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MLB players’ issues over a PED test reemerge with 80-game ban for Marlins pitcher

“This could have happened to anyone,” previously suspended Astros pitcher Kent Emanuel told the Marlins' Paul Campbell, above. (Alex Brandon/AP)

A Miami Marlins pitcher suspended 80 games Monday for the banned substance DHCMT denied knowingly ingesting it, and he pointed to past disputes over positive tests involving the substance.

Paul Campbell said he failed a drug test after it showed an M3 metabolite indicating past usage of dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT), which is listed by MLB as an illegal performance-enhancing substance. Also known as Oral Turinabol and originally developed in East Germany, which used it to dope Olympic medal winners, DHCMT has been used by athletes for more than 50 years but gained renewed scrutiny after a test developed several years ago linked it to metabolites that can linger long after the parent substance breaks down.

Questions of just how long those metabolites can last and whether they sometimes lie dormant in pockets inside the body, plus the implications that could have for when banned substances might have been ingested, have been major elements in some disputes over punishments resulting from positive tests.

“I have unfortunately become one of the many athletes, across multiple sports,” Campbell said in a statement, "who are presenting themselves to the world and asking for members of the anti-doping world to help us find answers as to why this metabolite is continuing to show up in athletes’ bodies, and ultimately costing them significant detours in their careers.”

The 25-year-old rookie also apologized “for bringing any negative light to all of you who believe in me as a man and a baseball player.” He added that he “never knowingly, willingly, or intentionally ingested this substance in any form, nor have I ever heard of DHCMT prior to this situation.”

After Washington Nationals catcher Tres Barrera was handed a similar suspension last year, he filed a lawsuit against MLB that alleged, among other things, that the test results couldn’t establish when DHCMT entered his system and that the amount detected was too small to have been able to enhance his performance. The lawsuit argued that the traces of DHCMT might be residue from workout supplements he took before starting his professional career, which would not be subject to MLB punishment. It described MLB’s test for the substance as “unreliable and inaccurate” and based on “junk science.” Barrera, now 26, dropped the lawsuit after MLB agreed to apply its ban only to last year’s pandemic-shortened 60-game season and not carry it into this season.

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Among the reported 20-plus baseball players who have tested positive for the M3 metabolite since 2015, others who have insisted they did not knowingly ingest DHCMT and have criticized MLB’s policies related to it include Houston Astros pitcher Kent Emanuel and former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello.

Colabello, whose 80-game suspension in 2016 effectively ended his major league career, was described by the Athletic last year as the “unofficial leader” of a group of players who claim to be baffled by their positive tests and incensed at the fallout. “Seeing it continue to happen over and over again and hearing these guys’ stories, it causes pain,” he told the Wall Street Journal in 2020. “I know what they’re having to go through, being left without answers or not being able to sleep at night.”

On Monday, Colabello said on Twitter that he “agreed” with Emanuel’s assertion that Campbell had no reason to apologize for his suspension.

“This is quite literally a shame,” Emanuel, who got an 80-game ban last year, had tweeted in response to Campbell’s statement, which was posted by the MLB Players Association. “You do NOT have to apologize, Paul. This could have happened to anyone.

“You can mark my words there will be more to follow until changes are made.”

In a video he posted last year after his suspension, Emanuel said: “For all I know I ingested it [DHCMT] as an 11-year-old, or in high school as a teenager. There’s just no way for me to know, and it’s really frustrating.”

Emanuel posted another video in April in which he said that MLB rejected a proposal from the players’ union to establish a minimum threshold of detected metabolites to trigger a punishment. The Athletic subsequently cited sources in confirming the league’s rejection and reported that the plan would have been similar to one adopted in 2019 by the UFC, which requires a detection of at least 100 picograms of DHCMT trace elements.

A picogram is a trillionth of a gram. Emanuel said his test revealed seven picograms of a metabolite, while Barrera’s lawsuit cited a finding of 10 picograms. In his statement Monday, Campbell also said his test showed 10 picograms, an amount he claimed “has no performance enhancing benefits.”

In response to an online discussion last year of Barrera’s suspension, the head of the UFC’s drug-testing program tweeted, “We don’t sanction any longer under our program if [less than] 100 picograms. Too many uncertainties.”

“There is something screwy with this substance,” the UFC official, former federal agent Jeff Novitzky, added at the time. “We have athletes with small amounts of the DHCMT M3 metabolite in their systems for 2 and 3 years. It’s also ‘pulses’ … comes and goes.”

MLB’s stated position, as shared by Emanuel in April’s video, indicated that it associated DHCMT ingestions, knowingly or inadvertent, with usage of “high-risk substances.” He also said MLB stated, “A low-level positive does not mean that the person testing positive did not violate the Joint Drug Agreement.”

Later that month, the 28-year-old Emanuel told reporters that he was choosing to wear zero as his jersey number for his suspension-delayed rookie season because it represents “the number of games I deserved to be suspended.” He went on to have one of the more unusually impressive debuts in recent MLB history, pitching 8⅔ innings in relief of injured Houston starter Jake Odorizzi and allowing just five hits and two runs.

News of Campbell’s suspension Monday “disappointed” his organization, Miami General Manager Kim Ng said in a statement. “The Marlins support MLB’s continued efforts,” she said, “to maintain a level playing field for our athletes.”

“Due to the fact that I do not know the origin of how this substance has entered into my system, I currently have no viable defense,” Campbell, who was coming off a 3⅔-inning outing in a loss Saturday to the Nationals, said in his statement. “… I will continue my efforts to find answers and clear my name of this matter.”