I Might Be Late To This Party, But At Least I’m Not Under The Influence Of Anything Enhancing My Performance While I’m Here

ramirez-manny-584-090506The shocking news from the world of baseball that took place during my sabbatical was, of course, the 50-game suspension of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez for the use of substances banned by major league baseball.  The manner in which Ramirez was nabbed by MLB is an interesting tale, and if nothing else, the story behind the suspension should remove any doubt as to whether or not the controversial slugger was on the juice.

According to this ESPN report, Ramirez was initially tested in the spring, and his urine sample came back with an elevated level of testosterone.  Normal males like myself naturally produce testosterone and another substance, epitestosterone, in the body to the tune of a ratio close to 1:1.  While the body can produce those substances in other ratios, anything beyond a 4:1 ratio throws up a huge red flag to testers — since that is apparently an indication of something that just doesn’t happen without some sort of “assistance” — wink-wink.  In this case, sources have revealed that Manny’s ratio was between 4:1 and 10:1 — Strike One for Ramirez.

Following the notification to Ramirez of this irregularity in his test, the sample was then sent to the World Anti-Doping Agency lab in Montreal for further testing.  The WADA is the premier organization in the world so far as the fight against doping in sports goes; their role in this saga was to determine through a carbon-ratio isotope test whether or not the elevated testosterone level was due to something natural or artificial — the latter being the conclusion that the Agency reached.  Now, I’m not an expert and couldn’t tell you what a carbon-ratio isotope test actually is or does — but what I do feel comfortable in saying is that WADA knows what they’re doing better than anyone else does, and their conclusion that the testosterone in Ramirez’ test was synthetic — meaning that it had been added to his body in some fashion purposely — was an incredibly damning result.  Strike Two for Ramirez.

Lastly, as part of baseball’s negotiated agreement with the Player’s Union, Ramirez’ medical records were turned over to MLB as well, in order to determine if there was any valid medical reason for Ramirez to have been prescribed something that would have accounted for the raised testosterone levels.  What MLB discovered was that Ramirez had been given a prescription for something called HCG, which is on the list of baseball’s banned performance-enhancing substances.  As everyone has probably already heard, HCG is a great drug to use — if you’re a woman with a fertility problem, that is — but for athletes like Ramirez, it’s used to kick-start the body’s production of natural testosterone, which is suppressed when that athlete is using synthetic testosterone — or in simpler terms, when that athlete is a steroid user.  Strike three, and Manny’s out.

Manny looks a whole lot different when he's in street clothes

Manny looks a whole lot different when he's in street clothes, doesn't he?

With no way to account for the higher testosterone levels in his body — or for the fact that the testosterone wasn’t even natural — Ramirez was in a no-win situation, which is why he didn’t have a leg to stand on so far as appealing the suspension.  Manny’s already started a train of weak excuses as to why he tested positive, but with this information coming to light, there’s no reason to think he’s being any more honest than Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod, or any of the others before him.

So what does that mean for Ramirez, his team, and his sport?  While the Dodgers offense will definitely take a hit with the news, Manny’s replacement, Juan Pierre, is a serviceable major league player who will at least provide decent production for the next two months.  The rest of the Los Angeles lineup is solid, if not spectacular; there’s a lot of outstanding talent in the 1-8 slots, even if there’s no “superstar” with Ramirez gone.  In addition, the Dodgers have outstanding pitching, so it’s not as if they need to score six runs a game to win consistently.  My guess is that they’ll keep the ship afloat while Ramirez is out and still be in first place when he returns.

Manny, on the other hand, isn’t going to fare as well.  We’ll have to see how the fans in L.A. react when he’s introduced for the first time in July; my guess is that the same people who greeted Barry Bonds with so much disdain will hypocritically shower Ramirez with cheers when the time comes.  But the rest of the baseball world will be a different story — look for Ramirez to get the same response from the baseball world as his fellow cheaters have: a quiet disdain.  The long-term effects on Ramirez’ career is that the likelihood of his opting out of his two-year deal with the Dodgers to become a free-agent after this season is probably almost nil, and any long-term, mega-million dollar contract in his future is about as much of a fantasy as any story he could come up with to justify his innocence in the whole affair.  Ramirez joins a growing list of players who once looked like Hall of Fame locks — but who now may never get their entry into Cooperstown unless they buy themselves a ticket first.

And the game itself?  It’ll survive, like it always seems to when scandal or controversy hits it.  But every new revelation about a superstar who tests positive for performance-enhancers puts baseball one step further towards irrelevancy and leaves jaded fans like me asking not “Who’s in first?”, but rather “Who’s going to be next?”.

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