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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Say it ain't so, Manny

I've been so depressed since I heard about Manny Ramirez's failed drug test and subsequent 50-game suspension. Seriously, this just took the wind out of my sails. This season was just too good to be true. The Dodgers had just set the MLB record for most consecutive home wins at 13-0. We had the best record in baseball, and everything was coming up roses. But I knew that something bad had to happen to the Dodgers. The other shoe had to drop. Things were a little too perfect for awhile. I figured either Rafael Furcal or the O-Dog would get injured, derailing the team for a few weeks. But I never imagined that I would wake up this morning with the biggest gut-punch ever: my hero Manny Ramirez was caught cheating.

I've run the gamut of emotions today. Here's some of my Manny Thoughts:

1) The rumor is that Manny was using HCG - human chorionic gonadotropin - which is a female fertility drug. Manny was just trying to get pregnant! He's 37 years old... the window is closing for him to procreate. Does MLB not want Manny to have a baby? The pro-life people should be all over this one.

2) HCG is for women trying to get pregnant and pre-teen boys who have delayed puberty. In men, it produces more testosterone. After a heavy steroid cycle, athletes need HCG because their bodies stop producing puberty and their testes shrink. This is pretty damning evidence for Manny, if the report is true. Having to take a masking agent to make up for your steroid use is pretty bad, I'll admit. And it doesn't go with Manny's media statement, which was that he was prescribed some drug by his doctor and that he didn't know it was on MLB banned substance list.

3) However, the less Manny says about the matter, the better he'll turn out in the end. Seriously, if we've learned anything from these steroid scandals, it's that the more vague you are, the better. You don't want to be the guy who is lying and denying everything (like Bonds and Clemens) because you'll be investigated more thoroughly and could be potentially accused of perjury. You don't want to be the guy who pleads the 5th and is silent (like McGwire) because the media really hates that and will never forgive your accused transgressions. You don't want to be image-obsessed and pretend like you're coming clean and offering some fictional, faux-earnest account of some watered-down steroids admission (like A-Rod), because then people will poke holes in your fake story and you'll be subjected to even more ridicule and backlash. The role you need to play is the chastened, apologetic man who vaguely admits to doing something, but never really specifying whatever that actually was (like Giambi). It'll help if you're a likable guy who is also the greatest right-handed hitter of your generation. People will forgive and move on.

4) Those people who still feign shock and disgust at the latest steroid scandal are either criminally naive or blissfully ignorant. EVERYBODY IS USING SOME FORM OF STEROIDS! Even if you aren't doing the hard stuff, I bet 95% of players are using HGH (human growth hormone), a drug that they don't even test for yet. It is what it is. This is the Steroids Era of baseball. It sucks that it's like that. I wish it wasn't like that. I hope the game cleans up eventually and we can try to put this whole embarrassing era behind us, but this is how it is for now. I'm not defending Manny (or other performance-enhancing users). I'm actually really ashamed and mad at Manny. He's not only let himself and his team down, but he's let me and every other Dodgers fan down too. He has also damaged his legacy as a Hall of Fame hitter.

5) Manny's positive test is just more proof that everybody was using, and that we have to judge this era differently than other eras. Which is the most disheartening thing about the Steroids Era. The baseball might of been fun and exciting (until we pulled the wool from off our eyes after Bonds hit 73 and decided that we gave a crap about steroids), but the beautiful thing about baseball is how we can compare our players to the players of other eras. This is why baseball is our national pastime, and the thinking-man's game. We can actually statistically compare Manny's 2008 slugging percentage with Babe Ruth's 1927 one. We can compare Ted Williams' .406 in '41 to Manny's .332 last year. Well, theoretically we can compare these stats, but not really... not anymore. Steroids have inflated and altered baseball's statistics, the Holiest of Holies, and have rendered the numbers meaningless now. It's really a shame, and I believe that this whole Steroids Era will get a fat asterisk by the whole thing.

6) I still don't understand why Manny took steroids. Seriously, what more does he have to prove? Manny is a two-time champion. Manny is the second-highest paid player in the game. Manny was put on earth hit a baseball. Manny is the most gifted right-handed hitter I've ever seen. Manny was a lock for the Hall of Fame (who knows how it'll turn out now). Why Manny? Why? Was he stressed about getting old (he's 37) and wanting to keep up his dominance so he could get a longer, more lucrative contract than he signed last year? I don't think we'll ever know.

7) I don't think Manny had been using steroids for long. In his public statement he noted that he had passed all 15 of his drug tests during the last year, until this latest one. And just look at Manny. He's not huge. He's not a monster. He doesn't even weigh 200 pounds. He doesn't jack homers out of stadiums. He's not constantly swinging for the fences. Manny is a straight-up line drive hitter. He hits for average... the power numbers just come from him constantly putting good wood on the ball. Manny is just a superior hitter, with the greatest eye I've ever seen. He's a hitter who waits for his pitch and connects on it. He could hit a ball with a broomstick... which makes it really disheartening that he felt he had to succumb to the lure of steroids.

8) Another reason I don't think Manny had been using steroids long... look at his numbers. Seriously, Manny is the steadiest hitter I've ever seen. He hits between .320 and .330 every year. He hits between 30 and 40 homeruns (with a season high of 45). He hits around 115-130 RBI's. Do those numbers look like the numbers of a serial steroid user, especially considering Manny's considerable hitting superiority? Do those steady numbers have the considerable jump in production that have come to define the steroid era: numbers like Barry Bonds' 73 HRS, Bret Boone's 141 RBI's, Brady Anderson's 50 HRS, David Ortiz's 54 HRS? Manny has never had a statistically-freakish season. Unless Manny has been taking heavy steroids for the duration of his entire career then I think this is the classic case of an older, diminishing star who is trying to justify one more max contract by using performance enhancing drugs.

9) I don't think that Manny's steroid suspension is entirely negative. First of all, it gives further validation for MLB's drug-testing policies. If a player as popular as Manny can get caught, then nobody is above the law and all the players will see that MLB is serious about cleaning up the sport. Also, we'll get a rested 37 year-old Manny for the last half of the season and the playoffs. Manny is penciled to return on July 3rd. The Dodgers didn't even get Manny until July 31st last year, and look at how quickly he turned that team around! I think that Manny is going to come back focused, with a renewed vigor, like he did last year when he escaped the negativity in Boston for the opening arms of L.A. I think that he'll be chastened and eager to make up for this disappointment, pushing us into the postseason.

10) I also think that this steroid suspension will virtually guarantee that Manny will take up the contract option for next year (for $20 million), keeping Manny in L.A. for another season. Manny signed a two year deal (1st year=$25 million, 2nd year=$20 million), but he can option out of the contract after the first year. However, I don't think there are going to be a lot of teams interested in a steroid-tainted Manny, so he'll probably stick around in L.A. for at least another year. This would be great news for the Dodgers. The L.A. fans will forgive him, and hopefully Manny can lead us to a couple of championships during his L.A. tenure.

11) The Dodgers are going to be ok. We'll survive this. We have a dominating 6-game lead in our division, and every other NL West team is absolutely awful. Seriously, I don't think that any other team in the NL West will even finish .500. The division will get a little tighter during these next 50 games, but we'll be fine until Manny gets back. Manny's replacement, Juan Pierre, is a fine player who would start on 80% of MLB teams, and he'll help us bridge the gap. We'll just have to be a speedy, small-ball club for the next 50 games, until Manny gets back and we blow the roof off the National League again.

12) I've never been this affected by the steroid use in baseball. This is the first time that somebody from my team has been caught red-handed and suspended. Look, I'm no naive optimist. I know many Dodgers have been using steroids. I'm convinced that Eric Gagne was 'roiding during his whole "consecutive games saved" streak. I'm convinced that Mike Piazza was 'roiding during his Dodgers tenure. I'm convinced that Adrian Beltre was 'roiding during his great contract year with the Dodgers (after which he got a huge contract from Seattle). But now, after all these years, I finally know how it must of felt like for Giants fans during those tough years with Bonds. The feeling that you have to defend a known cheater, because you love him so much and you just can't help but feel sorry for him. Even though he has let you down with his selfish, reckless behavior, you just can't help sticking up for Manny. It's really a weird feeling. It'll take some getting used to, I guess.

It's time to circle the wagons, Dodgers fans.

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