Home Runs and Hypocrisy: The Shaming of Manny Ramirez

You would think that Manny Ramirez was caught fighting pit bulls alongside Martha Stewart.

ESPN's Bill Simmons says that he is "confronting my worst nightmare." Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports believes that it is time to talk about "lifetime bans." Boston Globe writer Tony Massarotti says, "everyone is guilty until proven innocent."

The sports radio and comment boards have been cesspools of racism. It's always easy to hate, especially someone who plays a game for a living and makes millions of dollars.

All I know is this: thanks to Major League Baseball's hypocritical, idiotic and altogether morally bankrupt steroid policy, the sport will be without one of its premier attractions for fifty games, someone I would pay to watch at batting practice. Yes, Manny Ramirez, the finest right-handed hitter of his generation, has been sent to the showers and forced to surrender $7.7 million in salary after testing positive for what was initially called a "performance-enhancing substance."

The decision ends a stretch where the former World Series MVP was reviving baseball in Los Angeles, leading the Dodgers to a 21-8 start and a record thirteen straight wins at home to open the season. Los Angeles, a town built on artifice and home to hordes of performance-enhanced entertainers, not to mention led by a performance-enhanced governor, now demands purity of its athletes. This is not a column that aims to "defend" Manny Ramirez, but condemn Major League Baseball's steroid idiocy. Besides, the quizzically quirky Ramirez is not at this point defending himself. Ramirez will not appeal the suspension and apologized, issuing a brief statement, which read in part: "I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me." But MLB, in a typically classy move, has leaked to the press that Ramirez tested positive for the female fertility drug HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin. Steroid specialists have fanned out across the airwaves explaining that HCG is used to increase testosterone levels, usually after a heavy steroid cycle.

Former AL MVP, author of Juiced, and admitted steroid user Jose Canseco, who pleaded guilty last November to a misdemeanor of trying to bring HCG across the Mexican border illegally, also weighed in: "It could be that a player used it because he used steroids and went cold-turkey and needed HCG to get his [testoterone] levels back to normal."

The use of a "female fertility drug" also has sports radio hosts in a pubescent tizzy asking if "Manny is a mommy" and ESPN's Jayson Stark making an "octo-mom" joke.

From the juvenile to the pious, President Obama's press flack Robert Gibbs took time out from explaining why torturers are above the law to tell us, "It's a tragedy, it's a shame." There is a tragedy and a shame afoot, but it is not rooted in the choices of one player. It's in a baseball culture that continues to think embarrassing individual players and feeding on the resentment of fans is the best path to cleaning up the sport. Manny has now joined Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and many others as permanently stained with a scarlet S. No Hall of Fame, no old timers' games and a life as a cautionary tale.

Meanwhile we all get taken to the cleaners. We have billionaire owners making scapegoats of millionaire players to soothe our anxieties about the game and our lives. Meanwhile these same owners sit like pashas in a baseball palace that could be called the House That Steroids Built.

The man who wrote Juiced knows when a cycle has run its course. Canseco said that he believes the coverage on steroids in baseball has become "overkill" and the spotlight should now be on MLB and the players association. He called it "a complete conspiracy." He's absolutely correct. Baseball owners love conspiracies. For more than twenty years they have conspired to attain public funds for ballparks. In 2008, they collectively conspired not to sign the best hitter in the game, Barry Bonds. Now they are committed to the project of keeping the focus on the players, and off of themselves. We shouldn't let them. If Manny Ramirez is guilty of anything, it's being caught in between baseball's clubhouse culture and public sanctimony.

During the baseball's Summer of Love in 1998, when Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs and Sammy Sosa smacked 66, the money came pouring in. No one cared that McGwire and Sosa looked like a pair of defensive tackles. Soon publicly funded stadiums were included in budgets for Washington, DC, New York City and Minnesota. The home run became the most marketable baseball item since peanuts and crackerjacks and no one wanted to look behind the curtain. It was sports. It was entertainment. It was an escape. Then came 2001, when Barry Bonds hit 73, and all of a sudden we were supposed to be collectively sick at the thought of a home run. As baseball writer Adrian Burgos (Playing America's Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line) said, "What continues to fascinate me is how MLB leadership is willing to allow individual players to take the full brunt of the collective failure of leadership. Today, pundits have ranted in at times rabid tones about the players who make millions for their role while those who make the hundred of millions (and even have billion- dollar stadiums constructed for them on the public dole) continue to profit. How many stadiums have been built since then and at what cost? All the wealth that has been accumulated at that level is in my mind just as, if not more, offensive, since the owners act as if they were not enablers and co-dependents as their players shot up, ingested and otherwise partook in performance-enhancing drugs."

We should always remember that former Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush made steroid persecution a recurring theme of his time in office, as long as owners were spared the spotlight. The hypocrisy should shame owners toward contrition--but they will happily crack some golden eggs, as long as it means that the goose that laid them lives. Even though come contract time, it's all about the numbers on your stat page, and not the number of clean tests. As baseball fan and poet Martin Espada told me, "Baseball is the Main Street of sports. (Think Cooperstown.) It's full of history and nostalgia, and paved with the bricks of hypocrisy. Now it's the rhetoric of the 'Drug War,' handed down from the Nixon White House forty years ago to MLB and ESPN today."

He is absolutely correct. We are supposed to tsk-tsk at players who are supposed to "just say no" to their addictions to fitness and monster stats, when their success at the park is our addiction as well. We also have yet to truly take owners to task for their addictions to public money and send them to detox.

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manny

the difference, to me personally, between manny and bonds, a-rod, or clemens is that, unlike the other 3, i actually like manny. in a game of corporate types on the field, manny always just added some true personality to the game. i love that he didn't bother to show up either time to the bush white house for WS celebrations. i also like that he chose "i get high" as his at-bat song. most players are exact carbon copies of each other, corporate professionals...the types that i hated when i worked in the corporate world. manny is just manny. i hope he comes back better than ever. and the racist latino-hating boston sports media should go shove it!
manny=personality. and we should be grateful for him.

Good column Zirin, but...

I would leave race out of the discussion in terms of comparing players, because it's simply not the case. Latinos like Sosa, A-Rod and Manny, blacks like Bonds, and whites like McGuire, Clemens and Giambi, have all more-or-less equally been made to look like scrubs... because they got caught. And yet LaRussa gets a slap on the wrist for drinking-and-driving.

The whole notion of purity, i.e. "baseball and apple pie" is ridiculous; it is truly only because statheads are hooked on numbers (714/755 homers, .300 averages, blah blah) and the "tradition" those numbers suggest.

IMHO, everyone would be better off treating baseball like the NFL or, dare I say it, pro wrestling, where players/performers get temporarily suspended due to ingesting illegal substances, but ultimately nobody cares as long as the product is entertaining.

Hell, this is what happened anyway before the lockout, when players were popping greenies and snorting cocaine right and left. But last I checked Paul Molitor is in Cooperstown.

Good points...

...by everyone so far including DZ. I've just been worn-out over this faux-outrage concerning PED's and whatever substances are used. This subject always brings me back to an SI article written several years ago dealing with these new, improved stadiums being built near areas I wouldn't take a terrorist to. Just some "SMH" material!

Jskillz

....

Race...

The persecution of athletes has varied along racial lines...

I know that Roger Clemens was murdered by the media....

But now, after his remarks yesterday in regards to the book that came out, buster olney came out explaining why he would still vote for roger for the HOF. Now... this same olney came and wrote an article immediately out after manny-gate hit the wire...

That article was not as apologetic and i doubt that manny will get olney's vote..

Giambi is playing in relative peace. there will be nothing written about him on espn or discussed on sportscenter...

these manny and A-rod allegations will haunt them forever.


Race is Definitely A Factor

great article as always DZ.

jskillz, I have heard your sentiment expressed before and it is simply not accurate. Both Clemens and McGwire (the two big white icons) were ultimately exposed by outside forces other than media (Congress; Mitchell report). In fact each were PROTECTED for many years by media despite much evidence (google Operation Equine sometime). Only AFTER protection was no longer possible did the mainstream media jump in (and not nearly as harsh).

In contrast, Barry Bonds was investigated BY MEDIA; the sealed testimony was leaked BY MEDIA; the Game of Shadows was printed BY MEDIA; AROD's 2003 sealed test results was obtained BY MEDIA; both were investigated, and had resources spent on them BY MEDIA. Bonds, ARod, and manny were all treated far worse prior to allegations BY MEDIA.

People like Clemens, mcGwire, were merely collateral damage. As DZ says, all the info was right there in the 1990s. When you can show me a white icon who is investigated by media BEFORE they were exposed elsewhere, then I would like to hear that story.

There is only one media outlet that treats it white steroid users like black and brown ones -- the New York Daily News. And most of their reports get ignored nationwide. Don't fall for the okeydoke...

How to end steroids in sports

Make the owners pay! When a player on a team gets suspended for steroids take the fine, the loss of salary for the player then divide that totall by the amount the players contract is and that should be the fine for the owner and then take that fine money and donate it all to a charity. If there is one thing the super rich hate is to have there money go to help someone other than their friends and political associates

Finest right-handed hitter?

I can't help but laugh when Zirin writes that Manny Ramirez is the finest right-handed hitter of his generation. Oh really? A finer hitter than Pujols? The stats don't lie. Pujols has a .334 career BA, .629 career Slugging pct and 1.055 OPS. Manny is great too but he lags significantly behind in each of those categories. But of course the big thing is that Pujols has never been caught for roids. I imagine if he did Zirin would have a party and write a book about it, but alas the Jesus-freak in St. Louis, the true finest right -handed hitter of this generation, and possibly of all-time once his career is over, is totally clean in the steroid era.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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