By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2008
VIERA, Fla., Feb. 15 -- Though he has not yet caught a pitch, or even donned a Washington Nationals uniform -- outside of his Dec. 11 introductory news conference in downtown Washington -- Paul Lo Duca's brief tenure with the team already has been rocky. Two days after that news conference, the Nationals learned along with the rest of the country that their new starting catcher had been named in the Mitchell report as a past user of performance-enhancing drugs. Then, in January, Lo Duca injured his knee during a workout, requiring surgery that puts some doubt on his availability for Opening Day.
Lo Duca, who signed a one-year, $5 million free agent contract, still has not publicly addressed the allegations made against him in the Mitchell report -- or the knee injury, for that matter. But all that is expected to change Saturday, when Lo Duca makes his first appearance at the Nationals' spring training camp here.
The Nationals -- along with Major League Baseball officials and a larger-than-usual media contingent -- are among the interested parties wondering what Lo Duca will say. As of Friday afternoon, team officials were not sure whether Lo Duca would simply issue a statement, or take questions from reporters. And they were not sure whether Lo Duca would acknowledge using the drugs, or cite legal issues as preventing him from addressing the charges.
Lo Duca was a no-show here Friday; even though it was technically reporting day for the Nationals' pitchers and catchers, teams typically allow players to "report" by merely phoning to say they are in the area. Players will undergo physical exams Saturday, and the first workout is scheduled for Sunday.
"We've spoken to Paul and his agent," Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said Friday. "And I expect [on Saturday], Paul will either have a written statement, or talk to [the media]. But it will come from the player. It won't come from the club."
According to the exhaustive report issued by former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell, which followed a 21-month investigation into performance-enhancing drug use in baseball, Lo Duca made at least six purchases from now-convicted steroids dealer Kirk J. Radomski, who provided Mitchell's investigators with copies of three personal checks from Lo Duca -- all from 2004 and all in the amount of $3,200 -- which Radomski said were for purchases of human growth hormone. Lo Duca's name, address and phone number were also listed in an address book seized from Radomski's home in 2005.
In addition, the Mitchell report alleges Lo Duca referred at least four former teammates -- including former all-stars Kevin Brown and Eric Gagn¿ -- to Radomski while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The report also included a handwritten note, on Dodger Stadium stationery, from Lo Duca to Radomski saying: "Thanks, call me if you need anything! Paul."
Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig has yet to decide whether to punish any players named in the Mitchell report, but the Nationals believe Lo Duca will not be suspended, largely because his alleged use of HGH occurred before it was officially banned by baseball in 2005. However, one MLB official said Lo Duca's apparent role as a middleman for Radomski could lead Selig to come down harder on him.
Asked about Lo Duca's potential punishment on Friday, Bowden declined to comment, saying: "I know that entire situation is under review with the commissioner's office. We support the commissioner's office 100 percent -- and the players' association -- in trying to rid our sport of the problems. But I don't know the facts of that entire situation, so I'll leave it up to the people who do know those things."
An MLB spokesman declined to comment about the progress of its investigation or possible punishments.
The Lo Duca matter marks the second time in three years the Nationals will open their spring training camp amid controversy: in 2006, newly acquired all-star second baseman Alfonso Soriano initially refused to accept a position change to left field, though the dispute was eventually settled amicably. And like Soriano to a degree, Lo Duca was the Nationals' highest-profile veteran acquisition this offseason; he will be replacing Brian Schneider, the only starting catcher the team has known since coming to Washington in 2005.
Many players named in the Mitchell report addressed the accusations swiftly in its aftermath, and Nationals officials urged Lo Duca to do the same. As if to underscore their stance of openness, Nationals President Stan Kasten on Dec. 17 became one of the first high-ranking baseball officials to speak publicly about the Mitchell report. Without specifically mentioning Lo Duca, Kasten said players named in the report are "making their own decision about whether to respond [and] what kind of response to have," adding those are "personal decisions."
Lo Duca, however, has not spoken publicly at all since the Mitchell report's release, and his agent, Andrew Mongelluzzi, has repeatedly ignored requests for comment, including another one Friday. On Saturday, the silence apparently will end, although no one, not even the Nationals, seems to know what, if anything, will come out of Lo Duca's mouth.