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Former National Bennett Says HGH Use Was 'Stupid Decision'

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 15, 2007

Former Washington Nationals catcher Gary Bennett, a member of the 2006 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, defied the trend that seemed to dominate baseball yesterday, a day after 91 current and former players were linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs in a wide-ranging report. In a telephone interview last night, Bennett said, "As far as the report is concerned to me, it's accurate."

Thus, Bennett did what few players did yesterday: admit to the use of steroids or human growth hormone in the wake of the report issued by former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell.

"Obviously, it was a stupid decision," Bennett said. "It was a mistake. It was something that quite obviously, you regret now."

Few players came forward with either confessions or denials. F.P. Santangelo, a utility infielder with four teams for parts of seven seasons, admitted on his morning radio show in Sacramento that he "panicked" and took human growth hormone twice.

David Justice, a former all-star who was a teammate of pitcher Roger Clemens -- the report's biggest name -- denied his own use, and challenged Clemens to step forward and speak about the accusations against him.

"He should be talking about it," Justice said in an interview on ESPN radio. "If you really didn't do it, say something about it. At least have a conversation about it."

Messages to Clemens's agent and lawyer went unreturned yesterday, as did the vast majority of calls to agents for players who were named in the report. Randy Hendricks, one of the agents for Clemens and New York Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, said Thursday he was advising Pettitte not to speak publicly.

The strategy around baseball appeared to be to take a measured approach in responding.

"You have to determine what the facts are," said Michael Sitrick, chief executive of Sitrick and Company, a strategic communications firm that deals in crisis management. "We don't go out and just make something up out of whole cloth. We say [to clients], 'Tell us what happened. What are the circumstances?' . . . If it's not accurate, that's easy. You say, 'The report is inaccurate. I never met the guy who they claim gave me these steroids.' But in most cases, you just don't turn to Page 37 and pick a statement out of a book. It's not that simple."

Like Justice, a former rookie of the year and three-time all-star who was accused of purchasing HGH after playing in the 2000 World Series with the New York Yankees, veteran Boston Red Sox right-hander Curt Schilling urged guilty players to step forward. Writing on his blog, 38pitches.com, Schilling said he was sick of hearing denials.

"Look, if you ordered HGH or steroids, in your name, and there is documentation to prove that you did, please do us all a favor and admit you made a mistake and move on," Schilling wrote. "If you needed it for medical reasons, then I am sure you can back that up through your physician if you chose to.

"I'm past tired of hearing everything but 'I screwed up' or 'Ya [sic] I made a mistake, I apologize.' "

Bennett, who originally left a message for a Post reporter Thursday -- the day Mitchell released his report -- said he wrestled with two decisions: Whether to take HGH and how to handle the fallout from the report.

"It's embarrassing," Bennett said. "There's no doubt about it."

Mitchell's report said that in 2003, when Bennett was a member of the San Diego Padres, he bought two kits of human growth hormone from Kirk J. Radomski, the former clubhouse attendant for the New York Mets who was the star witness for investigators. The report contained a copy of a $3,200 check from Bennett to Radomski.

Bennett said he came to use HGH because he was battling a sprained right knee that kept him on the disabled list from April 17 to May 23. When he came back, he continued to have problems.

"The knee kept barking," Bennett said. "We went into July, and I thought that this might be something that could help me heal. . . . Quite frankly, I wasn't playing very well. I was horrible offensively. Defensively, it was a struggle to move around behind the plate. So I wrestled with it for about a month. And finally I decided, 'I'm going to try it.' "

Bennett would not go into details about how he got in touch with Radomski, referring instead to the accuracy of Mitchell's report. The report said that pitcher Denny Neagle -- a teammate of Bennett's in Colorado in 2001-02 -- referred him to Radomski.

"I think a lot of it was just being frustrated," Bennett said. "For me, I was frustrated the way I was playing, frustrated the way my knee was feeling. They said this can help you heal, help the body's recovery. I hoped it would take away the frustration, and I would start feeling better and playing better."

Bennett, a .242 career hitter who has since played for Milwaukee, Washington and St. Louis, said he never used HGH or other banned substances after 2003. He has not had another trip to the disabled list since the knee injury sent him there with San Diego.

Asked yesterday why he thought other players hadn't stepped forward, Bennett said: "I can only speak for myself. It's the truth, so I thought I should say so."

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