BOSTON — As the Indians prepared to face the Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday, Cleveland starting pitcher Paul Byrd prepared to face the music.
Byrd, considered one of the more upstanding players in the game, acknowledged to taking human growth hormone under a doctor’s prescription for a medical condition.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday that Byrd had purchased nearly $25,000 worth of HGH between the 2002-05 seasons. He played for the Royals, Braves and Angels over that span.
Byrd admits to taking the performance-enhancing substance that was banned by MLB in January of 2005, but is still not tested for, but said he used it to combat a pituitary tumor, which was the cause of adult hormone deficiency. He said three different doctors diagnosed him with the ailment.
“I have never taken any hormone or any drug that was not prescribed by a doctor,” Byrd told a large group of reporters outside the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park on Sunday. “I do not want the fans of Cleveland, I do not want honest, caring people, to think that I cheated, because I didn’t.”
Byrd said he informed Major League Baseball and the Indians of the pituitary issue and the prescribed treatment, but Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro said he first learned of it when Byrd contacted him by phone on Friday. Byrd told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had no comment on the same day.
Shapiro’s reaction was a predictable one.
“I was surprised, but supportive,” he said. “He’s a guy I’ve known for 14 years, on and off. Most of the local guys know this guy has been a stellar person on and off the field, personally and professionally.
“I’m supportive and accepting of the fact that I don’t know everything going on.”
Shapiro said he has heard nothing official from Major League Baseball, regarding any potential penalties for Byrd.
MLB released a statement Sunday that read: “We will investigate the allegations concerning Paul Byrd as we have players implicated in previous similar reports. Since Mr. Byrd and his club, the Cleveland Indians, are currently active in postseason play, we will interview Mr. Byrd prior to the start of the World Series should the Cleveland club advance.”
Byrd is the latest big leaguer to be implicated for using HGH, joining the Angels’ Gary Matthews Jr., Rick Ankiel (Cardinals), Jerry Hairston (Rangers) and Troy Glaus (Blue Jays).
The San Francisco Chronicle’s report indicated that Byrd purchased the HGH from a Florida anti-aging clinic — The Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center — that was the focus of law enforcement for illegally distributing performance-enhancing drugs.
According to The Chronicle’s anonymous law enforcement sources, some of the prescriptions were written by a Florida dentist, whose license was suspended in 2003 for fraud and incompetence.
Byrd did not specify when the pituitary tumor was detected and if he had stopped using HGH, calling it a personal matter. He said he would discuss the matter more thoroughly over the next few days.
Byrd, who was available to pitch out of the bullpen in Sunday, said he addressed teammates prior to the game in a players-only meeting.
Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said he was not worried that the allegations against Byrd would distract the team as it prepared for the biggest game of the season.
“Our guys have done a pretty good job of working hard to stay in the mindset that they need to be in,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any greater challenge than Game 7. It’s not always a straight line. Now and again, you’re going to have something to overcome.”
Still, Byrd questioned the timing of the San Francisco Chronicle’s story, saying the paper had the information for days and could have run the article before now.
The pitcher, a religious man that does motivational speaking, was most concerned about what this will do to his reputation.
“I don’t want to come to a stadium and kids not want my autograph,” he said. “I don’t want to show up at a stadium and people think that I cheated. I love this game. I respect this game.
“I do understand that there is going to be people that it doesn’t matter what you say, they’re going to take a negative viewpoint, and that’s going to be it. But I say that with complete confidence, I have never taken anything apart from a prescription.”
This is the second time the Indians have dealt with a performance-enhancement issue on the big league level, with reliever Rafael Betancourt drawing a 10-game suspension in July of 2005 for testing positive for a banned substance.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or at email@example.com.