Danny Rios admits he did the crime and now he's prepared to do the time. He just didn't think it would be quite so much time.
"A yearlong ban seems harsh," Rios told the IHT/ Asahi on Sunday, a day after Nippon Professional Baseball announced the Yakult Swallows pitcher was suspended for one year after failing a drug test in May. "I was honest with them right from the beginning, so I was thinking maybe a 30- or 50-day suspension for a first offense. At no time did I ever think I could skate away from this thing free. At my age (35), if you're going to ban me for one year it might as well be 10."
Rios becomes the third player banned under NPB's drug policy. Softbank Hawks pitcher Rick Guttormson drew a 20-day suspension last year when traces of a masking agent contained in a hair-growth tonic he was using were detected in his system, and Yomiuri Giants infielder Luis Gonzalez was banned for a year earlier this season when he tested positive for amphetamines.
Rios, who was born in Spain but grew up in Florida, was in his first season in Japan after starring in the Korean league for six years, where he won 22 games with a 2.07 ERA in 2007 for the Doosan Bears. He previously had brief stints with the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals.
This season, Rios was signed by the Swallows to replace another pitcher who had played in South Korea, American right-hander Seth Greisinger, who moved to the Giants after winning 16 games for Yakult last year. Rios, however, was just 2-7 with a 5.46 ERA before being removed from the roster on June 2.
Rios, whose contract with the Swallows has been terminated, tested positive for hydroxystanozolol, a component of the anabolic steroid stanozolol (commonly sold under the name Winstrol), which has been linked to high-profile athletes like Ben Johnson, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
Rios said when the initial positive test turned up in May, he came clean with NPB and club officials. A subsequent second test a month later on June 21 also turned up a positive result.
"It's appropriate to impose a one-year suspension," said Kazuo Hasegawa, NPB secretary general. "The substance detected this time carries heavy weight in our anti-doping policy and is one of the substances that must be strictly prohibited."
Rios said he initially turned to stanozolol to help him deal with a bad back, and that he took the substance in November-December. He also claims that he has never taken any banned substances while in Japan.
"I went to a doctor in Miami and he gave me some quote-unquote medicine in November, December," Rios said. "They know the reasons why I did it--I talked to them (NPB) and I talked to the team. There was a period where I didn't know if (the Swallows) were going to sign me because of what they found on my back, spinal stenosis, which turned out to be the cause of my back pain for the past two or three years. That's why I chose to do this in November-December. That being said, I've heard stories, and you've got to be pretty stupid to bring drugs into Japan to begin with. I told them I would not have done anything during the season, let alone bring it into Japan."
Rather than deny he took steroids like Clemens and Bonds, Rios said he decided to be forthright in the hope it might lead to a little leniency.
"I was perfectly honest (with club, league officials), hoping they'd respect my honesty," Rios reiterated. "I told them I did take something before I signed with Yakult. I even went into details with them about how and when. At the time (I took steroids), I didn't even know if I had a job lined up or not."
Because Rios tested positive five months after he admitted taking steroids, baseball officials question whether he may have been taking the drugs while in Japan.
Gary Wadler, associate professor of clinical medicine at New York University, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2005 that if injected, stanozolol might be detectable several months later.
That was news to Rios, who was not aware of that fact when he took the substance, but has since been told by multiple sources that it is possible for traces of the drug to remain in one's system for up to six months.
"I was shocked (that the test came up positive)," said Rios, "because given the time frame--taking it in November-December--once I found out what it was and I asked the doctor, 'Is this going to be trouble when I go to Japan?' he said, 'Don't worry about it, it'll be out of your system by then.'"
"I heard from two different people that there's a possibility it could metabolize and change in your body, attach to your body for six months," Rios continued. "I'm not here trying to find fault. I just don't know what to think as far as what exactly happened. Their claim was, 'Have you been injecting it now?' and from the first meeting, I said, "There's no way, go and check my house if you want, get a warrant, anything.'"
Rios said he's still waiting for the appeal process to play out, but admits he holds little hope of getting his ban lifted or reduced. After that, he's heading with his wife and two kids back home to Miami to figure out his future.
"My options are limited," he said. "It's all a matter of where I can go. You can't just go and play in Korea because someone owns your rights for five years. It all depends if there's room for you, it all depends if they even want you. I'd still like to play, I'm 35, but the next step's a little unclear."