With name cleared, Romero has peace of mind
Tainted supplement led to reliever's positive drug test in 2008
ST. LOUIS -- Having spent more than three years insisting he did not knowingly ingest a performance-enhancing substance during the 2008 season, new Cardinals reliever J.C. Romero arrived at the organization's Winter Warm-Up event this weekend with the peace of mind that his name has now been cleared.
Romero recently settled a lawsuit that was filed back in April 2009, less than a year after Romero tested positive for the banned substance androstenedione. A supplement -- which the New York Daily News identified as 6-OXO Extreme -- that Romero bought at a GNC store was what triggered the positive test.
Romero immediately challenged the test and was able to finish out the 2008 season -- which included a World Series appearances with the Phillies -- while his case went through the arbitration process. It was during that process that a lab determined that the supplement Romero took had been tainted.
The drug policy still needed to be enforced, however, and Romero served a 50-game suspension. He then followed with the lawsuit.
"Going through that trial for three years, if you walked in my shoes, that's not easy to do," Romero said on Sunday. "Because you've got to go to every stadium, and everybody's going to judge you. Everybody's going to point fingers at you. So as a role model, it hurts.
"For me, the way that I believe -- and the way that I live my life, my integrity, my reputation and my testimony as a Christian -- that means a lot to me. So it really was a heavy weight on my shoulder the last three years. ... Now I can focus on having fun and enjoying the game of baseball."
Though the settlement was reached in December, Romero did not make his first public comments regarding the matter until last week. In addition to discussing his particular circumstances, Romero also stated that he remains supportive of MLB's Drug Policy.
"I'm happy that [Commissioner] Bud Selig and everybody [are] doing what they're doing with the game," Romero said. "But at that particular time, when I got suspended, I think there were some grey areas in the system that I didn't agree with. They have to do their job, and I respect their decision. But I've got to protect myself, too. And I knew that my case wasn't like everybody else's. I didn't go in an alley and stick a needle in my body, anything like that.
"I did what everybody else in the United States would do, which is go to the vitamin places and get your vitamins. But I think at the same time, I created a lot of awareness for a lot of the young guys -- not just young guys, but current Major League Baseball players that didn't know this could happen to them. So my job was to fight to the end and clear my name. For me, that was the most important thing. I achieved that, and I'm happy with it."
The effect of the suspension has run much deeper than simply shifting public perception. Romero, self-admittedly, has not been the same since.
The suspension and a subsequent left forearm injury limited Romero to only 21 appearances with the Phillies in 2009. His recovery from left elbow surgery delayed the start of Romero's 2010 season, though he did finish with 60 appearances and a 3.68 ERA.
Then came 2011, an all-around trying year that included stops with four different organizations and ended with a 4.01 ERA in 36 big league appearances. He pitched in another 20 games in the Minors. While Romero noted that the mental strain of the lawsuit had its effect, the bigger issue last season was rediscovering his mechanics.
"My mind and my arm weren't in the same plane," Romero said. "So sometimes I felt one way, but my arm wasn't doing what I wanted it to do. Sometimes you've got to slow down. I tried to work faster but it didn't work for me. Once I hit the Minors, that's when I started really going back to the basics and working with different pitching coaches."
It all led to a one-year deal with the Cardinals in December, a deal which can be worth as much as $1.5 million if all performance incentives are reached. It was the second straight winter that Romero had engaged in serious negotiations with the Cardinals.
Surprised that those negotiations didn't result in a contract last season, Romero said his interest in trying to sign with St. Louis again this winter piqued as he watched the Cardinals' run to the World Series.
"It didn't happen [last year], and then I went through the whole roller coaster in 2011," Romero said. "But everything happens for a reason. I live my faith. And the way I live, I learn from every experience. The bottom line is, I'm healthy and I'm here. I'm a Cardinal now, and I'm very excited about it."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.