Saturday, April 09, 2011

Manny, Modest to the End, Shuns Sappy Farewell Tour

As it turned out, Manny Ramirez became exactly the kind of ballplayer I always figured would be the sort caught by baseball's testing for performance-enhancing drugs -- a veteran near or at the end of the line, struggling to hang on for another season.

That's very sad. And something Ramirez was never able to avoid even in his prime, his sudden retirement has more than a touch of the ridiculous about it as well. The price to be paid for always marching to one's own drummer is that more than occasionally one marches straight into brick walls or over open manholes.

Foolishness and stupidity are not, however, villainy. I see no need to condemn Ramirez for being dumb as a telephone pole to risk testing positive again. It's self-evident. Nor do I feel required to offer up empty words like "tainted" to describe Ramirez's almost two decades in baseball, or go on about how PEDs have blighted our revered National Pastime. I don't work for the New York Times Corporation, which regards drug use in baseball as the second-most horrible development in American history, trailing only the Huffington Post.

Personally, I was fond of Ramirez. He's an odd duck, but not a hostile, malicious, or worst of all, boring duck. Also, I enjoy watching people hit baseballs very hard, and Ramirez provided me with a great deal of that form of entertainment. Thanks, Manny.

I only want to make the following points. One is also pretty self-evident. Any Red Sox fan who condemns Ramirez is a hypocrite and scoundrel. No Manny, no World Series titles. It's really that simple. Can't have the wins without the baggage, gang.

And I hasten to add that goes for the Boston sports commentariat, too. Don't be revising history to suit your self-perception as righteous, impartial judges of jock morality. It's OK to say what Ramirez did in 2011 was wrong. He broke a rule and got caught. Just don't head back into time and declare you always knew something was suspicious about Manny's bat. You didn't, or if you did, you didn't say so, which is a lot worse in terms of the ethics of your own trade.

My second thought is about history. The sportswriters who tell you this means Ramirez will never be elected to the Hall of Fame may be right. But I believe they are wrong. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but my feeling is the more time passes, the closer baseball will get to looking at its PED era with a bit of perspective and common sense.

Looking five years into the future about anything involving human beings is a fool's errand. But one thing we DO know about Cooperstown. Barry Bonds comes up for a vote before Ramirez will. Conventional horsehide wisdom is that despite his steroid sins, Bonds will be elected, since he was a Hall of Fame level player when he was skinny and wore a smaller cap, before, as far as it is known (and the U.S. Department of Justice has done some digging here), he began using PEDs.

If Bonds gets in, especially if he's in a federal pen at the time, it is my contention that the hypocrisy of keeping other known PED users with Hall-worthy resumes out will be too much for even baseball and baseball writers to swallow. Like I said, I'm an optimist.

And since I have a Hall vote myself, if I'm still around in five years, I'll be in position to put my optimism to work. It's work I'd be happy to do for Ramirez.


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