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Bob Ryan

Just another act in the Manny sideshow

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 7, 2009
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Be careful. Manny could be telling the truth.

If any baseball superstar is capable of taking a medication in all innocence, and then finding out that something in it is included on Major League Baseball's banned list of substances it is Manny Ramírez. It certainly fits the profile.

After all, who should know better than us?

Manny is certainly taking this thing like a man. No whining. No crying. No appeal. He's swallowing hard, saying bye-bye to almost $8 million in salary and going off who-knows-where to await the second half of the baseball season. Fortunately for the Dodgers, they are in the National League West. No one will run off and hide while they wait for the mayor of Mannywood to return to the lineup.

I must admit, when I first heard the news that Ramírez had tested positive for use of a banned substance, I honestly didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I was filled with a lot of I-told-ya'-so anger directed at the people in Los Angeles, most notably the fawning media that had bought into the whole Manny act and that had apparently decided that we Big Meanies in Boston had made it all up.

We tried to tell them that in time the true Manny would surface, that he is incapable of 162-game serenity. We tried to tell them that history has clearly taught us that Manny is many things. Manny is a great hitter. Manny is a student of batting. Manny is a free spirit. Manny is kind to the clubhouse guy. Manny is a great hitter. Manny is an indifferent fielder. Manny is not always inclined to run out ground balls, even in situations where he might be breaking up a no-hitter. Manny is a great hitter. Manny cares about Manny. Manny is a great hitter. Manny plays when Manny wants to play. Manny is a great hitter.

But having seen the Absolute Best of Manny last August and September, our journalistic friends out West chose to ignore our advice not to buy completely into the act. After all, said one, the problem with those East Coast writers and fans is that they take this baseball thing way too seriously. After all, it's only a game.

I never even thought about the idea of Manny doing naughty stuff. This would come as a bonus.

But there is always the possibility he is not telling the truth.

A baseball source told the Globe that Manny failed a drug test for human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which is said to be similar to another fertility drug callled Clomid, which has been tied to Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and other BALCO clients. This is used, we are told, by men using steroids to restart their bodies’ testosterone production after ending a steroid cycle.

If there's a profile of a banned substance abuser -- and I'm not sure there is -- Manny does not fit it. Sudden change in body configuration? Nope. Big surge in power output? Nope. Manny never even hit 50. He did have a homer jump from 26 in 1997 to 45 in 1998, but that was after hitting 31 in 1995 and 33 in 1996. He was a maturing young slugger; that's all. I think.

But Manny has otherwise been a consistent power hitter for the last dozen years. There have been no red flags.

It's very easy, and logical, to accept the idea that Manny has just messed up. Consider that the reason pitcher J.C. Romero is currently serving his 50-game suspension for use of a banned substance is that he swears he had absolutely no reason to think there was anything sinister in what he was given. J.C. sure wasn't getting by on his heat. I'm inclined to believe him.

But if Manny isn't telling the truth, then we are once again reminded that this quest of ours to evaluate baseball in both its recent past and its present may be a fruitless endeavor. If Manny has done something bad knowingly, we can assume he's not the only one, and then we are back in the business of suspecting anyone who hits a home run (Well, maybe not in Yankee Stadium). I hate that.

If we can believe Albert Pujols when he bellows that he's clean, then we can sympathize with him for feeling the frustration of being falsely accused. By "accused" here I simply mean that because he is so relentlessly great (and powerful) he is an automatic object of suspicion in the eyes of some, just because. I really hate that.

If Manny is lying, and we discover that he's been juiced for a long time, the ramifications for Boston and the Red Sox are enormous. He was a major part of what went on in 2004 and 2007. He was, after all, the MVP of the 2004 World Series. Any implication that a juiced Manny helped end the 86 years of misery and trauma would not be good.

If Manny is telling the truth, shouldn't it be easy to prove? There would be some kind of doctor's record, correct? We really should be able to get to the bottom of it, correct? This doesn't mean that if Manny has indeed innocently ingested a no-no product he shouldn't do the time. Players are ultimately responsible for what goes in to their bodies, and they all have to know the rules. But if that really is what happened, at least we can breathe the big sigh of relief and go back to focusing our wrath on real cheaters, like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Anyway, we tried to tell you folks in LA that you didn't just get yourself a great slugger. You got yourself a 24/7/365 reality production entitled ‘‘The Manny Ramírez Show,'' produced, directed, written by, and starring Manny Ramírez. This is a man around whom things just seem to, well, happen.

As for the baseball itself, the Dodgers will still be in the race when he returns and it seems to me that a two-month Mannywood season worked out well for everyone concerned last year.

P.S. Hey, A-Rod: don't think this means we won't be keeping an eye on you.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of the Globe's 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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