Manny fallout: no excuses left
This is a media story. Why won't the media leave this alone?
All this took place in the past, when there were no rules. Why is everyone digging into the past? We need to move forward.
In December, one year after the release of the Mitchell report, major league baseball was triumphant: No big-name big leaguer had violated the league policy. In January, journeyman Phillies pitcher J.C. Romero was suspended, under somewhat murky circumstances, for the first 50 games of this season. A strengthened testing policy suggested by George Mitchell -- and agreed to by MLB and the MLB Players Association -- was in place, and MLB had created a no-nonsense in-house investigations unit unafraid to look into the dark corners of the game that the combination of fear, politics and denial had led the game's leadership to ignore. The Phillies won the World Series, and, for the first time in a long time, a calendar year hadn't ended on a scandalous note. Life was good. The steroids era had finally been put to rest, comfortably in the rearview mirror.
Now, in the first four-plus months of 2009, two of the game's biggest stars -- Alex Rodriguez and Ramirez -- have fallen harder than Enron, and baseball is finding out the hard way what the Olympics have long known: There is no end to the steroids era, only the beginning of a new, permanent age in which sophisticated drugs and high technology are part of the game's ethical discussions.
With Rodriguez, the old argument could have applied. His name had been leaked from the anonymous survey testing link back in 2003, supposedly the Stone Age of steroids awareness.
And Bud Selig wins the Pyrrhic battle of the day. He has the satisfaction of knowing that his drug-testing program is not just a showpiece and that he has put his money where his mouth is. He promised no player would be spared under his tough new guidelines, and he proved he was willing to take down one of his biggest stars.
But that victory must go with the salty disappointment of knowing that his players were using and are still using because no one wants to be the only guy on the field who isn't getting extra help. Baseball labor chief Rob Manfred once told me, "The goal isn't to catch players. The goal is to get them to stop using."
By that standard, baseball has just been exposed once more.
That means the players are back in business -- if they ever closed up shop -- and someone will always be next.
Jose Canseco is a loser who just needs the attention.
Since January 2005, Canseco has specifically fingered Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez and Ramirez. At the time, all laughed him off; he was the outsider, the wacko, the crazy. Those players were beloved and could use their celebrity, their standing and the fact that they were still in the game against his accusations. McGwire has been disgraced. Palmeiro was caught by MLB. Tejada was busted for lying to the federal government, essentially caught in the crossfire of the Mitchell report. Neither Pudge Rodriguez nor Gonzalez challenged Canseco, either in word or deed. Cornered, Alex Rodriguez confessed to steroid use.
And then there is Scott Boras, the agent who, when the Ramirez news first broke, tried to fool the public with a sophomoric attempt to explain away the Ramirez suspension with the nonsense that he was taking prescribed medication, not a steroid, for an undisclosed condition. Boras and other agents have much to answer for in this circular cycle: Steroids increased revenue; increased revenue increased salaries; bigger salaries meant bigger agent commissions; and all of it easily led to a tacit acceptance of the steroid culture.
No issue has ever tested the resiliency of the sport as performance-enhancing drugs have. In his statement, Ramirez said he had passed "about 15 drug tests," but there is a big difference between beating a drug test and not using drugs at all. Thursday's news calls into question the accomplishments of the great Red Sox machine of the new millennium -- titles in 2004 and 2007 and a million memories -- as clearly as the earlier revelations cast shadows over the Oakland A's, the 2002 champion Angels, MVP winners Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds, Tejada and Ken Caminiti along with Cy Young Award winners Roger Clemens and Eric Gagne.
And on it goes.
Nobody can gloat -- not the Yankees, not the Red Sox, not the players (even though they all got to keep their money) and not management (which was able to make its money and tout its vigilance while the names who drive the product cheated). And not the fans, who like to believe they root for the only clean team in the game.
"With steroids," the late, great former Pittsburgh Steeler and anti-steroid crusader Steve Courson used to say, "it's always the other guy, always the other team."
Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is the author of "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball" and of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.
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MANNY RAMIREZ SUSPENDED 50 GAMES
Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy.
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