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August 16, 2010
Under The Knife
Methylhexanamine. If you're like most people—including me just a few weeks ago—you have no idea what this substance is. It's now baseball's most abused performance enhancer. It's a powerful stimulant, described as a natural amphetamine, but legal. In the past months, eight minor-league players have been suspended in rapid succession for testing positive for methylhexanamine, a substance just added to baseball's banned list this year after WADA put the substance on its list. Please note the difference between banned and legal. "Banned" is a substance that is forbidden by a governing body, in this case MLB or WADA. "Legal" means it is not controlled by a government body. While methylhexanamine is banned in baseball and causing positive tests, it's also available at your local vitamin store or at hundreds of online retailers.
In fact, it is this very availability and popularity that has caused the problems for these minor leaguers. Bodybuilding.com is the largest Internet retailer of supplements (and owned by Liberty Media, which also owns the Atlanta Braves). On the front page of its site, Bodybuilding.com offers a product called USP Jack3d. They've nominated it for "supplement of the year," which gives you some idea how well it is selling. On the page for the product, you can see methylhexanamine listed as an ingredient, something that the maker of Jack3d doesn't doon the bottle. Instead, USPlabs lists it under a more technical name, 1,3-dimethylamylamine. This is key and used for another USPLabs product, OxyElite Pro, as well.
If you go to USPLabs' page for its product, you can page all the way down to see the list of ingredients. It lists 1,3-dimethylamylamine. It's unclear if this is also listed as a banned substance on baseball's list, but athletes are at ultimate jeopardy for anything they put in their body. USPLabs is relatively clear, if you dig enough, that Jack3d might cause issues. On this page, it admits that WADA and the NCAA have banned the substance, but throw people off by using two confusing concepts—the difference between banned and legal, and the concept of the false positive. Drug test opponents often point to false positives as a problem, but there's really no issue with this. A false positive is, by definition, a positive result in the absence of a substance. If I'm drinking tea, there should not be coffee in my stomach. Tests are sophisticated enough to do this in such a small number of cases as to consider it zero. The confusion comes when people call something else—a tainted supplement, a poorly performed collection, a problem in the testing procedure—a false positive. USPLabs is right in saying Jack3d wouldn't cause a false positive. It would cause a true positive!
It gets worse. USPLabs is hardly the only supplement maker using methylhexanamine in its products. It's legal and according to both studies and anecdotal evidence, it works. The problem is that USPLabs is run by a man named Jacob Geissler, who has been connected to a steroid shop known as DPharm. DPharm, now defunct, was known as one of the top designer steroid labs for a period of time. Its product was considered top notch in a world of shady suppliers. I'm certainly not one to say that people can't change, but the fact is that over and over, we've seen the line between supplements and steroids blurred. When J.C. Romero tested positive last season, it was because he had taken a supplement (6-OXO, since controlled by the FDA) created by Patrick Arnold, one of the chemists behind BALCO. This is a similar situation. In fact, Arnold appears to be the one who first used methlyhexamine in a product.
This goes beyond baseball. This substance—which is not regulated in any way and could be bought by children—is being investigated for its use as so-called "party pills" that have led to serious illnesses. If you think that a supplement shop owned by a giant, publicly traded company would be looking out for the health of its customers, you might want to consider the FDA-enforced recall and ongoing lawsuit involving Bodybuilding.com. If the lawsuit goes against Bodybuilding.com and the other defendants as alleged, they would be subject to damages in the millions for selling illegal anabolic steroids.
What this shows is how difficult an issue this is for both MLB and the players. No one is excused here. Players taking a supplement called "Jack3d" have to realize that they're treading on shaky ground. They have resources, both at the team and league levels, to make sure that supplements are clear of banned substances. But then again, are the teams and leagues, especially at the minor-league level, making these resources as known and available as they should? Are players given open and honest advice by athletics trainers and strength and conditioning coaches? Is there a subtle or not-so-subtle message being sent to players to get bigger, stronger, faster that's leading them down this path? How will baseball deal with what looks like an impending ban of caffeine by WADA, especially since methylhexamine is only on baseball's banned list because WADA placed it there last year? Red Bull and coffee might be next year's issue. Worst of all, why is an entity involved in the ownership of a team also selling substances that are banned by that very sport?
Jacoby Ellsbury (fractured ribs, ERD TBD)
Chase Utley (sprained thumb, ERD 8/18)
Jeff Francis (strained shoulder, ERD 9/1)
Bobby Jenks (back spasms, ERD 8/17)
Gil Meche (strained shoulder, ERD 9/5)
Kris Medlen (sprained elbow, ERD 10/4)
Justin Morneau (concussion, ERD TBD)
Quick Cuts: I think Kevin Slowey's elbow is okay. Best moment for me was him handing over the ball to Ron Gardenhire. There was real respect there going both ways. ... For all those people who like to think they can look at people and see steroid use, look at Bill Hall. I remember when he came up and now? Different guy, but I'd be very willing to bet he's never used steroids. (I could be wrong, but I doubt it.). ... Derrek Lee hit two homers, then left with some back spasms. No word on severity, but he looked more uncomfortable than hurt. ... No truth to the rumor that Nelson Cruz hurt himself in the celebration of his massive Saturday home run. He is sore, but the Rangers lead allows them to give him a couple days off. They also shifted Rich Harden to the DL, perhaps ending his season and called up Brandon Boggs, who will cover for Cruz's absence and head back down when they need a pitcher. ... Kyle Lohse was back with almost no warning this week and didn't look great in his return start. There are going to be questions about the pace of his return. ... Great cause. ... Milton Bradley is heading to Cincinnati for surgery on his knee with Dr. Tim Kremchek. It's an exploratory procedure that could go many directions, so i have no idea on a timeline. Why Kremchek? He repaired Bradley's ACL after his freakish injury in 2007. ... Lance Berkman has a mild ankle sprain after stepping on the pitcher's foot at first. He might miss a couple days, depending on how it responds to treatment. The Yankees could use the open slot to rest some other field players anyway. ... I'm hearing that the Dbacks know that Brandon Webb is done for the season, but that Webb isn't ready to throw in the towel just yet. ... Homer Bailey's start coming off the DL looked good enough for the Reds to push Mike Leake out for a while. ... I've joined the amazing crew over at Press Coverage—we've been referred to as "the Expendables of blogging"—and my first article there will be up soon. It's well worth your time to check out the site.