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Matthews denies he ever used HGH

Angels don't expect to discipline the center fielder after statement, but league still may suspend him.

March 15, 2007|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

TEMPE, ARIZ. — Gary Matthews Jr. denied ever using human growth hormone Wednesday, issuing a statement that could end the cold war between the Angels and their new center fielder but might not save him from suspension under baseball's drug policy.

The season opens in 18 days, and Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said he cannot pencil Matthews into the lineup yet.

"It's tough to say what's going to happen in the next couple weeks," Scioscia said. "I don't know if it's totally resolved."

Angels owner Arte Moreno had repeatedly asked Matthews to publicly address allegations he had ordered HGH three years ago. In his statement, Matthews said, "I have never taken HGH -- during the 2004 season or at any other time."

With the release of the statement, General Manager Bill Stoneman said he did not expect that the team would discipline Matthews.

"My feeling is, as long as this stuff is accurate ... and nothing else pops out at some point, then we're fine," Stoneman said.

Moreno did not directly address that issue in his own statement, in which he acknowledged that Matthews had honored the Angels' request to speak up and said the team would now "focus on the season ahead."

Moreno had vowed to resolve the situation "one way or the other," and the Angels and Major League Baseball had explored the possibility of suspending Matthews, removing the guarantee from his $50-million contract or voiding it entirely.

As the Angels appeared to toss the issue to MLB, spokesman Pat Courtney said baseball could not rule out any suspension of Matthews under its drug policy. In a statement, Commissioner Bud Selig said his office "is still investigating the matter."

Matthews' statement did not address whether he ordered HGH, as alleged in an SI.com report. The documents provided by investigators for that report could not show whether Matthews received or used HGH.

Matthews, twice asked directly whether he ordered HGH, did not answer.

"I made my statement," he said. "I stand by my statement."

He also was asked if he could explain how his name might have emerged in the investigation.

"I stick with the statement," he said.

If Matthews never used HGH, why did he not say that immediately? His lawyers told him to keep quiet, he said.

"It's not comfortable for me, not being able to say what I want to say," he said, "but you have to do what you're told to do."

In the statement, Matthews explained the delay: "I needed to try to learn whether anybody in authority -- in or out of baseball -- felt they had reason to accuse me of anything with regard to HGH. If they did, I would have to deal with that. It has taken me, and those representing me, 16 days to make certain that's not the case."

Albany (N.Y.) County Dist. Atty. David Soares, the leader of the investigation, said Tuesday he did not have jurisdiction to prosecute Matthews. Another prosecutor would be "highly unlikely" to pursue Matthews, former federal prosecutor Brian Hennigan said.

But Soares made no deal with Matthews' attorneys that would excuse the player from testimony in a possible trial, said Heather Orth, the spokeswoman for Soares. Scott Leventhal, Matthews' agent, declined to comment. Harold McGuire, his New York attorney, did not return a call.

In the unlikely event his testimony is needed, Matthews could be forced to testify about the investigative documents connecting him to the HGH shipment. Even if he testified under immunity from prosecution, such information could provide baseball officials with grounds for a possible suspension.

Also, Selig dispatched three executives, including baseball's head of security, to meet last week with Soares and his staff. Selig has pledged baseball's cooperation with the investigation.

Baseball did not ban HGH in 2004 but does now -- as Matthews pointed out in his statement -- although the substance was and is illegal to possess without a legitimate prescription. Soares has said the investigation focuses on the distribution of steroids and HGH via the Internet; Matthews is alleged to have ordered HGH through an Alabama pharmacy whose owners have been indicted.

Leventhal alerted club officials Tuesday that Matthews would be prepared to issue a statement. Angels spokesman Tim Mead said he and Leventhal discussed several drafts late Tuesday night.

On Wednesday morning, Matthews met behind closed doors for 30 minutes with Stoneman, Scioscia and Mead. The Angels then distributed the statement on Matthews' behalf.

"I think he's a little relieved," Scioscia said. "We'll certainly put this behind us and move on."

That might be easier said than done. Relations between Matthews and the Angels had become increasingly strained over the last two weeks, with Moreno, Stoneman and Scioscia urging Matthews to speak up.

As Stoneman said last week, "It's certainly not an ideal way to start a five-year relationship with a guy."

Matthews, asked whether he was concerned about his relationship with his employers, said no. Then he ended the interview.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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