Emotional Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz answers questions on drug suspension

Somber Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz faces reporters after spring-training workouts in Clearwater, Fla. He will serve a 25-game regular-season suspension.
Somber Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz faces reporters after spring-training workouts in Clearwater, Fla. He will serve a 25-game regular-season suspension. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 15, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The human side of the Carlos Ruiz story bubbled to the surface Wednesday, and it was a painful experience for all involved.

For the first time since the late November news that the Phillies catcher had been suspended for 25 games after violating baseball's substance-abuse policy, Ruiz was required to do more than make a statement about his transgression.

When he completed the first official workout of spring training with his teammates, Ruiz sat down for a group interview on a blue picnic table just beyond the left-field wall at Bright House Field. It might have been the most uncomfortable seven minutes of his life.

"Why?" was the question du jour.

Why did Ruiz use the banned amphetamine Adderall, a stimulant prescribed for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?

Why did he continue to use it after failing an initial drug test, which subjected him to at least eight more drug tests per season?

Why doesn't he get a therapeutic relief exemption that would allow him to continue to use the ADHD drug? A record 116 major-leaguers received such an exemption last season, according to the commissioner's office.

Most of the answers from the 34-year-old Panamanian were repetitive and unrevealing.

"I got caught two times, and I have to pay for that," Ruiz said as beads of sweat formed on his nose. "I want to put that behind me and focus on this year and give it 100 percent for the city and the organization."

Asked about trying to get a medical exemption, he said: "That's something that is between my doctor and me. Major League Baseball has rules and when you make a mistake, you're going to pay. So I'll pay my 25 games."

Ruiz is eligible to return April 28 when the Phillies play the Mets in New York. In the meantime, he can participate in Grapefruit League games and extended spring training once the big-league team heads north for the start of the regular season. He can also begin a five-game minor-league rehab assignment April 23.

To be fair, Ruiz has never been comfortable speaking English, and the subject matter Wednesday only enlarged the language barrier. Mostly, Ruiz repeated his remorse, and there was no mistaking his sincerity.

He cried shortly after the interview ended.

A day earlier, manager Charlie Manuel talked for the first time with Ruiz about the suspension and received the same kind of reaction.

"I got on him pretty good, and I think he reacted pretty good," Manuel said. "I trust him. I don't think he'll ever do it again, based on how he reacted and some of the things I said to him. He definitely was shook up, and you could tell he felt real bad about what happened."

Manuel did not want to provide the details about the meeting with Ruiz, but he did offer a vote of confidence about the all-star catcher's future. He said Ruiz can duplicate his career-best season in 2013 even without the help of Adderall.

"I definitely think so," the manager said. "I think the last couple years, he's really learned how to hit and take the ball the other way. He can hit a fastball, especially if you double up on a fastball and things like that. Chooch can hurt you."

Even though Ruiz did not answer the whys of his situation, it is easy enough to do the calculations on our own. Adderall enhances focus, and it's highly addictive.

That's why college kids use it to study in the very competitive academic world.

"It's a lot less effort to try and stay focused out there [on the drug]," said Phillies outfielder Zach Collier, who received medical clearance in the offseason to use Adderall after failing a drug test that cost him a 50-game suspension at the minor-league level last season. "It helps me stay organized and keep a routine."

Nobody on a baseball team could benefit more from Adderall than a catcher, because it is by far the most demanding position. The catcher has to know the strengths and weaknesses of every pitcher on his own staff. He has to know the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing hitter. He has to know every sign and be into every pitch. He also gets banged up and bumped into more than any other player.

Like one of those college kids trying to excel in a given subject, Ruiz found a drug that could help him cope with all the demands of his job.

That's not a good enough reason to do what he did, but it is entirely human. Ruiz was punished with a 25-game suspension and questions about his misdeeds drove him to tears Wednesday on the first day of spring training. He got what he deserved, but it was still difficult not to feel sorry him.

Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @brookob.

comments powered by Disqus