Tribe's Byrd at center of HGH report

Tribe's Byrd at center of HGH report

Major League Baseball's ongoing performance-enhancing drug controversy has struck right at the heart of Sunday night's pivotal Game 7 of the American League Championship Series between Cleveland and Boston at Fenway Park.

Paul Byrd, who won Game 4 of the ALCS for the Indians on Tuesday, has been cited in a San Francisco Chronicle report as having purchased human growth hormone in large quantities between August 2002 and January 2005.

The winner of Sunday night's game meets National League champion Colorado in the World Series beginning Wednesday night at the home of the AL pennant-winner. The season ends for the loser.

Byrd was pitching for the Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels during the period in question. Citing business records, the Chronicle said that the right-hander made 13 purchases worth $24,850 on his credit card from the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center for more than 1,000 vials of HGH and hundreds of syringes.

"We will investigate the allegations concerning Paul Byrd as we have players implicated in previous similar reports," Major League Baseball said in a statement issued Sunday afternoon. "Since Mr. Byrd and his club, the Cleveland Indians, are currently active in postseason play, we will interview Mr. Byrd prior to the start of the World Series should the Cleveland club advance."

Byrd told FOXSports.com on Sunday that he did not dispute the San Francisco Chronicle report.

Byrd told FOXSports.com that "three different doctors diagnosed him as suffering from adult growth-hormone deficiency. In Spring Training, he said, he was diagnosed with a tumor on his pituitary gland at the base of his brain, a condition that may have contributed to his deficiency, doctors told him."

"I have not taken any hormone apart from a doctor's care and supervision," Byrd told FOXSports.com. "The Indians, my coaches and MLB have known that I have had a pituitary gland issue for some time and have assisted me in getting blood tests in different states. I am currently working with an endocrinologist and will have another MRI on my head after the season to make sure that the tumor hasn't grown."

The Indians said they were aware of the circumstances and stood behind their player.

"We aware of the story regarding Paul," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said in a statement released Sunday morning after the Chronicle report appeared in print. "I have spoken with Paul about the situation, however, at this time I don't feel I have enough information to make any further comments on the matter. He has been an important member of this organization -- on and off the field -- over the last two years and we support him in this process."

HGH wasn't placed on MLB's list of banned drugs until the 2005 season. And there's currently no urine or reliable blood test that positively identifies that drug in a person's system. MLB has helped fund research into developing a test at a California lab, but it should be noted that blood tests are not permissible under the current Major League drug agreement.

HGH can be purchased with a prescription, but it is not legally obtainable to help speed up healing from athletic injuries or for use as a performance-enhancer.

Byrd joined the Indians prior to the 2006 season and has become a folk hero of sorts this postseason by defeating the Yankees in the clinching Game 4 of the AL Division Series and again upending the Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALCS to give his club a 3-1 lead that it has now squandered.

Byrd's name surfaced in the same probe conducted by the Albany, N.Y., district attorney that has been investigating a network of clinics and pharmacies in Florida and Alabama for the past two years. Most of the athletes ensnared in that investigation procured steroids, testosterone or HGH via pharmacies doing business on the Internet. But according to records cited by the Chronicle, Byrd had his orders from the clinic directly mailed to him at either his home in Alpharetta, Ga., north of Atlanta; the Braves' Spring Training complex home in Kissimmee, Fla.; or the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York, when the Braves were playing the Mets.

St. Louis outfielder Rick Ankiel, Baltimore outfielder Jay Gibbons, Mets pitcher Scott Schoeneweis, Toronto third baseman Troy Glaus and Angels outfielder Gary Matthews have already been publicly associated with the probe. Ankiel, Gibbons and Glaus met with MLB officials last month to discuss the matter, but no penalties have thus far been handed out.

None of the athletes has been charged in the investigation nor has there been any proof or admittance by those five players that any of them used the drugs.

Like Ankiel, who was the feel-good story of the of regular season until his name surfaced in the probe and the Cardinals plummeted from contention in the NL Central race, Byrd, 36 and a journeyman of six teams in his 12-year career, has been the feel-good story of the postseason for the Indians.

Byrd wouldn't comment for the Chronicle story, but as a devout Christian he addressed the issue in an interview with ESPN.com on Oct. 17.

"Religion can go over into every area, like whether I should cheat out on the field," said Byrd, who has penned a manuscript entitled, "The Free Byrd Project," regarding his conversion to Christianity. "I write about the desire to just make money at any cost. I share about my temptation to spit on the ball, put KY jelly on it or scuff it, to win more games and make more money. That's a big temptation for me, being a guy who throws 82, who relies on movement.

"You have a pull, because you have a certain window up here that stares you in the face. Are you willing to take steroids because that's available? People viewed that as me being weak. Like, 'This guy doesn't want to win.'"

The Chronicle article was authored by Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, the same pair who wrote the book "Game of Shadows" and a series of reports in the Chronicle detailing the federal government's investigation into a break-in at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative in September 2003. Mostly a track-and-field controversy, baseball players Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Jason Grimsley were also a focal point of that investigation.

Bonds, Giambi and Sheffield testified in front of a federal grand jury later that year and parts of that testimony were illegally leaked to the Chronicle, which printed it. The writers were subsequently held in contempt of court and threatened with jail time if they refused to divulge the source of that leak, which they never did. Ultimately an attorney for Victor Conte, BALCO's founder and president, was found guilty of the leak and is facing far and away the harshest sentence of anyone indicted in the probe.

Conte was one of several people who pled guilty and served a minimal sentence as did Greg Anderson, one of Bonds' former personal trainers.

Bonds, MLB's all-time leader with 762 home runs, is still under investigation for perjury in his grand jury testimony and Anderson is currently being held in prison for declining to testify in front of another grand jury, which has been trying to determine for the past 15 months whether Bonds is guilty of that charge.

Additionally, after the publishing of "Game of Shadows" in March 2006, Commissioner Bud Selig set up a committee headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell charged with investigating baseball's steroid era. Mitchell, who has had little help from the players regarding testimony or medical records, is nearing the end of his probe and Selig has said he expects a finished report to be placed on his desk by the end of the year.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.