Without Getting Specific, Nats' Lo Duca Apologizes

Nationals catcher Paul Lo Duca met with the media for the first time since his name appeared in the Mitchell report, but he had little to say.
Nationals catcher Paul Lo Duca met with the media for the first time since his name appeared in the Mitchell report, but he had little to say. (By Chris Livingston For The Washington Post)
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2008

VIERA, Fla., Feb. 16 -- Washington Nationals catcher Paul Lo Duca, one of the central figures in December's controversial Mitchell report, issued a statement Saturday apologizing for unspecified "mistakes in judgment," but declined to answer specific questions about the report's charges that he purchased illegal performance-enhancing drugs from now-convicted dealer Kirk J. Radomski and referred former teammates to Radomski for additional purchases.

When "you do something wrong in your life, and you get away with it, you still have something inside you that burns," Lo Duca said in a news conference after his arrival at the Nationals' spring training headquarters. "And it's been a big relief for me to know I've come to grips with it -- that I made a mistake."

However, when asked what exactly he was apologizing for, Lo Duca said: "C'mon, bro. Next question." Later, when asked whether the Mitchell report, released by former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell on Dec. 13 following a 21-month investigation, was accurate in regards to him, Lo Duca said, "I'm not going to comment on that."

A Nationals public-relations official intervened at one point during the news conference and insisted only baseball-related questions be asked. In regards to his surgically repaired left knee, which he injured while exercising last month, Lo Duca said: "I don't think there's going to be an issue. I'll be there for Opening Day [March 30]."

Lo Duca, who turns 36 in April, flew to Florida from his New York home on Saturday -- a day later than most of the other pitchers and catchers -- and arrived at the team's complex shortly after 2 p.m. He went in through the building's front door, rather than through the players' entrance around back, and went straight to the fourth floor for a meeting with team officials.

Lo Duca, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract only a week before the Mitchell report's release, was urged by team officials to respond publicly to the charges soon afterward -- as many other players named in the report did -- but he remained silent for more than two months.

Asked Saturday why he waited so long to respond, Lo Duca said, "I had different things that I wanted to focus on. The offseason is my offseason, and when the baseball season started back up, I wanted to take care of this issue. . . . We thought today would be the best day to release it."

According to the Mitchell report, Lo Duca made at least six purchases of illegal performance-enhancing drugs from Radomski -- three of which, in 2004, were documented by personal checks in the amount of $3,200, copies of which were provided to investigators by Radomski. In addition, Radomski testified that Lo Duca referred at least four former Los Angeles Dodgers teammates to him for additional purchases of illegal drugs. The report also included handwritten notes from Lo Duca to Radomski. In all, Lo Duca's name appears in the 400-plus-page report 37 times.

Players were given the opportunity to speak to Mitchell and his team during the investigation, but they almost uniformly declined.

"I respect what [Mitchell has] done," Lo Duca said. "I respect [management and union officials] cleaning up the game. I'm 100 percent in favor of the report, and that's not a lie. I'm not saying that just to say it. . . . But I never spoke to them."

Major League Baseball is investigating the charges in the report pertaining to specific players and has left open the possibility of suspending some. The Nationals believe Lo Duca will not be suspended, largely because his offenses occurred before human growth hormone was banned in baseball; however, some baseball officials believe Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig could view Lo Duca more harshly because of his role as an apparent middleman for Radomski.

Lo Duca said Saturday he had not been contacted by anyone in the commissioner's office.

In his statement, Lo Duca also apologized for the "distraction" that has resulted from his mistakes. "I am fully committed to being the best player and person I can be, on and off the field, for the Washington Nationals and the entire baseball community," he said. "I recognize the importance of my role in the community as a professional athlete, and I intend to focus my energies on making a positive impact in that regard."

Nationals Manager Manny Acta, who was a New York Mets coach in 2006 when Lo Duca was there, downplayed the notion of Lo Duca's issues creating a distraction, and called him a "good person and a good teammate."

The knee injury, a torn meniscus, occurred when Lo Duca "took a wrong step" while exercising, he said. He had arthroscopic surgery on Jan. 28 to repair the tear, and was walking on it the next day. He has yet to test the knee by running, but said his target date for playing in exhibition games is March 15, which would give him two weeks' worth of games in which to get ready for the regular season. In the meantime, he said, in an effort to get to know the Nationals' pitchers, he will try to catch some bullpen sessions while sitting on a milk crate.

"I've been rehabbing and getting ready," he said, "and [I am] excited to play in a new ballpark and be part of the Nationals' family. It's been a good offseason."

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