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Just Manny being shady

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  May 7, 2009 11:09 PM

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Manny Ramirez owes us all an explanation, and he owes us a heck of a lot more than a note effectively signed by Juan Epstein's mother. Right or wrong, like it or not, Major League Baseball is in the age where everyone is guilty until proven innocent.

So after all of that, after blackmailing his way out of Boston last summer and holding up the Los Angeles Dodgers for a $25 million salary this year, Manny Ramirez has to take what amounts to a 30 percent pay cut. How 'bout them apples? Suspended by Major League Baseball this morning for violating the terms of baseball’s drug policy, Ramirez has been dealt a 50-game suspension that will require him to forfeit roughly $7.7 million in salary. The only remaining question is whether Ramirez also will sacrifice any of his legacy, joining Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and others on the list of America’s most tainted superstars.

Clearly, there are lots of questions to be answered here, beginning with the specific substance Ramirez took (a source told the Globe it was human chorionic gonadotropin, a women's fertility drug that can be used by steroid users to restart their body's testosterone production after a steroid cycle), the doctor who allegedly prescribed it for him, and the alleged "personal health issue’’ Ramirez cited in his public statement. Maybe Ramirez is telling us the truth, but those of us in Boston know far too much now to simply take Manny at his word. Roughly nine months ago, Ramirez couldn’t remember which knee was bothering him when Red Sox officials ordered him an MRI, for goodness sake. When the heat is on, Manny frequently can’t remember which way is up.

Are we now expected to believe that neither he nor his doctor is smart enough to know which drugs are on MLB’s list of banned substances?

"Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was OK to give me,’’ Ramirez said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now. I do want to say one other thing; I've taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons.’’

I have been advised not to say anything more for now … except for the fact that I’ve passed prior drug tests.

In Boston, from 2001-08, we all saw enough of Ramirez’s gifts to believe that he was in the 99th percentile, a supremely talented and gifted man who didn’t need help in the batter’s box. We also know that the steroid era has destroyed any and all preconceptions we might possess of suspected users. Somewhat sadly, the burden of proof is now solely on the player, and the simple truth is that the numbers over the last two years are not doing Ramirez any favors.

Entering the 2007 season, Ramirez was a .314 career hitter with a .600 career slugging percentage. In 2007, he batted .296 and slugged a mere .493. Those numbers continued along the same path of decline through much of last season; at the time the Red Sox sent him to the Dodgers, Ramirez was batting .299 with a slugging percentage of .529.

What has happened since, of course, has been a resurgence of Ruthian proportion. In one-third of a season with the Dodgers, Ramirez slugged .743 and hit nearly as many home runs (17) as he did in his last four months with the Red Sox (20). His slugging percentage since joining the Dodgers today stands at a robust .710, precisely .202 greater than the .508 he posted for the Red Sox from Opening Day 2007 up to last year’s trading deadline.

Along the way, Manny just happened to be playing for a new contract.

Is it so outrageous to think he simply cycled up when he most needed it?

Now Ramirez is banned from baseball for the next 50 games, a particularly amusing development given the damage he might do to his team. The Dodgers currently possess the best record in baseball. Ramirez is more important than any hitter in their lineup. Ramirez’s statement effectively proclaimed his innocence as it pertained to the knowing, deliberate and malicious use of performance-enhancers, and yet the same statement was sufficiently vague to only fuel the questions about Ramirez and the role of performance enhancers on his career, in the short term or the long.

Did Ramirez use?

That is hard to know for sure, and it might always be.

But as we all know, a truly innocent man has nothing to be ashamed of and less to hide, be it in a note from the doctor or Epstein’s mother.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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