NEW YORK — Major League Baseball dropped its 100-game suspension of Colorado Rockies catcher Eliezer Alfonzo for a positive drug test because of the same procedural issues that came up in the Ryan Braun case.
Alfonzo is eligible to play immediately, according to a person familiar with the decision who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Sunday night because no announcement had been made.
Mostly a backup during six major league seasons, Alfonzo became the first player suspended twice for performance-enhancing drugs under the MLB testing program when the commissioner’s office announced a 100-game penalty last September.
Alfonzo appealed and was notified within the past week that MLB had lifted the ban. The reason: a dispute over the storage and shipment of his urine sample similar to the one that led to Braun’s 50-game drug penalty getting overturned by an arbitrator in February, the person said.
The person was not familiar with specific details regarding the chain of custody of Alfonzo’s specimen.
Alfonzo’s contract was renewed by the Rockies in March, but he was not paid while he was on the restricted list during the suspension. He is currently assigned to Triple-A Colorado Springs in the Pacific Coast League, but the 33-year-old catcher has been at home in Venezuela, the person said.
Alfonzo gets the minimum $480,000 salary in the majors and $86,473 in the minors.
A message left for Rockies spokesman Jay Alves late Sunday night was not immediately returned.
Braun, last year’s NL MVP, tested positive in October for elevated testosterone, which was revealed by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in December. His sample was collected on Oct. 1, a Saturday and the day he and the Milwaukee Brewers opened the NL playoffs. The collector did not send the sample to the laboratory until Monday, thinking it would be more secure at home than at a Federal Express office during the weekend.
Baseball’s drug agreement states that “absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the laboratory on the same day they are collected.”
Braun appealed and when his ban was thrown out by arbitrator Shyam Das, MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said management “vehemently” disagreed with the decision, which made the Milwaukee slugger the first major league player to successfully challenge a drug-related penalty in a grievance.
During the hearing, Braun’s side challenged the chain of custody from the time the urine sample was collected by Comprehensive Drug Testing Inc. to when it was sent, nearly 48 hours later, to a World Anti-Doping Agency-certified laboratory outside Montreal, two people familiar with the case said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because what took place in the hearing is supposed to be confidential.
Since then, MLB and the players’ union have made some changes to collection procedures as a result of Das’ decision.
Employees of Comprehensive Drug Testing, who take the specimens from players, are now required to drop the samples off at a Federal Express office on the same day they are collected, provided an office is open in the vicinity. If not, collectors should take the specimens home rather than leave them in a drop box. The prohibition against using drop boxes already was in the drug agreement between players and owners.
Alfonzo’s penalty was dropped without a hearing before an arbitrator, the person said Sunday. The catcher missed the final 15 games of last season and Colorado has already played 33 games this year.
Under the major league drug agreement, first offenses are arbitrated before any public announcement — but additional offenses are litigated after a suspension is announced.
Alfonzo also was suspended for 50 games in April 2008 while a member of the San Francisco Giants.
“I am surprised by this positive test,” he said last September in a statement released by the Major League Baseball Players Association. “I learned my lesson in 2008 and have not taken any prohibited substances since then. With the union’s help, I intend to fight this suspension and look forward to appearing before the arbitrator in the near future.”
After the suspension four years ago, Alfonzo said he never knowingly took steroids but did take medicine for bronchitis while home in Venezuela.
Baseball began testing with penalties in 2004. Under the current rules, a third violation would carry a lifetime ban.
Alfonzo is a .240 career hitter with 17 homers and 67 RBIs in 591 at-bats over 193 major league games. He has also played for San Diego and Seattle.