Romero Joins a Unique Group

By Murray Chass

January 8, 2009

J.C. Romero, meet Eddie Cicotte. Claude (Lefty) Williams, too. Romero should know (about) Cicotte and Williams because they are the only other pitchers to record tainted decisions in World Series games.

It may be a stretch to lump Romero with Cicotte and Williams; it may even be unfair. Romero would surely be offended and insulted by being mentioned in the same sentence as Cicotte and Williams, but the fact remains that there is a good reason for grouping them.

Cicotte and Williams, by design and payoff, were the losing pitchers in the five games the Chicago White Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series. They were two of the players who deliberately threw games so the White Sox would lose and their gambling associates win.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I am not suggesting that Romero paid off someone to let his team, the Philadelphia Phillies, win the World Series. Relieving in four of the five games, he was the winning pitcher in Games 3 and 5. But his wins were tainted as a result of a performance-enhancing substance.

Not that the substance helped him get batters out – he allowed Tampa Bay two hits and no runs in 4 2/3 innings – but his wins were tainted because he should not have been pitching in those four World Series games or any of the four other post-season games in which he relieved. He should have been serving a 50-game suspension for his two positive tests in August and September.

I have mixed feelings about the whole performance-enhancing business. I have never been an advocate of testing except for cause, but I also frown on cheating. For example, I believe there was good cause for testing Barry Bonds, and even though there was no official notice of his being caught under baseball’s testing program, the circumstantial evidence, I believe, was overwhelming and suggested strongly that he cheated.

What does that have to do with Romero? Well, he cheated (even though he denies or maintains he didn’t know that he was cheating) and he got away with it to the extent that he was able delay his 50-game suspension and pitch in the World Series. 

My feelings on the subject were aroused by an e-mail from a reader, a municipal bond lawyer and former Tampa Bay season ticket holder now living in Denver. He said I could use his name, but his firm may become involved with Major League Baseball and I wouldn’t want to affect that potential arrangement.

Romero, the lawyer wrote, was “busted twice with Andro in his body,” yet is allowed to pitch in the post-season and star for the Phillies. Calling Romero an illegal player, he said, “I think world series star suspended for being a drug cheat (yet allowed to play when it mattered) is a pr disaster for baseball that they have tried to spin on the rest of us.”

The lawyer was especially concerned with the reaction of his 9-year-old son with whom he watches games on television.

“Now I don’t know what to tell my son Jimmy,” he wrote. “Is it right to say the Phillies cheated? I think it is. They had a player that (no matter the circumstances) benefited from the andro-like testosterone in his system (as late as Sept. 19th – Met fans may have a beef here too). MLB had the multiple evidence on him BEFORE the World Series and still didn’t whack him. He was a critical player in the Series. I don’t think you can say the Series was played on a level playing field given those facts. Do you?”

Let me say what I do know. As bad as it looked for Romero to play instead of serving his suspension, that’s what we do in this country. It’s our justice system. We don’t convict people without a fair trial, and we don’t put people in jail before they are convicted. If a player appeals his suspension, he gets a hearing before it is announced or invoked.

“We have a process to go through,” Commissioner Bud Selig said Thursday. “We talked about it at the time. There’s a legal process that we must go through. We took what was the only legal alternative.”

Rob Manfred, Selig’s chief labor executive, explained that each step of the testing process takes time and can’t be rushed.

“There are certain kinds of unavoidable periods of time between collection and the initial reporting of the positive,” Manfred said. “You can’t shorten the time. It takes the lab time to turn tests around. Then once you have an initial positive, the player has the right to have the ‘B’ sample tested. That puts you back in the lab.”

Once the positive is confirmed, Manfred continued, “we want the player off the field as quickly as possible, but we want to treat people fairly and give them due process. Sometimes those goals conflict.”

The hearing for Romero wasn’t held until the first two days of the World Series. “We started as soon as we could,” Manfred said. “Once we did that here were still things to be done. There was no way we’d get a decision in time to affect the World Series.

Romero has said that the illegal substance detected in his body came from an over-the-counter nutrition supplement that he bought at a store in a New Jersey mall. It apparently was a trace amount of a banned substance, androstenedione (the steroid precursor that Mark McGwire made famous), which apparently came from an oxidized substance, androstenetrione.

When the Phillies began post-season play, officials knew Romero had tested positive twice, but they weren’t concerned that the left-handed pitcher and his team would benefit from his illegal use.

For one thing, Romero’s test results showed there wasn’t enough of the substance in his system to enhance his pitching. For another, he had been tested again, including during the post-season, and he passed, meaning he didn’t have anything illegal in his system.

The only way baseball could have barred Romero from pitching in the World Series would have been to suspend first, hear the appeal later. Neither side favors that approach.

Having lost his appeal, Romero will serve his suspension during the first 50 games of the 2009 season. He will then be able to resume pitching. That’s more than Cicotte and Williams were able to do.

 

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.