Gary Matthews Jr. Named in Enhancement Drug Scandal

The Albany Times Union reports that Gary Matthews Jr. has been named as one customer of a ring that furnished performance-enhancing drugs to athletes.

Reporter Brendan J. Lyons wrote:

The Times Union has learned that investigators in the year-old case, which has been kept quiet until now, uncovered evidence that testosterone and other performance-enhancing drugs may have been fraudulently prescribed over the Internet to current and former Major League Baseball players, National Football League players, college athletes, high school coaches, a former Mr. Olympia champion and another leading contender in the bodybuilding competition.

The customers include Los Angeles Angels center fielder Gary Matthews Jr., according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.

A tip of the cap to Matt Hurst at the Riverside Press-Enterprise for reporting the Albany story on the PE.com Baseball Blog.

UPDATE February 28 6:00 AM PSTAn update of the story in the Albany Times-Union suggests that the lynchpin may be former major league pitcher Jason Grimsley, who was reportedly naming fellow ballplayers to federal agents after admitting past drug use. Grimsley named former Orioles first baseman David Segui was his contact. Matthews played with Segui in Baltimore in 2002-2003.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia met with Matthews yesterday after the story broke. Matthews then left Tempe Diablo, no doubt to avoid reporters hot on the story.

UPDATE February 28, 2007 5:15 PM PST — Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that Gary Matthews won’t comment on his name being linked to the breaking performance enhancement drug scandal.

UPDATE February 28, 2007 6:15 PM PSTSports Illustrated reports that Matthews allegedly ordered a human growth hormone in 2004 through “a former minor league teammate” who lives in Mansfield, Texas.

Just a suggestion … Quakes fans from the mid- through late-1990s might want to check their Rancho Cucamonga rosters to see if they can find a player from Mansfield. If you do, please post the name here.

UPDATE February 28, 2007 8:45 PM PST — MLB.com finally weighs in with a piece that seems written mostly to avoid controversy.

According to the article, Matthews read a statement in response to the article but didn’t take any questions. Owner Arte Moreno then said, “I like the way he responded,” which has to be one of the lamer spins on a story spinning out of control. “He came in as a gentleman and apologized immediately for any kind of distraction. He said he would try to get it resolved as quickly as possible.”

As you might suspect, the crackpots are already falling all over each other on various boards calling for Bill Stoneman to be fired, as if Stoneman somehow held down Matthews and forced the needle into his arm. These cranks have bashed Stoneman all along for signing Matthews, but that has no relation to this incident, which occurred 2 1/2 years ago.

One of the few facts to emerge in the MLB.com article not seen elsewhere is how much research the Angels were able to do on Matthews prior to signing him, and that there was no evidence he’d been involved in HGH use.

Moreno said the organization relied on extensive scouting reports and statistical data before pursuing Matthews in free agency.

"He’s been tested," Moreno said."We have history within reason. You know all the way through the Minor League system if they’ve been in trouble. You can get any stats you want now, [including] the meals they ate yesterday."

Scioscia conceded that he was caught by surprise.

"I’ve never heard Gary’s name along those lines at all," Scioscia said. "I’ve heard very few names, actually. The media speculates on those lines. I haven’t heard Gary’s name at all.

What action the Angels can take is also limited by MLB’s labor agreement with the players union.

"We really don’t have a lot of information, obviously," [Moreno said]. "You’re dealing with the Players Association. The Players Association, they really want to get more information. We had a meeting really just to basically tell him how we felt — that, one, we’re not going to ask you any questions until you’re able to tell us. But we’d like you to be straight up with us. I felt it was important for him to know he has our support.

… Moreno said Matthews was not asked directly if he’d taken performance-enhancing drugs.

"I don’t think it’s our position to do that right now," the owner said. "We did not address it that way. I let Mike take the lead on it.

"I think that bridge is going to come eventually but I think as a whole it’s more important for him to come to us and explain to us what’s going on."

So the facts as we have them now are that Matthews may have used a surrogate friend to order body-altering substances in August 2004 which were legal at the time and not banned by the labor agreement in place at the time. The new drug testing policy became effective in 2005 and, since he was never suspended, one can presume that Matthews tested clean. Whether the drug in question would have shown up in the tests administered by MLB can only be answered by a knowledgeable chemist.

Internet cranks aside, the reasonable question is whether Matthews’ fluke 2006 season was due to human growth hormone use or another substance that went undetected. Most people agree that 2006 was an anomaly, and those complaining about Matthews’ contract don’t live in the real world where plenty of free agents got much fatter contracts in an off-season where demand exceeded supply; in that context, Matthews’ contract wasn’t all that unreasonable.

But the real question now is whether that contract might be voided down the line should Matthews be convicted of a crime, which so far seems unlikely since no crime has been alleged. Worst case scenario, he continues to play his career under a cloud. But that certainly hasn’t seemed to have bothered Barry Bonds’ conscience. And I suspect that should Matthews be leading the Angels into the post-season, the memories of Internet cranks will suddenly go blank so long as Matthews is productive.

UPDATE March 1, 2007 7:00 AM PST — Today’s Los Angeles Times reports that Matthews could face criminal charges under certain scenarios. “Baseball bans human growth hormone now but didn’t then, although the substance is illegal to possess without legitimate medical supervision. Even if prosecutors can prove Matthews received the shipment and can persuade him to testify against distributors in exchange for immunity, major league officials might not be able to suspend him.”

So far, though, “the documents cannot establish whether Matthews used — or even received — the shipment, according to the report.”

The article also states that it’s possible to test for human growth hormone (HGH) but that MLB currently doesn’t do so.

Baseball now forbids the use of human growth hormone but does not test for the substance. Commissioner Bud Selig and union chief Donald Fehr each have said there is no reliable test available, and owners have funded laboratory studies to develop a urine test.

Gary Wadler, a New York physician and advisor to the World Anti-Doping Agency, said no urine test would be available for "at least five years, if ever" but said a blood test has been developed and would be widely available by the end of this year. If MLB chose to do so, he said, it could take blood samples now and freeze them for testing later this year.

"The assertion that there is no test is wrong," Wadler said.

In that sense, he said, baseball’s claims of tough drug testing ring hollow.

"Without detection — or the potential of detection — there is no deterrence," he said. "Without deterrence, there’s no reason for not using human growth hormone. The only way to get caught now is these kinds of stings, which is not the way to do it."

Matt Hurst at the Riverside Press-Enterprise notes some interesting geographic coincidences in Matthews’ career.

Mansfield is less than 15 miles from Arlington, where the Texas Rangers play. Matthews played for Texas from 2004 to 2006.

SI.com reported that he allegedly received a prescription for the hormone at a now-defunct anti-aging clinic in south Florida but the drugs came from the Mobile pharmacy. Matthews played in Mobile between 1997 and 1998 while with San Diego’s organization.

Matthews went to spring training with Atlanta in 2004, and the Braves train near Orlando, Fla., where a pharmacy was raided Tuesday.

UPDATE March 1, 2007 7:00 PM PST — The Mobile Press-Register reports that the local lab where Matthews allegedly ordered HGH is unaware of the details of the accusations.

Two owners of Mobile-based Applied Pharmacy Services have been indicted by an Albany, N.Y., grand jury in connection with an illicit steroid distribution network with high-profile customers, according to media reports …

Arthur Madden, a Mobile lawyer who has represented Applied Pharmacy for six months, said Wednesday he had not seen any warrants or documents concerning an investigation into the Mobile-based business.

"The whole thing is a mystery," Madden said.

Madden said that Applied Pharmacy is licensed and regulated by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. "You have to have a prescription to place an order," Madden said.

Madden said he had not been able to reach anyone in the Albany County District Attorney’s office to obtain more information. A spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s office did not respond to a Press-Register reporter’s telephone calls Wednesday.

Madden said he represents the pharmacy itself not the owners individually. According to business records, Jason Kelley and Sam Kelley own Applied Pharmacy, located on International Drive near Colonial Mall Bel Air.

On Wednesday, a reporter who went to the Applied Pharmacy office spoke to an employee who said the Kelleys were unavailable. Inside the office there were numerous framed pharmacy certifications, as well as a door bearing a "registered pharmacist" nameplate.

Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. and Mobile Police Chief Phillip Garrett said they were unaware of the investigation. Special Agent Tim White, a spokesman for the FBI in Mobile, said his agency was not involved in the investigation.

Tom Wade, the DEA’s resident agent in charge in Mobile, said he had read the Times Union article, but did not know of the investigation otherwise.

Wade said that if Albany officials called him and asked for his help in arresting anyone, he would advise them to contact the Mobile police since the case would involve state indictments.

Meanwhile, Matt Hurst at the Riverside Press-Enterprise got two minutes of time today with Matthews, which is transcribed on the paper’s Baseball Blog. Perhaps the most interesting Q&A was this exchange:

Q: The longer you go without addressing this issue, do you feel you’re bringing about more suspicions?

A: When I get more information from my people, then I can go from there. If I don’t have all the information, it puts me in a bad situation to say one thing or another.

If there were nothing to all this, Matthews would just say so, so obviously there is something to it.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, it seems that: (1) Matthews had a prescription for the drug, (2) he obtained it through the Mobile lab, (3) it was sent to a friend in Mansfield TX, (4) the HGH wasn’t banned in MLB at the time, (5) MLB doesn’t test for it now, and (6) a blood test may be available later this year but there’s no indication whether MLB will successfully negotiate with the MLBPA to start doing the blood test.

One story said that HGH would be used by an athlete more to heal quickly from an injury than to gain bulk, which to me makes sense. Baseball players wear down by late season, and that was around the time Matthews allegedly placed the order in August 2004. So far I haven’t seen anything to suggest that HGH use could somehow miraculously morph him into the player he was in 2006.

If Matthews did indeed have a prescription, then the question becomes whether the prescription was issued under fraudulent circumstances, and by whom. But for now, the Albany D.A. has made it clear he’s only going after the labs, not the customers.

UPDATE March 2 6:45 AM PST — Doug Padilla of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group suggests that Matthews could be suspended even if he doesn’t test positive or if he’s not indicted:

At the rate that new information is released, the Angels are headed toward the possibility that Matthews could face a 50-game suspension for a first-time violation for performance enhancers.

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ Jason Grimsley received such a suspension last year even though he did not test positive for performance enhancers.

Grimsley was caught receiving a home delivery of performance-enhancing substances.

As of now, the Angels are not planning on making any roster contingencies, in anticipation of a possible suspension for Matthews.

This article is copyright © 2007 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

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