Manny returns to Dodgers on Friday
SAN DIEGO -- Manny Ramirez will be back in the big leagues on Friday night after a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy. His return should be nothing short of a spectacle.
It'll be the start of the Fourth of July weekend, and thousands of blue-clad Los Angeles Dodgers fans are expected to be at sold-out Petco Park to support the dreadlocked slugger in the opener of a three-game series against the San Diego Padres.
Harry the Heckler will be there, too.
"Oh, it's going to be a lot of fun," said Harry Maker, who for years has been ragging on opponents from his seat in left field. "I was hoping that we could have at least one slugger in the game that wasn't tainted. Now Manny has just disappointed me, and he's going to have to pay for it. I am not going to let up all weekend long."
The specific violation by the 36-year-old Ramirez has not been announced, but testing by Major League Baseball showed that Ramirez had testosterone in his body that was not natural and came from an artificial source, two people with knowledge of the case have told ESPN's Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn. The sources said that in addition to the artificial testosterone, Ramirez was identified as using the female fertility drug human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG.
HCG is popular among steroid users because it can mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of the drugs.
Re-signed by the Dodgers in spring training, Ramirez apologized to the Dodgers and fans for "this whole situation." He's largely avoided reporters during his minor league rehab assignment, and it's uncertain whether he'll formally address the media before Friday night's game.
THE BLOGOSPHERE IS ABUZZ
Manny's Buzz Rating
On a scale of 0 to 10, Manny's pulling down a 9 -- a very high level of interest from the social media world. How high? Well, the title-winning Lakers produced a rating of 10, while Orioles phenom Matt Wieters registered a 3 for his callup.
The volume of Manny-related chatter is far greater on blogs and message boards (86.8 percent) than it is on Twitter (14.2 percent). California accounted for 19.3 percent of all posts.
Positive posts: 26.9 percent
Negative: 19.3 percent
Neutral: 53.8 percent
Source: Sports Media Challenge
When he visited Dodger Stadium in early June, he said he was ready to move on and didn't want to be a distraction.
"I didn't kill nobody, I didn't rape nobody, so that's it, I'm just going to come and play the game," Ramirez said.
"Manny's used to distractions, anyway, but I think the players will be happy to have him back and I think they understand what goes with that," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said Wednesday. "But this game is full of distractions. And if we don't win games, we're certainly not going to use that as an excuse. That's for sure."
Regardless of how Ramirez does at the plate, Padres fans will boo and Dodgers fans will cheer.
"I think the Dodger-Padre series down here always brings a little bit more energy but I think this will be heightened because of Manny, because he is one of the true lightning rods in the game today," San Diego manager Bud Black said. "I guess our fans and the game itself will benefit from that."
There's always plenty of Dodgers fans in the ballpark when the two NL West rivals play at Petco Park.
"I wouldn't be lying to say that when he steps to the plate here he's going to probably feel like he's at home," said Padres reliever Cla Meredith, who's been disappointed with the dwindling crowds during San Diego's dismal season. "There's no doubt about it."
Meredith seems fascinated by what he called "one of these rare occasions" in which a player has drawn interest "over this event that's really negative and detrimental to himself and the game. It's really kind of taken on a new life of its own. I've never seen, really, something like this.
"Fans like him," the sidearmer said. "And so he's never really had too much negative stuff about him. He's kind of done his own thing in his career ... And fans are drawn to him. I can see why."
San Diego has provided several footnotes during the steroid era.
Padres fans loved to hate Barry Bonds, who routinely punished San Diego pitchers during his pursuit of Hank Aaron's record. Bonds is under federal indictment and says he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds tied Hammerin' Hank's record of 755 at Petco Park on Aug. 4, 2007, when he homered off right-hander Clay Hensley. Two years earlier, Hensley was one of four Padres farmhands who were suspended for 15 games for using performance-enhancing substances.
In April 2006, a fan tossed a syringe near Bonds as he came off the field in between innings at Petco Park. The syringe apparently did not have a needle. Bonds picked it up with his glove.
In 2002, Ken Caminiti told Sports Illustrated he used steroids during his MVP season in 1996 with the Padres. He estimated half the players in the big leagues were using them.
Caminiti died in October 2004 of a drug overdose at age 41.
"Ken Caminiti broke my heart," Maker said.
Last November, former AL MVP Jose Canseco was in federal court not far from Petco Park to plead guilty to a misdemeanor of trying to bring HCG across the Mexican border into the United States illegally. He was sentenced to 12 months' unsupervised probation. He said he needed HCG to boost his testosterone level, low after years of admitted steroid use.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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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.