Nothing Good Has Ever Come From Patronizing Vitamin Shoppe and GNC

Posted in Baseball, consumer affairs, Fitness, Medical Science at 3:39 pm by

Or from visiting the Cherry Hill Mall, for that matter.To borrow from my Internet friend Stu’s optimistic take, the Philadelphia Phillies have just made a dramatic middle-of-the-season move, picking up overused lefty reliever J.C. Romero well before the trade deadline. That’s because he’s been suspended 50 games. ESPN’s Peter Gammons had the story, which everyone in baseball managed to keep under wraps (somewhat impressively, I’d say) during the playoffs.

Romero also spoke to the Inquirer‘s Phil Sheridan, who breaks down the whole sequence of events quite thoroughly. Two parts of his piece jumped out at me.

Considering it was the first time a banned substance was found in an FDA-regulated, over-the-counter supplement – one available to every major-leaguer and millions of youths – that should have sounded alarms.

Wait, the FDA – the President Bush-era FDA – regulates the supplement industry? Were they doing a good job?


Here is where Patrick Arnold comes in. The man who first brought androstenedione to the U.S. marketplace and was the chemist behind development of THG – the designer steroid distributed by Balco – also runs a major supplement business called ErgoPharm. Arnold created and marketed the supplement Romero was using.

In an e-mail exchange, Arnold said there was nothing in his supplement that should have created a positive drug test.

The Daily News’ Rich Hoffman says the union let its players down (Yankees minor league pitcher Sergio Mitre is also out for 50 games), and quotes from the MLBPA’s letter:

Nothing on the labels of those supplements indicated that they contained a trace amount of a substance prohibited under Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. 

But haven’t we already learned a hundred times that labels can’t be trusted (even from such a nonpareil source as Patrick Arnold)?

As usual, neither side looks good – the whole culture is still just as messed up as when McGwire was on andro. Legal or not legal, banned or not banned,  performance enhancing vs. workout recovery, amphetamines vs. “five hour energy,” – players are always going to take whatever they can and MLB will always lag behind in its definitions/enforcement/testing ability.

So if you believe that there’s not a huge philosophical gulf between taking HGH or having Lasik surgery, it’s all kind of pointless. Whereas if you believe in the PED bogeyman, then Romero is just as guilty as an Olympian on Sudafed (in fact, two Olympic-sport athletes have already been suspended for this stuff). Which would also mean it’s something of a joke that the appeals process enabled him to play in the World Series. I’m glad he did, of course, since I fall more into the former camp.

Update: Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus points out that the product already came with a warning label! He also links to Anthony Roberts, who has more on Arnold and chemistry.

3 Responses to “Nothing Good Has Ever Come From Patronizing Vitamin Shoppe and GNC”

  1. Chuck Meehan says:

    From reading various articles I think the discrepancy between the MLBPA letter
    stating that there was nothing on the labels indicating a banned substance and the advisory on the label is that the advisory is a somewhat recent addition and was not on the label when Romero was taking it. Nevertheless, somebody fucked up somewhere but it looks to me like unless Romero
    is lying through his teeth, he was diligent in trying to verify whether it was safe to take and a 50 game suspension is like a 5 to 10 year bid on a parking ticket. The “plea bargain” that was layed on Romero also reeks. Oh well…. is Aaron Fultz still pitching anywhere?

  2. Jason Cohen says:

    I’m not sure either way -that advisory label seems generic. That warning by itself shouldn’t have any effect on whether or not the substance is legal, and with or without it there’s no way the Phillies’ trainer can just look at the ingredients on a bottle and decide that it’s ok, let alone know how the substance might convert in the body or what might be in it that’s not on the label.

    The system certainly failed him, but it’s a system where players still want to take whatever they can and Mr. BALCO chemist makes things that get sold at the Cherry Hill Mall. I’m still curious about the “plea bargain” vis a vis the CBA because otherwise, my understanding is the 50 games is simply the boilerplate PED first offense penalty, no exceptions.

  3. Chuck Meehan says:

    I have tickets for the Wednesday 4/8 day game which will feature the Phillies World Series ring ceremony. It will be very interesting if Bud Selig shows up
    and of course, the nationally televised Opening Night will be a forum for Phillies fans who will be in a demonstrative mood. Really, this incident has parallels with the peculiarly American stupidity of the War on Drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing right down to the “plea bargain”.

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