Though talented, Manny deeply flawed
Second positive test unequivocally taints slugger's legacy
Pedro Martinez laughs when he tells his Manny Ramirez story. People often laugh when they tell Manny stories.
"My sister cooked up a special batch of food," Martinez remembers. "It was a huge container of rice and beans and chicken and vegetables -- really healthy -- for the team to enjoy after the game that night. Manny didn't play, so he sent one of the clubhouse kids out to a local place (Papa Gino's) for a couple of spaghetti dinners.
"He cleaned out the chicken and rice and put the spaghetti in its place. So when the team got in after the game, the players are all asking, 'What happened to our food?' Manny took it home, invited some friends over to his condo and had a party."
That's what it always was with Manny. He never gave a darn about anyone else -- teammates, the clubhouse kids he stiffed at home and on the road (one year, Alex Cora paid Manny's road dues and never got paid back), the traveling secretary, even his manager.
Ramirez liked to work out, as he did at Athletes Performance Institute in Scottsdale, Ariz., this past winter. He liked to work hard at his hitting craft. As Jayson Stark pointed out, Ramirez's 2,574 hits, 555 homers, .585 slugging percentage and .996 OPS are matched only by Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds.
Unfortunately, he's also the only player to have twice failed a drug test since the mandatory testing policy was put in place in 2005 (rumors of his flunking the '03 test are irrelevant, because those players were guaranteed anonymity and the tests were administered only to determine whether there would be future testing). That, like the numbers, would be on Ramirez's plaque if he were to have one, but he's no lock to make it to Cooperstown. Because Ramirez left Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and Tampa Bay in disgrace and thumbed his nose at everyone as he took his money and ran, the only place that might enshrine his remembrance is Cleveland.
How sad. Ramirez made $204 million. He was in terrific condition this spring. Couldn't he just have let the season unfurl and, if protecting Evan Longoria didn't work, just retire with his millions?
"He is a little kid," said one Boston physician. "I'm not sure he ever thought about being caught."
Problem is, there will be speculation about how much of Ramirez's career was aided by performance-enhancing drugs. My guess is not as much as some have speculated. It was evident to anyone watching him that Ramirez was not hitting fastballs by 2006, and a look at his career OPS and AB-per-HR numbers supports that.
"He did start to swing the bat a lot better the couple of weeks before he was traded [to the Dodgers in 2008]," said one Red Sox coach. "But no one noticed because of all the other stuff that was going on."
Ramirez helped the Red Sox win two World Series, and for a period of five years, he and David Ortiz were the most feared duo in any American League lineup. In that time, he also staged a sitdown strike, went into the Green Monster to relieve himself when his pitcher was trying to work, failed to run out the occasional ground ball and got the Red Sox banned from a St. Petersburg hotel. Sometimes people laughed at Manny Being Manny, sometimes teammates vented and it didn't affect him, because Manny really didn't care, except for when he hit. Most of the time.
It seems as if there is no way Manny will make it to the Hall of Fame, like any other player who fails two tests under the mandatory testing policy that became more intense after the 2007 Washington, D.C., hearings; policy losers and anyone caught betting on baseball would seemingly be automatic exclusions.
Now, players from other eras do get a little sanctimonious about performance-enhancing drugs, as we know that the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s were periods of heavy amphetamine usage; it's comical when someone from another period tries to deny that greenies enhanced performance.
The entire Hall of Fame voting process has turned the Baseball Writers' Association of America into airport security screeners. Jose Canseco says someone is guilty? That someone is out. Ken Caminiti said someone was guilty? That person is out. Back acne? Out. Cap or shoe size? Out. It is all right that an FBI illegally seizes a file, but that a player is banned from Cooperstown because of suspicions?
WORTHY OF THE HALL?
Ramirez, like Bonds and others, might have been the beneficiary of a voting climate change a decade from now if we learn that more than half of the players in the 1995-2005 period used some form of PED, be they sluggers or pitchers who left for Taiwan throwing 87 mph and came back throwing 96.
The voters have become more sophisticated, so a decade from now, there may be an increased grey area to the voting procedure. For instance, in time, will simple guidelines like 3,000 hits automatically qualify a player? Now, it may be very difficult for Johnny Damon to get the 427 hits he needs to get to 3,000. But close your eyes and think about Johnny Damon as a Hall of Fame candidate versus Bobby Abreu, who has 2,252 hits and would be an unlikely Hall candidate. But look at their career numbers and make your own judgment.
Now, one can understand the desire to get the 182 hits to reach 3,000.
"I think I can play three more years," said Ivan Rodriguez, "and I want those 3,000 hits." Hey, that's an incredible feat for a catcher, especially one who caught so many years in the Texas heat. Rodriguez is a Hall of Famer, unless he is is suspected of PED use. But the 3,000 figure may be an impediment to building the Washington Nationals, who have one of the National League's most promising catchers in Wilson Ramos. If it gets a little edgy, it's possible that Rodriguez will be dealt in June or July to a contender in need of a catcher, and someone else can resume the countdown to 3,000.
Manny Ramirez might have been too patient as a hitter to get to 3,000, not with age setting in. But given the 2,574 hits, 555 homers, .585 slugging percentage and .996 OPS, he was a surefire Hall of Famer. Was.
It says something about the joint MLB/MLBPA agreement that two Hall of Fame talents like Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro may be kept out of Cooperstown because of the testing policy. Then think about Manny's numbers and think about the fact that the only players to match them were Babe and Bonds, which may mean that two of the greatest hitters who ever played might not reach the Hall.
And we will be left with pages and pages of questions and heated arguments about what might or might not have been if they'd all played their careers with strict testing. Ramirez and others will leave us wondering how much of the PED usage was physical and how much was mental.
And why performance enhancement is so much more important in baseball than in football, basketball, golf or tennis.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.