Commentary

Manny Ramirez's final bow

Twice-busted slugger retires with 555 career homers and a tainted legacy

Updated: April 8, 2011, 9:48 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

We all know what Manny Ramirez's legacy should have been.

One of the greatest right-handed hitters who ever lived. … MVP of the universe-altering World Series in which the 2004 Boston Red Sox slayed The Curse. … Hall of Famer.

OK, well, so much for that.

Now Manny will head off into the horizon to spend the rest of his life on Planet Manny with a whole different legacy:

The only knucklehead ever to get caught twice by baseball's PED police force.

The first time, in 2009, he served his 50 games and somehow retained his phony image as a fun-loving, dreadlock-wearing, batsmith/comedian. But not this time.

This time, when the PED patrol nabbed him again for a spring training violation of The Program, he didn't even bother appealing. Rather than serve 100 more games worth of penance, he just packed up his dreadlocks and quit. Retired. Said adios.

So how should we look back on him now, huh? Are we supposed to thank him for the memories, for all the sweet swings, for the Manny Being Manny laughtrack?

Are we supposed to look back in awe at the 2,574 hits, the 555 homers, the .585 career slugging percentage, the .996 OPS?

Well, we would have -- in another time, in another context. But not now.

[+] EnlargeManny Ramirez
Kim Klement/US PresswireManny Ramirez's Rays legacy? One hit in 17 at-bats and a second positive test for PEDs.

Look at that stat line again for a moment. It's one you haven't laid eyes on a whole lot, even if you've rummaged from one end of the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia to the other.

Just three players in history have ever assembled those numbers -- that many hits, that many homers, that high an OPS and slugging percentage.

One was Babe Ruth, who might have tested positive for too many cheeseburgers once upon a time but otherwise remains his same old iconic self.

And who were the other two? A couple of dudes named Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez. How 'bout that?

You just can't beat the convergance of PED forces that led one of them to retire on the same day a jury was deliberating the other guy's fate in federal court. Whoever writes these scripts, just know the sportswriting community out here truly appreciates it.

We'll never know how many hits or how many home run trots either one of them would have wound up with if they hadn't flunked chemistry class. But what's so sad about this day is that it won't be those hits, those trots or their baseball accomplishments that define them now.

It's this.

We can assess Bonds and his legacy some other time, though. For the moment, this is still Manny's stage. Lucky him.

Every once in a while, some scout or some longtime minor league manager will start waxing lyrically about the greatest young hitters he ever laid eyes on. It normally doesn't take long before the name, Manuel Aristides Ramirez, comes up. He was that special.

Way back when. When he was just a baseball player. When he wasn't the one, the only Manny.

Too bad this guy couldn't have let his work-of-art bat do all his talking. We'd have loved that tale.

Instead, what we got was a man who sabotaged every happy story he wrote for himself.

There was the criminal my-knee-hurts-just-don't-ask-me-which-one conscientious-objector strike which propelled him right out of Boston.

There was the embarrassing one-pitch-ejection fiasco that wiped out the last vestige of the Dodger good times in Mannywood, just last August.

And now this:

Not just one, but two unfortunate infringements of the PED law of the land -- both of them coming at a point in his career when his Hall of Fame ticket had already been punched, had he just been savvy enough to avoid apprehension.

But nope. Couldn't do that. Couldn't dodge the testing strike force. Couldn't even muster up one last flimsy alibi to try to make it look good.

Instead, the end for Manuel Aristides Ramirez came in a vague, one-paragraph, four-sentence news release, authored by his admirers at Major League Baseball.

That's no way for one of the greatest hitters of all time to take his final bow. But unfortunately for good old Manny Being Manny Ramirez, that bow wasn't all he took.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest 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.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com