Monday, March 2, 2009

Daily Pitch: Fehr meets with Phillies, suspended Romero

One of the routine events of spring training is a visit to each camp by the players union chief Donald Fehr and members of his staff.

Those visits are anything but routine this spring, the usual briefing on various issues lasting well over an hour in almost every case and up to two hours in the case of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Fehr routinely doesn't discuss the specific content of the meetings but there was far more information than usual revealed after the one with the Phillies on Saturday at their Clearwater, Fla., camp.

The focal point was the 50-game suspension Philadelphia reliever J.C. Romero is facing but it's the broader issue of how over-the-counter supplements fit into the baseball drug testing program that has players worried. That's how Romero got snagged, testing positive last summer for a supplement he said he bought in a Cherry Hill, N.J., GNC store. Romero believed the supplement, called 6-OXO Extreme, to be legal and safe based on information in last year's union visits. But the supplement triggered a positive test for the banned steroid androstendione.

Romero and the union were unsuccessful in their appeal before an arbitration panel that Romero's positive test was caused by a chemical reaction caused by having the legal substance in his body.

Players now are concerned that they could be unwitting victims of other substances and that's what led to the lengthy discussion with the Phillies.

Romero said he didn't ask a lot of questions himself because he's become pretty well-versed in the situation while dealing with his case.

"A lot more needs to be done," said Romero, who blames the union, Major League Baseball and the federal agencies that regulate these substances. "The people above us have to do a better job. The people who are supposed to help us stay healthy are not. I hope the communication can improve so this doesn't happen to someone else."

Fehr admits the union can't provide guarantees.

"What we do is give the best information we have," he said. "We had no reason to believe there would essentially be products that violated the law that were sold over the counter. … The advice we give has changed."

The union has provided a toll-free number where players can check on substances and posters are on clubhouse bulletin boards showing a logo that will be placed on supplements and other products that have been checked and found not to violate the MLB program. But Fehr said he doesn't expect clear-cut answers across the board anytime soon.

"As long as you have the enormous unregulated industry in which there is little or no federal inspection," he said, "you'll have these kinds of problems."

Romero will pitch for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, then rejoin the Phillies for the rest of spring training. Then, he'll sit out the first 50 games of the season, the suspension called for a first offense for performance-enhancing drugs. He'll lose about $1.25 million of his $4 million salary for this season.

Paul White in Clearwater, Fla.


Dodgers open new, minus Manny Ramirez:

Former manager Tommy Lasorda was in full uniform. Glendale native and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks sang the National Anthem. A ceremonial Native American dance and flyover from four F-16s were included in the festivities.

The Los Angeles Dodgers staged an elaborate ceremony Sunday to open the new spring facility they'll share with the Chicago White Sox, but Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was frustrated on his long-awaited day. The name on the minds of the assembled media was the guy who wasn't there -Manny Ramirez.

"No new news," said McCourt, determined not to upstage himself with any developments in the protracted negotiations for the free-agent outfielder. "We're in what I'd call a transition phase right now. … We're kind of in a quiet period and at some point we'll pick up negotiations again but with a fresh start."

The Dodgers had offered Ramirez, through agent Scott Boras, a two-year $45-million contract with much of it deferred over five years and an opt-out clause for Ramirez after this season. They rejected a counter-offer for the same total and length but no deferred money.

McCourt called the deferred compensation issue "a total red herring in these discussions. It's a side show, a smoke screen, call it what you will." He said Boras encouraged the Dodgers to include deferred money, presumably to increase the amount of the total package.

The L.A. owner, who said he put a Friday deadline in the talks because he wanted to have it wrapped up before Sunday's opening, wouldn't say when talks would restart, but it will probably be soon. "We will resume discussions because we do want Manny … to be a Dodger this year," he said.

The Dodgers played the White Sox in Sunday's opening game at The Ballpark at Camelback Ranch before many empty seats. Considering the broad national support for both franchises, the opening crowd in the facility that can hold 13,000 (10,000 seats, 3,000 lawn seats) was a disappointment.

The 141-acre complex was built in about 15 months, though many of the finishing touches remain to be done. The park is near the new stadium for the NFL Cardinals and arena for the NHL Coyotes in one of the faster growing areas on metro Phoenix.

The Dodgers left Vero Beach, Fla. after more than 60 years, while the White Sox moved up from Tucson.


Joe Torre broke in with the Milwaukee Braves in 1960 and has spent 43 of the next 49 seasons in uniform. This is his first spring training in Arizona.

"I've been pretty much in Tampa Bay my whole career as a player and manager. The only other time was when the Braves moved to West Palm Beach," he said. "It's strange."

Torre was a broadcaster for the Angels in the late 1980s when they trained in Mesa, but this is the first spring in uniform here.

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