First, don't strain anything while you're stretching to give Manny Ramirez the benefit of the doubt. It's simply not worth it.
He may not have tested positive for steroids, but the drug in question is reportedly a favorite of steroid-users trying to jump start their compromised testosterone engines, a common side effect of steroid cycling.
So, no, the transgression is just as damaging as had it been for Dianabol.
And, yes, I'm afraid the spring training urine test in question was, definitively, just Manny peeing Manny.
Even more disheartening for the few dozen people who still dearly love baseball and have confidence in its competitive legitimacy were the comments from the troublesome superstar himself this week.
Ramirez generally doesn't go out of his way to say anything, let alone the right thing, so it was no surprise that he played the formal statement much the way he plays left field: badly.
"Recently, I saw a physician for a personal-health issue."
Translation: I'm an idiot, because while the Los Angeles Dodgers have two team physicians, a director of medical services, two trainers, a physical therapist, a strength and conditioning coach, a massage therapist and Dr. Frank Jobe serving as special advisor to Dodgers chairman Frank McCourt, all of whom combined or separately know the names of every substance that could conceivably trigger a positive drug test, I chose a doctor in Florida, even though at the time I was in spring training in Arizona.
Again, why do you think they call it dope? But here's the worst part, right there in what are likely Manny's final words until July.
"I have been advised not to say anything more for now."
So you won't right? No such luck.
"I do want to say one other thing."
"I've taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons."
AWWwwww ... Strike three called!
That's wasn't the one more thing anyone wanted to hear, Manny. The one more thing was, "I've not used performance-enhancing drugs, never have, and never will." It wasn't "Hurray for me, I passed some tests." Could you sound any more like Marion Jones and Barry Bonds?
But enough Manny bashing. Let's dolly back still again to the big picture, and to re-emphasize some of this space's re-current themes. (You've been warned.)
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Players Association, should resign. They are failed stewards of the game.
In 1998, when Mark McGwire turned the summer into a coast-to-coast feel good fraud, both Selig and Fehr were comfortably ensconced in the same positions they hold today. Now we're entering our second decade of being made fools of, and both remain in power. The club executives who employ Selig and the players union that employs Fehr have been complicit in soiling the game, and no re-establishment of full public confidence in it is remotely possibly until both have been replaced by executives from outside the game.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, on the day Manny was busted, rightly called it a sad day for the game and his club, but then he said this: "Everyone's held accountable."
Really. I thought it was that no one was held accountable.
Name me one union official, one baseball official, one trainer, one clubhouse boy, one club executive with the New York Yankees, the San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles or any of the other steroid hothouses who has been disciplined, let alone removed, as a result of events leading to or sustaining The Steroid Era.
In a bit of tragic-comic circus-tent timing, just as Ramirez departed for his 50-game suspension, A-Fraud Rodriguez returned from a rehab assignment (no not that kind of rehab) to Performance Enhancement Central, aka the clubhouse of the New York Yankees (Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, Gary Sheffield, David Justice, et al). Rodriguez, who admitted to using steroids last winter, might soon be the subject of an MLB investigation into allegations that he telegraphed pitches to opponents in exchange for a return of that twisted favor.
Thus the two highest-paid players in the game, Ramirez and Rodriguez, are metastasizing its scandals years after Selig made the drug problem his No. 1 priority. Thanks mostly to a union that viscously opposed drug testing for more than 10 years after the emergence of the problem, the Yankees, the game's most storied franchise, must now welcome A-Fraud back to its marquee and act as though they're not charging up to $2,625.00 per ticket to watch someone who respects the product so little he'll sabotage it for his own gain.
Baseball likes to point out that its penalties for violating the drug agreement are more punitive than in any team sport, but look at Manny's "penalty." His 50-game suspension will cost him nearly $8 million, but he got the $45 million contract he has been guaranteed by the Dodgers (nice work there, too) in no small part because he apparently is willing to cheat to get it.
Were baseball and its players serious about this issue, Selig and Fehr would be removed. Baseball should instruct the Yankees to release A-Rod and the Dodgers to release Ramirez, and let the courts decide if they are due the balance of their guarantees while in violation of the basic player contract regarding player comportment, to wit: "The player agrees to perform his services hereunder diligently and faithfully, to keep himself in first class physical condition and to obey the Club's training rules, and pledges himself to the American public and to the Club to conform to high standards of personal conduct, fair play, and sportsmanship."
By any standard and by their own admission, A-Fraud and Manny are in violation of their contract. They should be released and the union permitted to sue for the balance of their guarantees, should the union or the players be comfortable with suing for the right to dupe the public.
Baseball wants us to think it has really tried hard on this. If that is correct, it has really tried and it has really failed. The penalties are not punitive enough. A first offense should bring a year's suspension, and a second a lifetime ban.
In the meantime, your ability to enjoy the game remains identical to the extent you can convince yourself you're not watching professional wrestling.
Gene Collier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1283.