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Bad news in minors for the M's
Seattle Times staff reporters
Eight Mariners minor-league players — including former first-round draft choice Ryan Christianson — were suspended yesterday after testing positive for steroid use.
Thirty players from other teams also were suspended for violating baseball's minor-league steroid policy.
"We are disappointed and angry about it, but we support the program," Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said yesterday. "Like everyone, we want this to be cleared up."
Two players reached yesterday, catcher Christianson and pitcher Damian Moss, denied taking steroids. Both players said they must have failed the tests by taking supplements containing banned substances.
The Mariners' eight positive tests were more than any of the other 12 teams whose results have been released so far. Bavasi said the Mariners wouldn't change anything they are doing to prevent steroid use.
Christianson hit .258 with six home runs last season for the Mariners' Class AAA team in Tacoma. He is expected to play for the Rainiers again this season but could miss about a month after injuring a finger late in spring training.
"I was very surprised, because I didn't know I was taking anything on the ban list," he said last night. "This is a big shock. I didn't want to be one of the guys to be looked down upon."
Christianson said he had been taking over-the-counter supplements that he believed included creatine, glutomine, glucosamine and some proteins. He said he had taken them for about a month before spring training and continued to take them during training to make himself stronger and to recover more quickly after workouts. He said he was tested several weeks ago.
Christianson said he never checked the list of banned drugs. "It's my mistake for not knowing what's on the ban list," he said.
Christianson said he supports the drug policy and is leery of taking any supplements now. "You won't even see me eat a PowerBar."
He didn't argue with his suspension. "The rules are the rules and I didn't follow them."
Christianson said he was shocked to learn that eight Mariners minor-leaguers were suspended. "It was publicized last year ... You'd be stupid to do it because you know you are going to get busted," he said.
All but one of the 38 players were suspended for 15 games, the ban for first offenders. An Oakland Athletics minor-leaguer was suspended for 60 games, the penalty for a third offense.
Seven of the 38 positive tests came from the Chicago Cubs; five each from the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland and Texas; four from San Diego; two from Colorado, and one each from St. Louis and the Chicago White Sox.
Another prominent name among the Mariners players suspended was Damian Moss, who has pitched in the major leagues for Atlanta, Baltimore, San Francisco and Tampa Bay during the past four seasons. Moss pitched in one Cactus League game this spring with the Mariners and performed well.
Moss, reached last night in Arizona, said he had taken supplements during the recent offseason but didn't think they contained steroids.
"I don't take steroids, period. I bought supplements," said Moss, assigned to the Tacoma Rainiers.
Moss would not name the supplements or the manufacturer, saying he didn't want to get any companies in trouble. He said he bought supplements at a store and studied the labels to make sure they didn't contain steroids.
"I wasn't aware the supplement I was taking would give the results they gave," Moss said, adding that he "made a mistake trusting the label."
Moss couldn't describe what was on the label, he said, because he didn't have the supplements with him.
He said he learned of his suspension Sunday from a Mariners official.
"You learn from what happened and not do it again," Moss said. "It's frustrating, disappointing."
Moss said baseball officials have done a good job of educating players about steroids. He said he didn't plan to take any more supplements unless they are approved by Major League Baseball.
Dan Rohn, manager of the Rainiers, last night said he hadn't gotten official notice of the suspensions. Players on the Rainiers roster who tested positive include Christianson, Moss and Troy Cate.
Other Mariners minor-leaguers who tested positive: Omar Falcon, Renee Cortez and Darwin Soto from AA San Antonio; Jesus Guzman from Inland Empire (San Bernardino, Calif.) and William Hogan from Wisconsin, both Class A teams.A pitcher, said he was not aware that he had used steroids.
"I just take a pill, a milkshake," he said. Cortez said he drank milkshakes while spending the offseason in Venezuela and that someone he met at a gym had given him pills for his stomach.
"No more," he said.
Soto has been released by the organization.
"We are going to move on," said Rohn, in his fourth season with the Rainiers. "We will fill in the spaces."
"We knew they were going to be testing," Rohn said. "[Players] know it and it's been read to them. As an organization we've abided by the rules. We are trying to get them to conform to them. I have no control. We have to abide by the rules and if you don't ... things happen."
Benny Looper, the Mariners' director of player development, said, "We're really disappointed with the results. We're working with the players."
Major League Baseball began testing minor-league players for banned substances in 2001, with 11 percent of them failing the test. Since then the numbers have dropped, reaching less than 2 percent last year.
Baseball has produced a video in English and Spanish that minor-league players must watch each year. Also, baseball has a hotline that players can call to see which supplements and substances are allowed.
Yesterday's announcement came three weeks after Congress held a hearing on steroid use in baseball, during which former slugger Mark McGwire refused to tell a House subcommittee whether he had used steroids during his career. Several other players, including Sammy Sosa of the Baltimore Orioles, testified that they had not used steroids.
At the hearings, Francis Coonelly, the general counsel for Major League Baseball, told the committee that baseball developed a zero-tolerance policy on steroid use in the minor leagues in 2001.
"The most influential step that Major League Baseball can take to dissuade young people from using steroids is to demonstrate to them that steroid use is not tolerated in professional baseball and thus cannot be used as an effective steppingstone to the major leagues," he said.
Coonelly said baseball's list of banned substances had expanded beyond steroids to include steroid precursors, ephedra, human growth hormone, diuretics and other masking agents.
"They tested, they got results," Bavasi said. "I think this is going to go on through the year and hopefully the numbers are going to drop."
The Mariners players were among 925 minor-leaguers tested during spring training in Arizona.
"Could anybody have been surprised [that they were going to be tested]? The answer is no," Bavasi said. "What we are most concerned with is getting to the day where we test and we have no positive results."
Baseball officials weren't available for comment yesterday, leaving it unclear why minor-leaguers who testified positive this year were publicly named for the first time.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company