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Ramirez slapped with 50-game ban for doping violation

MANNY Ramirez joined a growing lineup of baseball stars linked to drugs on Thursday, with the slugger banished for 50 games by a sport that cannot shake free from scandal.

The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder was suspended by Major League Baseball for a drug violation, adding a further stamp to what will forever be known as the Steroids Era.

"It's a dark day for baseball and certainly for this organization," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "This organization will never condone anything that isn't clean."

Ramirez said he did not take steroids and was given medication by a doctor that contained a banned substance. A person familiar with the details of the suspension said Ramirez used the female fertility drug HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin.

HCG is popular among steroid users because it can mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of the drugs. The body may stop producing testosterone when users go off steroids, which can cause sperm counts to decrease and testicles to shrink.

"Recently, I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was OK to give me," Ramirez said in a statement issued by the players' union.

"Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now. I do want to say one other thing; I've taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons."

Ramirez's suspension was based not on a spring training urine test result but rather evidence obtained afterward, a second person familiar with the suspension said. MLB had concluded the spring test was positive, but the person said the players' association would have challenged the result because of "testing issues."

Ranked 17th on the career home run list with 533, Ramirez became the most prominent baseball player to be penalized for drugs.

His ban came three months after New York Yankees' slugger Alex Rodriguez admitted using steroids, and at a time when all-time home run leader Barry Bonds is under federal indictment and pitching great Roger Clemens is being investigated by a federal grand jury to determine whether he lied when he told Congress he never used steroids or human growth hormone.

Sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who staged a memorable fight for home run supremacy last decade, have been tainted by steroid allegations, while Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for a banned drug and Jose Canseco said he used them.


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