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Dodgers sign catcher who was named in report

They become first team to reach deal with player mentioned in drug inquiry. Bennett admits to HGH use but says it was for injury recovery.

December 18, 2007|Dylan Hernandez and Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writers

The Dodgers became the first team to sign a player named in former Sen. George Mitchell's report on performance-enhancing drugs since it was released last week, as backup catcher Gary Bennett on Monday agreed to a one-year contract with an option for a second season.

Bennett admitted to using human growth hormone, but like Andy Pettitte and Fernando Vina, who were also included in Mitchell's report, he said he did so only to recover from an injury.

Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said that the explanation Bennett gave him Friday convinced him that he was a one-time user and alleviated any concerns he had of awarding him a contract that will pay him $825,000 next season. Bennett's deal has a 2009 team option for $825,000 that can be bought out for $50,000.

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt hinted Sunday that such a signing could be on the horizon, saying, "I'd be more inclined to sign a player that may have been in the report but has explained his conduct and who we're convinced isn't doing anything right now than somebody who there's a great deal of suspicion about but whose name wasn't in the report."

Bennett confirmed in a conference call Monday that what was written about him in Mitchell's report was accurate. The portion that pertained to Bennett was on Pages 222-223 and included a copy of a $3,200 check that he wrote in 2003 to Kirk Radomski, a former New York Mets clubhouse attendant who pleaded guilty to steroid distribution. The check was signed July 13, 2003, which, coincidentally, was the day Bennett was punched in the face by Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals in a brawl.

Bennett, who was with the San Diego Padres that season, said Monday that he used HGH to heal a sprained right knee.

"I was just frustrated with the way my knee was feeling, and I was just hoping it would help me heal," Bennett said. "Rumors were around that it was the wonder drug, it would help you heal, help the injuries go away a lot quicker."

Bennett was referred to Radomski by Denny Neagle, whom he played alongside with the Colorado Rockies in 2001 and 2002, the report stated.

Radomski said that he sold Neagle steroids and HGH on five or six occasions from 2000 to 2004, according to the report. Bennett declined to say Monday whether he went to Neagle for guidance or Neagle sought him out.

Bennett said Monday he was unsure if the drugs expedited his recovery or if they enhanced his performance. A career .242 hitter, he batted .238 that season. He hit .252 in 59 games with the Cardinals in 2007.

"It wasn't like one day my knee was sore and I was sluggish and the next day I was like Superman," Bennett said.

The report said Bennett declined to meet with Mitchell, which Bennett confirmed Monday.

"All we had was an invitation," he said. "We didn't know what it was about, what the circumstances were. There were no guidelines, so to speak. I was unsure from that standpoint."

Bennett said he and his agent, Steve Schneider, warned Colletti ahead of time that his name could be in the report. Bennett, Schneider, Colletti and assistant general manager Kim Ng spoke Friday, the day after the report was released.

"He reached out to us," Colletti said. "He admitted that he made a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes. Nobody's lived a perfect life."

Pettitte made a confession similar to Bennett's.

But the New York Yankees pitcher's admission of HGH use in 2002 contained the inaccurate statement the injections of the drug he received were "not against baseball rules," baseball officials said Monday.

The report by Mitchell that named Pettitte among 86 players who used performance-enhancing drugs made clear that Major League Baseball has maintained since 1971 a policy that "prohibited the illegal use, possession or distribution of drugs, including the unauthorized use of prescription drugs."

According to the Mitchell Report, Pettitte, 35, was on the disabled list because of elbow tendinitis from April 21 to June 14, 2002, when he called his personal trainer, Brian McNamee, and "asked . . . about human growth hormone."

McNamee, according to the report, had worked with Pettitte since 1999 and spent "about 10 days assisting Pettitte with his rehabilitation" in Tampa, Fla. McNamee possessed human growth hormone he had received from Radomski, the report said.

Mitchell characterized the use of that human growth hormone as "illegal" in his report.

McNamee recalled in the report that he had injected Pettitte with human growth hormone "on two to four occasions."

In his admission, Pettitte said he tried HGH twice to hasten his healing.

"If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize," Pettitte said in a statement released Saturday by his agent, Randy Hendricks. "I accept responsibility for those two days. . . . I felt an obligation to get back to my team as soon as possible."

Hendricks did not immediately return a telephone message left at his office Monday, and a spokesman for Mitchell had no comment.

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