In what would be the ultimate act of selfishness, maybe Manny Ramirez took some of the shine with him. Maybe he scuffed up those World Series trophies. Maybe he tarnished what is the Golden Age of Red Sox baseball by being, for a lack of a better word, dirty.
And so now, Ramirez having apologized to Los Angeles Dodgers ownership and with an apology to teammates perhaps forthcoming, we cannot help but wonder: When do we get ours? Exposed by Major League Baseball last week for violating terms of the game’s substance abuse policy, Ramirez is in the midst of a 50-game suspension after testing positive for human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a female fertility drug frequently used by steroid users to restore testosterone levels. The easy thing to believe now is that Ramirez slipped up this one time, that he is an aging man inspired by greed to secure one more perverse contract.
It would be easy to say this: Thank goodness this didn’t happen here.
But it almost certainly did.
As such, we have no choice now but to spend at least a moment, however brief, to wonder what this all means with regard to recent Red Sox history. Ramirez was the Most Valuable Player of the 2004 World Series and a driving force behind the Red Sox’ title in 2007, when he batted .400 with four homers, 14 RBI and 14 walks in the first two rounds. Overall, during his career in Boston, Ramirez batted .321 with 11 home runs, 29 runs scored, 38 RBI and 31 walks in 43 postseason games, a period during which the Red Sox won eight playoff series and two championships.
During those years, we all said it so many times that we now would be foolish to forget our words: Manny drove the bus, Manny was the key.
Human nature being what it is, we cannot simply erase the past. What’s done is done and what is in the books is the books. Officially speaking, UMass never has made a Final Four appearance thanks to the transgressions of Marcus Camby, but try telling that to those of us who remember the Minutemen playing in the 1996 national semifinals. Ditto for the Sox in 2004 and 2007, no matter what Ramirez did, especially when steroid use was just as likely to have existed on the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals or 2007 Colorado Rockies.
Still, in Boston, there is a tendency and willingness to look away when something like this happens, if only because it’s easier to move on than to sort it all out. Trying to recreate past is a pointless exercise. Yet the fact remains that Boston has been sucked into this performance-enhancing drugs mess on more than one occasion -- from Mo Vaughn to Rodney Harrison to now Ramirez -- and yet we have spent relatively little time wondering about the ramifications of it all in our cozy little cocoon.
Vaughn was named in the Mitchell Report for his association with former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski, a known steroids peddler. Harrison was suspended just before the start of the 2007 season for use of human growth hormone, and many local fans defended Harrison’s actions more than the player himself did. In Harrison’s case, for whatever reason, the sin was deemed less egregious because it took place in a musclebound world where fuel injection is part of the standard package.
Now comes Ramirez, who had more to do with the Red Sox’ success during his nearly eight seasons here than anyone else. Ramirez was here longer than Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz. He was a better performer than Jason Varitek or Tim Wakefield. He was, quite literally, the centerpiece around which the explosive Boston offense was built, a major reason why the Sox scored more runs from 2001-2008 than any team in baseball but the New York Yankees.
During each of the two years prior to Ramirez’s arrival in Boston, the Red Sox did not finish among the top half of the 14 American League teams in runs scored.
Now that Ramirez is playing elsewhere -- or, rather, sitting -- some of us are all too willing to celebrate the fact that the Red Sox traded him just in the nick of time, something that again misses the point. Ramirez is the same man in Los Angeles that he was in Boston. He is just wearing a different uniform. He is living proof that fans and spectators cheer for laundry above all else, and he is just as likely (more so?) to have masked steroid use in Boston as he did in Los Angeles.
The only difference is that he didn’t get caught here.
And because he won, examining whether the Red Sox cheated their way to a world title is far too messy a task.
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