Cardinals' Ankiel Received Growth Hormone
Ankiel, who flamed out mentally and physically as a pitcher earlier this decade, only to return to the majors as a slugging outfielder last month, has evoked comparisons this season to Roy Hobbs and Babe Ruth. He hit two home runs, a double and had seven RBI yesterday against the Pirates at Busch Stadium, giving him nine home runs in 81 at-bats since his remarkable major league comeback began on Aug. 10.
According to records obtained by The News and sources close to the controversy surrounding anti-aging clinics that dispense illegal prescription drugs, Ankiel received eight shipments of HGH from Signature Pharmacy in Orlando from January to December 2004, including the brand-name injectable drugs Saizen and Genotropin. Signature is the pharmacy at the forefront of Albany District Attorney David Soares' two-year investigation into illegal Internet prescription drug sales, which has brought 22 indictments and nine convictions.
Ankiel's prescriptions were signed by Florida physician William Gogan, who provided them through a Palm Beach Gardens clinic called "The Health and Rejuvenation Center," or "THARC." The drugs were shipped to Ankiel at the clinic's address.
THARC also provided a shipment of steroids and growth hormone to former major league pitcher Steve Woodard, who pitched for Milwaukee, Cleveland, Texas and Boston during a seven-year career that ended in 2003, according to records. Woodard and Ankiel were teammates with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds in 2004.
Ankiel lives in nearby Jupiter, Fla.
His agent, Scott Boras, would not comment yesterday, and Woodard did not return messages left on his cell phone.
"This is the first I've heard of this," Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty told The News yesterday. "If it's true, obviously it would be very tragic, along with everything else we've had happen to us this year."
The surging Cardinals have gone 16-6 in their last 22 games to become a contender for the National League Central title. The year began with manager Tony La Russa's DWI arrest in March, followed by the drunk-driving death of reliever Josh Hancock in April and the loss of ace Chris Carpenter for the season in June. Ankiel, dubbed "The Natural" in St. Louis, had been the one bit of unrestrained good news.
Ankiel, 28, has not been accused by authorities of wrongdoing, and according to the Signature records obtained by The News, he stopped receiving HGH just before Major League Baseball officially banned it in 2005. MLB does not test for HGH, but a player who is known to have used it or even possessed it from the time it was banned can face a 50-game suspension.
Officials in the Albany DA's office did not respond to requests for comment last night.
MLB officials also declined comment, saying they would "look into" the allegations, but weren't sure whether any action could be taken. It is likely, however, that officials will ask to speak to Ankiel and will ask whether he used HGH beyond the time he received the shipments.
According to physician Gary Wadler, a committee member with the World Anti-Doping Agency and an associate professor of medicine at NYU, there is a limited number of reasons a healthy man in his 20s would have a medical need for HGH.
Unlike most drugs, federal law bans the use of HGH for off-label purposes: Physicians can distribute growth hormone only in connection with either treatment of a disease or another medical condition authorized by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. "You need a bona fide doctor-patient relationship and a bona fide disease to distribute growth hormone," Wadler said.
The list of possible uses of HGH by a healthy man in his mid-20s is "extremely narrow," Wadler added.
At THARC's offices in Palm Beach Gardens, owners Kevin Johnson and Donald Montano said they had not been visited by Albany investigators, but confirmed that an FDA agent had questioned them after Albany authorities raided Signature in February.
Montano smiled when asked about Ankiel.
"Yeah, I know who he is. He's having a hell of a year," Montano said. When asked directly whether Ankiel was a client, the owners referred a reporter to their attorney, Bruce Udolf.
"HIPAA rules strictly prohibit me from giving out any patient names without violating the physician/patient relationship," Udolf said of federal laws that protect against disclosure of medical records. "Secondly, under the current policies in effect, no employee at this center is permitted or authorized to give medication, like HGH, to bodybuilders or professional athletes. That's an absolute no-no."
THARC was not one of the anti-aging clinics busted by Albany, but Signature's owners are under indictment. Prosecutors have said clinics similar to THARC paid physicians to sign prescriptions for clients they never saw - a violation of New York and Florida law - which were then filled at Signature and other pharmacies and shipped to clients. The names of at least 14 professional wrestlers, New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison (who was suspended by the NFL for four games) and Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Wilson (suspended five games and fined $100,000) have already emerged from the investigation, but Ankiel and Woodard are the first baseball players connected to Signature.
Sources said more athletes' names are expected to emerge from THARC.
Ankiel has fought numerous injuries in his career, and some athletes, such as Harrison, have said they used HGH to augment the body's healing process. It is banned in every major professional sport as a performance-enhancing drug because it builds lean muscle mass, but there is no universally accepted test for it.
Ankiel, who grew up in the shadow of the Mets' spring training complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., has had a career fraught with promise and despair. He was USA Today's 1997 High School Player of the Year. By 2000, as a 20-year-old starter in his first full season, Ankiel looked like the next Steve Carlton, a lefty with electric stuff that earned him 11 victories.
At the end of the season, as the NL Central champion Cardinals opened their division series against the Atlanta Braves, Ankiel started the first game. In the third inning, he came apart, and the end of his pitching career wasn't far behind. With no warning or explanation, he lost control of his pitches, walked four batters and threw five wild pitches before he was removed.
Against the Mets in the NL Championship Series a week later, his trouble returned. He threw only 20 pitches before being removed, five of them sailing to the backstop. He started the 2001 season in the majors, quickly found himself in Triple-A, and by the end of the year was playing in the Rookie League.
Ankiel missed the 2002 season with an elbow sprain, and after pitching poorly for most of the season, he underwent "Tommy John" ligament-replacement surgery in July 2003. Ankiel returned to the Cardinals as a reliever in 2004, but the experiment was short-lived. He pitched in only five games, showing that he could throw strikes (nine strikeouts against one walk). But a year after his surgery, hitters found him to be easy pickings, and he finished with a 5.40 ERA.
Ankiel retired as a pitcher and was reborn as a hitter in 2005, but an injury to his left knee before the 2006 season led to surgery and another missed season. He hit 32 home runs in Triple-A this season before the Cardinals recalled him Aug. 10, stunning all of baseball as he hit three home runs in his first three games.
Courtesy New York Daily News