Thursday, May 7, 2009

Oh Manny

There are few whose words I take as the gospel truth. Peter Gammons is one of those few. So when Gammons said a few minutes ago, on ESPN's SportsCenter, that he genuinely believes that Manny Ramirez is not a steroids guy, I believe him. Ramirez, the Los Angeles Times reports, has been suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball for violating the league's anti-drug policy. According to Gammons, and a statement released by Ramirez through the Players' Association, Ramirez received a prescription for a "personal medical condition" from a doctor in Florida, and that medication contained a substance banned by MLB. Manny also said in his statement that he has taken and passed "about 15" tests during the past five seasons.

Sure, one has to walk cautiously with all the lies, the "but I didn't know"'s, the whole blame game. And Ramirez is far from a saint as many are concerned. I saw Manny Ramirez playing right field for the Cleveland Indians in 1999 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Md. He was much younger then. The dreads were in their infant stages - a small Afro. He wore his pants pulled up to the knee, rather than down, over his cleats. And I remember as if it were yesterday that Ramirez had the biggest calf muscles I have ever seen. From atop the scoreboard in right field, it looked like he had softballs packed into his socks.

I'll make one thing clear. I am a huge, HUGE Manny Ramirez fan. In my opinion, he is the best hitter of our time, and maybe the best two-strike hitter the game has ever seen. But in the back of my mind, that image of those unreal, super-human calf muscles in 1999 have often made me wonder if there was more to the story than a whole lot of leg raises. Maybe it's the baggy uniform, but Ramirez seems to have ballooned since his early days - just like McGwire, just like Sosa, just like Bonds. And at the same rate, so have Manny's numbers - just like McGwire, just like Sosa, just like Bonds.

I was always concerned that Manny Ramirez would find himself in the middle of this steroid-era pandemic. But no one has mentioned Ramirez in any book. He's not in the Mitchell Report. He's never tested positive. For that reason, it's people like Los Angeles Times reporter Bill Plaschke that really piss me off. He's on SportsCenter right now, jumping the gun, calling for Ramirez's head. But unfortunately, he might be right. But for now, I'm going with Gammons and believing Manny. But I'm afraid this might be the last time I'm able to give a baseball player the benefit of the doubt.

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