Mike Morse was suspended for 10 days yesterday for testing positive for steroids, the third Mariners player to violate major-league rules...
OAKLAND, Calif. — Mike Morse was suspended for 10 days yesterday for testing positive for steroids, the third Mariners player to violate major-league rules this year. Outfielder Jamal Strong and pitcher Ryan Franklin are the others.
But this time, while it did nothing to help Morse avoid his third suspension in two years, there seemed to be extenuating circumstances.
Morse said he used steroids for a brief period beginning in November 2003 to help heal a torn left thigh muscle. He said his three suspensions — including two as a minor-leaguer last year — were each the result of that steroid use.
Morse, in a prepared statement released through the Mariners, said the test results this year showed an “extremely low level” of steroids, according to a statement issued by a three-man arbitration panel that heard Morse’s grievance. Morse said the panel’s statement points out “that the level [of steroids] was so low that it was ‘undisputed’ that it had ‘no performance-enhancing effect’ on me.”
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In a meeting with reporters, Morse said those statements came from a doctor involved in the testing.
“I’m for testing, for knocking out steroids,” Morse said.
In his lengthy release, Morse began by saying, “First and foremost I want to apologize to the fans, my teammates, the Mariners’ organization, baseball and to my family.” Then Morse laid out his side of what happened.an enormous mistake in my life: I took steroids while in the minor leagues.”
Morse was in the Chicago White Sox organization until he was traded on June 27, 2004, as part of the Freddy Garcia deal. He said he took steroids to help his thigh muscle heal. It was an injury he said he suffered two years earlier with the White Sox team in the Arizona instructional league.
Morse said he played two seasons with the pain and was trying to handle it by getting treatment at a medical clinic near his home in Florida. Finally, he said he was told by a doctor at the clinic that as a last resort he could take a steroid injection to get better.
This, he said in his statement, is what this is all about, no excuses of “some over-the-counter supplement, protein shake or tainted test.”
Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi hewed to the official line teams have used in reaction to players testing positive for steroids. Frustrated as he might be at the team’s third major-league player being suspended, plus eight minor-leaguers, he initially said only that the Mariners “fully support the joint testing program.”
Players suspended for
10 days in 2005 for violating Major League Baseball’s drug program:
OF Tampa Bay
But in this case, given what Morse is swearing to, does he not feel empathy for the young player?
“Everyone has natural feelings. Given the circumstances as he presents them … sure,” Bavasi said. “But again, we support the testing program and really that’s where it starts and ends for us.”
Morse tested positive the first time in May 2004, when he played for Birmingham, the Class AA affiliate of the White Sox. The second positive test came in July 2004, while he was playing for the Mariners’ AA team in San Antonio.
No matter when the steroid use first occurred with Morse, Bavasi said, “We look at all players in Seattle uniforms as our players, and we take it from there.”
Morse spoke of his decision to take the steroid shot.
“I had a choice to make and I made a bad one,” he said. “But I thought it was my last hope. I thought my career could be over. I wanted to get my leg healed, not to be able to hit 40 homers. At the time I wasn’t smart enough to realize what it would mean in the future.”
It has meant a ton of trouble.
Morse was tested under the Major League Baseball program this May and failed the test, and was re-tested by the Major League Players Association a month later.
In each subsequent test, including the two as a minor-leaguer, Morse said he tested at an increasingly lower level.
“The numbers have been dropping,” he said. “I don’t know the numbers. I wish I did. The numbers are ridiculous.”
Seth Levinson, Morse’s agent, said: “The only thing I can say is that it’s unjustifiable and inconceivable to think that fairness is achieved by punishing an individual three different times for the same offense. The decision is so unconscionable. In 20 years as attorney I’ve never read a more favorable opinion about the losing party than what was written by the arbitration panel.”
Morse appealed the suspension and had a hearing when the Mariners were in Toronto in July. His appeal was rejected by a 2-1 vote. The panel consists of Shyam Das, an arbitrator employed jointly by MLB and the players association; John McHale Jr., MLB’s executive vice-president of administration; and Stephen Fehr, a union official and brother of Donald Fehr, the executive director and general counsel of Major League Players Association.
According to sources, the statement from the arbitration panel concluded: “The panel recognizes that this result may be viewed as unfair to Michael Morse, a further suspension resulting from conduct that likely ended before the 2004 season began. However the panel’s only authority is to interpret and apply the parties’ agreement.”
Morse’s claim that the level of steroids detected this year is lower than the minor-league tests is not something he could use in his defense.
According to the rules insisted on by the players association, minor-league results cannot be used in any connection with test results in the majors. Thus, Morse is subject to double jeopardy — here, triple jeopardy — and could theoretically be suspended even again for residue of his 2003 usage if he tests positive again.
“The program was designed to deter use, and we think it’s designed to be effective in deterring use,” said Robert Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources. “A player gets a clean slate in terms of discipline when he comes to the major leagues. From our perspective that’s a two-way street.”
A players association statement, from the union’s general counsel, Michael Weiner, says the arbitration panel believed Morse’s positive test this year was from the 2003 use.
“While we respect the panel’s decision as final and binding, the PA does not believe the parties ever intended for the Basic Agreement to compel such a harsh result.”
“I know what I did,” Morse said. “I admitted it and I was punished. I was a man about it and I dealt with it. But now I feel like someone who committed a crime and did the time and suddenly gets a phone call two years later he has to go back to jail. It’s not fair.”
Three Mariners have been suspended for 1-day this year for violating Major League Baseball’s drug program. Here’s what each said:
Jamal Strong: Strong blamed over-the-counter supplements for his suspension.
Ryan Franklin: “The testing has to be flawed. …I don’t believe it.”
Mike Morse: “I made an enormous mistake. … I took steroids while in the minor leagues.”
Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff reporter Larry Stone contributed to this article.