Romero files suit over suspension
Phils reliever sues supplement manufacturer, distributor
PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies left-hander J.C. Romero is being held accountable for his actions last summer.
He believes others should be held accountable, too.
Romero filed a suit Monday in Camden County, N.J., against Ergopharm, Inc. and Proviant Technologies, the manufacturer and distributor of the nutritional supplement that caused him to test positive for androstenedione. Also named in the court proceedings are retail nutrition stores Vitamin Shoppe and GNC, who sold 6-OXO Extreme to Romero and told him that the product would not cause a positive test.
Romero is serving a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's policy against performance-enhancing drugs.
"I think it's the right thing to do, not only for myself, but for the rest of the athletes," Romero said Monday evening in a telephone interview. "I think the manufacturer has a lot of culpability in this case. It's the reason why I'm suspended in the first place.
"I don't want this to happen again to anybody else. I think that's the most important thing. We're trying to do the right thing for the game of baseball. At the same time, this is a bigger issue than just trying to clean up the game of baseball. We've got situations where certain manufactures are making products that have some tainted ingredients in it, and some ingredients that are banned. That results in a tainted supplement. I don't think that's right. If you do something wrong, you've got to pay for it."
Representatives for the defendants could not be reached for comment.
The Phillies had no comment.
The complaint states that Romero visited a Vitamin Shoppe in Cherry Hill, N.J., last July, and that the salesperson there said 6-OXO Extreme would not test positive in a drug test. Romero purchased more of the supplement during the All-Star break at a GNC at his home in Fairhope, Ala. The GNC salesperson also said the supplement would not test positive in a drug test. Romero also stated that he researched Ergopharm and its products and determined them safe.
Phillies strength and conditioning coordinator Dong Lien recommended Romero receive a second opinion before taking the supplement. Romero spoke with a nutritionist, but never called the league's toll-free hotline for questions regarding supplements.
Romero failed a drug test Aug. 26.
Romero said he was unaware of the hotline before he tested positive, although the league said it has posters in every clubhouse informing players of the 1-800 number and its Web site. The player's union also meets with teams every spring, and part of the discussion has been nutritional supplements. Wallet cards are provided.
But players have said that if they submit a supplement to be tested for illegal substances and it comes back clean, they are informed that while that particular batch of the supplement is OK, a future batch of the same supplement could be tainted.
"As far as the manufacturer, the substances are there," said one of Romero's attorneys, David Cornwell. "They shouldn't be there. And it's not disclosed that they're present in the product. As to the retailers, they made specific representations to J.C. that the product does not contain a prohibited substance or a substance that would otherwise cause him to violate Major League Baseball's steroid policy."
Romero has maintained from the beginning that he never knowingly took a banned substance.
"What did I do wrong? Some people say nothing," Romero said. "That's hard to comprehend. Right now in my mind I thought I was doing the right thing. If I made a mistake about something it was just to put 100 percent trust in the people that are supposed to know everything the drug policies and things like that. If I had known this was going to be the case, I would have really gotten involved a little more instead of letting other people tell me the things I can and cannot do.
"The people behind this have not been very accountable. But the bottom line is that you have a manufacturer that put something illegal in a supplement, something that has been banned in the U.S. for years. And they continue to bend the law and put something in the supplement without it even being on the label."
Romero, who loses $1,245,902 of his $4 million salary because of the suspension, is eligible to be activated June 2. He can begin a rehab assignment in the Minor Leagues 16 days before then.
Romero is claiming the following damages from the positive test and resulting suspension:
Loss of past income and earning capacity in an amount to be proven at trail.
Lost of future income and earning capacity.
Past and future pain, suffering and humiliation.
Loss of enjoyment of life, past and future.
"This has been hanging over me for so long." Romero said. "I haven't been able to enjoy the World Series. I've been getting a lot of support from the people, but nobody can really feel what it's like to be in my shoes. It's been a very painful situation. I'm the one that has to face people when they point the finger at me. I'm the one that has to go from stadium to stadium and listen to people make comments. It's nobody else. I'm the only one. That's tough."
"It's tragic," Cornwell said. "Congress knows that nutritional supplements are not regulated. Congress knows that nutritional supplements routinely are tainted with prohibited substances. The sports leagues know that nutritional substances are not regulated. Yet the burden is shifted to professional athletes. I can't imagine the psychological fall from being on the top of the mountain ... to being at the bottom of the valley, being told you can't play baseball because of something that somebody else did."
Romero is pitching in extended Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla., until he can begin his rehab assignment. He is looking forward to rejoining the Phillies.
But it will be awhile before this matter is completely behind him, if it ever is.
"I just want to contribute again," Romero said. "I just want to go to the field and enjoy my time with my teammates, instead of being here serving a very unfair suspension. In my mind, 50 games will never be fair because that's for somebody who is trying to cheat the game of baseball."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.