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Buying Steroids In The Dominican Republic

ALEX COHEN, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News, I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Baseball umpires are paid call balls fair or foul but these days, it really seems like there needs to be an umpire for the game itself. Rumors about rampant steroid use in the Major Leagues have threatened to overwhelm the upcoming season. NPR's Mike Pesca has recently been on a bit of an international baseball expedition to really look into this whole steroid use. He's here with us now. And Mike, where were you?

MIKE PESCA: Well, I have just come back from spring training in Tampa but the nexus of the steroid problems is, in many ways, the Dominican Republic. And I was there trying to buy steroids and I wasn't flouting any laws, or any laws that the pharmacists knew about. You'd go in to a farmacia there in the Dominican Republican, and you'd say, can I have some Premabolin, which is a steroid that Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez admits to using. And they say, oh, we don't have any of it now, but you know, maybe come back in a little while. So it seems very legal. Testosterone is legal, other kinds of steroids that are taken orally are legal, things that are banned here and banned in baseball.

BRAND: So you could just go into any pharmacy and say, I want some steroids, I want some testosterone?

PESCA: Testosterone is probably everywhere. Would you like the 250 milligrams or the 100 milligrams? And they'll sell you the syringe right there. Alex Rodriguez admitted that he took steroids and testosterone from 2001 to 2003. The very fact that his name came out is a bit of a controversy because baseball did random testing. There are 103 still unknown players who tested positive for steroids, and one Alex Rodriguez. So you know, was he singled out? Probably - because he's the big star. But he listed these two steroids that he brought in the Dominican Republic. And no one has disputed that testosterone is perfectly legal down there. It's illegal to bring it to the U.S., which he did and his cousin did. Then there was some question about this Premabolin, which is a - it's not the kinds of steroid where you build huge muscles but you build lean muscles, when that's what Alex Rodriguez looks like. And when I went to Dominican pharmacies, they said it is legal, you could buy it over the counter. The head of the pharmaceutical agency says it's not. And on a practical level, they say it is harder to get these days, probably because the heat is on in terms of you know, the legality of this particular steroid.

BRAND: Right, right. So talk a little bit about the Dominican Republic and its relationship to baseball because a lot of great players came from there.

PESCA: Yeah. Other than the United States, that's the number one country that's the biggest pipeline for a great players and hall of famers. There was a time when the short-stop position and middle in fielders were dominated by a pretty small town in the Dominican Republic. Now, huge stars like Pedro Martinez and Jose Reyes, and David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez, they're all from the Dominican Republic. And it's - the poverty there is everything that you think, that you hear about, and also the popularity is everything that you hear about. You drive through the streets. Any time the street's not that crowded you'll see a group of kids usually wearing a hat from the American Major Leagues playing baseball, not with an actual bat with a piece of wood but baseball is extremely popular, it's one of the few ways out. And so there are people in abject poverty and very few people who are multi-millionaires from baseball, so you see where the temptation would be to do whatever it takes including steroids to get to the Major League.

BRAND: So, Mike, is there a link then between all the steroids that are available and all the great players that are coming out of the D.R.?

PESCA: The prevalent of Dominican players and baseball goes back years and years and years, and steroids probably go back in some form to the 1960s, but the indications are it wasn't until the '80s or '90s that steroids became popular. I don't want to say that the reason that so many Dominicans have been graded baseball has anything to do with steroids. There is a linkage in the problem and we see it coming to the fore because Alex Rodriguez, the highest paid, probably the best player in the game, is under the microscope for this admission that he did steroids, and that's where he got them.

BRAND: All right, Mike. I have to ask you, you bought all this steroids. What you do with them?

PESCA: No, I didn't take them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: I just took - I just took pictures of them and gave them to the children. No, I didn't. I threw them out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: And for you know, people who don't know what you look like, you're a pretty beefy guy, you do like - you don't really need them.

PESCA: The lean-ripped fuel is what I need.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You got it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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