Manny Ramirez had done to violate the drug policy. Ramirez released a statement with some detail, but not much. It read, in part, recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me. Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy, that mistake is now my responsibility.

Several news sources are reporting that Ramirez took a substance called human chorionic gonadotropin, known as HCG. It's used to combat infertility. In men, it can boost testosterone levels. According to ESPN, Ramirez showed an increase in testosterone on a drug test, and a search for the cause led to paperwork showing he'd used HCG. HCG is on baseball's list of banned performance-enhancing drugs that lead to a 50-game suspension.

Anti-doping expert Dr. Gary Wadler says HCG can be used by athletes finishing up a cycle of anabolic steroids. Injected steroids will shut down the body's ability to manufacture its own testosterone, and HCG can help restart the process. Wadler says the use of HCG as a performance enhancer isn't farfetched.

Dr. GARY WADLER: I certainly think you're in the right ballpark when you're having a discussion about HCG, testosterone and doping. How it all fits together in this specific case, I think we need more facts.

GOLDMAN: Until those emerge, baseball fans will try to digest a story of yet another player ensnared by performance-enhancing drugs - and easily the highest-profile player to be suspended. Ramirez is a 12 time all-star, a powerful and talented hitter also known for his quirky personality. That's just Manny being Manny, is a phrase well-known in the majors as a way to describe the Dominican native with the long dreadlocks and baggy uniform.

Today's news caught Angelenos by surprise. At L.A.'s historic Farmer's Market, Ruben Castro(ph) and Larry Mintz(ph) weighed in.

Mr. RUBEN CASTRO: I was shocked this morning when I heard the news. Too bad.

Mr. LARRY MINTZ: Say it ain't so, Manny. It's a good thing they had a winning streak. I watch them religiously. I watched last night, was looking forward to watching tonight. I'm a Dodgers fan, I'm a baseball fan. But I wish that the commissioner had dealt with this issue when he had the chance, and now it's ruining the game.

GOLDMAN: A Major League spokesman says Ramirez's suspension actually shows the game's anti-drug policy is working. The soonest Manny Ramirez can return is July 3rd. The suspension, without pay, means Ramirez loses a little more than $7.5 million. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.