Friday, April 22, 2011

Was It Just Manny Being Manny?

Manny Ramirez unexpectedly retired from the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this season amid reports that he had failed another MLB mandated drug test for performance enhancing drugs (PED's). Major League Baseball has adopted one of the most strict drug testing programs in all of professional sports, hitting violators with lengthy suspensions from the game.

When Ramirez was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers he tested positive for high levels of estrogen, which is typically used to flush the system of any remaining drugs after using steroids. While the MLB was unable to prove that Ramirez had indeed taken PED's they had enough evidence with his elevated estrogen levels to hit him with a 50-game suspension. Dodgers fans had taken a liking to Ramirez after his performance with their club following his trade there the year before, even creating a "Mannywood" fan section in left field. Once the allegations of PED's and his suspension became public Mannywood quickly disappeared.

Ramirez has never been the model player, while in Boston he was frequently accused of giving up during games that he no longer felt were interesting or able to win. At one point, Manny actually disappeared into the "Green Monster" during a game, something he said he frequently did. Despite all his antics, people put up with him because he was able to produce the kind of numbers that helped the Red Sox win and was able to provide protection for David Ortiz. The attitude of Boston fans towards Ramirez gave rise to the mantra, "it's just Manny being Manny." Meaning that, that's just how Ramirez is, there's no changing him. Sports Center even mocked this phrase in an unaired "This is SportsCenter" commercial on ESPN.

In the time of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, steroids had become ingrained in baseball, but the days of steroid induced players launching 60-plus home runs a season are long gone. The new MLB PED testing has become the best in all of sports, with all players being subject to random drug screenings throughout the season. In a recent report from ESPN a confidential trainer in an MLB locker room acknowledged the rapid turn around in the culture in the locker rooms. The source said that in the 90's he saw a majority of players using some form of drugs during the season, the source  also said that the players now are much smaller and are clean from the minors on up because of the drug testing throughout all the leagues.

After the 2010 season the Tampa Bay Rays saw an exodus of players from their team, gone were Joaquin Benoit, Carl Crawford and Matt Garza to name a few. The club had to rebuild and it needed someone to protect star third baseman Evan Longoria in the lineup, so the Rays went out and signed veterans Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. With Ramirez serving as their designated hitter the Rays hoped to be able to have some power in their lineup while having the protection Longoria would need to continue to develop into a great player.

Before playing as many as 10 games for the Rays, Manny was being Manny again. The MLB had screened him and he had tested positive for an unnamed PED, facing a 100-game suspension Ramirez took the easy way out and retired, leaving the Rays hanging. Tampa Bay now has a glaring hole in their lineup and no protection for arguably their best player. Manny on the other hand escapes his 100-game ban to live comfortably somewhere.

What Ramirez cannot escape is his legacy, despite the success that he had in Boston, winning a World Series in 2004, the legacy that will be attached to Ramirez will be one of "Manny being Manny." He will not be able to escape his giving up on both the Red Sox and the Dodgers, he will not be able to escape both of his positive PED tests, and he will never escape "Manny being Manny." With all of the success that Ramirez has had throughout his career, he will never make it to Cooperstown, baseball writers have made it clear that they will never elect anyone who is connect to PED's to the Hall of Fame and sadly, Ramirez is one of those players.

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