Commentary

Forget Manny, don't forgive him

Sad excuse by Dodgers' slugger makes this whole mess worse

Originally Published: May 7, 2009
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

We live in a land that loves to forgive, that wants to forgive. And I couldn't be more proud to live in a land like that.

But what are the odds that the citizens of this great land will have any interest in forgiving a scoundrel like Manny Ramirez?

And even if they do, why should they?

Why should they forgive a man who was willing to do something this stupid, then tried to spin his crime away with a statement saying, essentially, that it was all his dopey doctor's fault?

Why should they forgive a man who just personally sabotaged the magical season of a team like the Dodgers, the only franchise on earth that was willing to overlook his potholed past, work with him to reshape his sullied image and even build its whole franchise around his sweet swing, his flowing locks and his endearing smile?

Why?

Why would the fans of any team, let alone this team, ever believe in Manny again?

We've learned over the years that it is possible for drug-stained players to get a second chance. But Manny has already seriously endangered any shot he might have had that he could be one of those players. Let's explain why.

The players who found forgiveness weren't players who asked for forgiveness. They were players who earned that forgiveness.

They were guys such as Andy Pettitte, guys whose prior reputations were pristine to begin with. Who then stepped forward and told their story in a way people could relate to.

They told you what they did. They told you why they did it. They didn't toss out half-baked explanations that were shot down by the fact-checkers 20 minutes later.

Most important, they took responsibility -- all the responsibility. They didn't try to drag their doctors or their teammates or their knucklehead cousins into the line of fire. They said, "I'm the one who did this. Blame me."

[+] EnlargeManny Ramirez
Robert Benson/US PresswireIt's hard to believe Manny Ramirez's excuse for taking a banned substance given his questionable history.

And when they were through telling their stories, they seemed genuine. Believable. Human. Those are the kinds of people we forgive in this country -- people who give us reason to forgive.

But now let's look at Manny, and how he compares with members of that group.

What word would we use to assess his prior reputation? Hmmm, "pristine" is probably out, right?

The non-New Englanders out there might describe that reputation as, um, checkered. Or complicated. Or confusing.

Red Sox fans, on the other hand, clearly would have some other words in mind. Words we shouldn't be using in casual family conversation. Words that certainly won't be uttered on any episodes of "Teletubbies."

But those words don't matter now. All that matters is that Manny had built up a dubious amount of trust and faith to begin with -- except with the segment of the population known as "Dodgers fans."

So there aren't many folks out there who were predisposed to give him the benefit of any sort of doubt now. That's the point. And why would they?

But now let's look at how Manny has chosen to explain away how he happened to get himself in this mess:

"Recently, I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was OK to give me. Unfortunately … "

All right, enough of that carefully crafted public statement. We get the picture.

Our first inclination, on first glance, is to feel a pang of sympathy here. After all, who among us hasn't had a personal health issue? Who among us hasn't seen a physician for that issue? Who among us hasn't been given a medication to treat that issue?

It sounds so innocent … so downright normal.

But hold on.

Turns out this physician he saw wasn't the team doctor -- the physician 99 percent of all players see when they have a "personal health issue" during spring training or the season.

Turns out this physician wasn't even located in the state of Arizona, where the Dodgers happened to be holding spring training at the time this "personal health issue" cropped up. He was located 2,000 miles away, in Florida.

Oh. OK.

Also turns out that the "personal health issue" was, well, what exactly? It was an issue that caused this physician to prescribe a female fertility drug, obviously. And already, you can feel Manny's seemingly innocent story crumbling like ancient Rome.

It wasn't as if he had a toothache here and he needed a prescription for a painkiller. It wasn't as if he had a sinus infection and he needed a prescription for an antibiotic.

He was taking a -- what? -- a female fertility drug? Why? Maybe he just wanted to marry the Octomom. Ya got me.

I've read through all the prescribed uses I could find online for human chorionic gonadotropin (similar to Clomid), which ESPN.com is reporting is the drug in question. And let me tell you -- I'm almost 100 percent certain that Manny wasn't suffering from an inability to ovulate. Or polycystic ovarian syndrome. And if he was, there's a lot more he hasn't been telling us than what really went on in those bizarre final days in Boston.

If you read more extensively about this drug, though, you'll learn that it is occasionally used to address male infertility. Except if you read the small print, you'll also learn that, according to sharedjourney.com:

"The FDA has not approved the use of Clomid in men, nor has it been found to be especially effective."

Great. So why would a doctor be prescribing it for a guy like Manny, then?

Good question, huh?

A truly upstanding male-fertility doctor wouldn't be likely to do that, right? And a truly upstanding doctor treating a professional athlete also would be likely to know it could cause him to set off a major drug-testing alarm, right?

So where's the logical explanation here? That's a question all rational Americans should be asking right now.

We'd all love to believe that Manny's intent in taking this drug was pure and well-intentioned. We'd all love to believe that his "personal health issue" was serious enough to require unorthodox treatment that isn't even approved by the FDA.

[+] EnlargeAndy Pettitte
Robert Browman/Getty ImagesAndy Pettitte earned our forgiveness. Can Manny?

But face it, friends, if all the reporting is accurate, that would take the sort of leap of faith only Robbie Knievel ought to attempt.

We also need to recognize something important about baseball's testing program: Its intent is not to catch innocent people who are using run-of-the-mill prescription medications because of pesky "personal health issues."

Basically, the substances that can get you flagged fall into three categories:

1. Stuff you'd use to cheat.

2. Stuff you'd use to push the envelope as far as possible in the hope of legally enhancing performance.

3. Stuff you'd use to treat a condition that falls under baseball's limited list of "Therapeutic Medical Exemptions," such as ADD.

But there are no indications that either Manny or his doctors ever contacted the union or MLB seeking any type of therapeutic medical exemption. So there goes that potential for an innocent mistake. And if that's out, what does that leave?

He was using whatever he was using to enhance performance. That's what.

I'd honestly like to believe I'm wrong about that. Honestly. I admire great athletes, and I enjoy watching Manny hit. Honestly.

So I hope there's some more sensible explanation coming. Really. I hope there's a happy ending to this story. I mean it.

I don't like watching anyone's life free-fall to the bottom of the same canyon where, say, Roger Clemens has been booted in the past year and a half. I'm not sure anybody deserves that treatment just for allegedly taking the wrong substance at the wrong time.

As a friend of mine once said, no matter what these guys did, they don't deserve to get treated as if they're worse than O.J.

But after the sad events of this memorable Thursday in May, it's tough to like the odds of Manny Ramirez's escaping that fate.

This time -- unlike those euphoric Manny-mania days of last summer -- it's going to take more than just his magic bat and those flowing dreadlocks to win over his no-longer-adoring public.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com