Like Bitter Pills, Manny's Explanation Is Difficult to Swallow

By Thomas Boswell
Friday, May 8, 2009

Okay, Manny. You want us to be on your side. You want us to believe your explanation of how you failed a drug test and got suspended for 50 games with a $7.65 million pay cut. You want us to believe you're not just another baseball cheater who invents a lame innocent-mistake excuse.

"Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me," Manny Ramírez said in a statement yesterday. "Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy."

If you want us to swallow this tale, Manny, you've got to spill a lot more beans. ESPN is already reporting that two sources say the drug in question was a women's fertility drug called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). The drug can be used by steroid users after they complete cycles to get their bodies to produce testosterone naturally again.

Manny, if you weren't taking women's fertility drugs, then what medications were you taking? What drug, exactly? For what condition? Why? Who provided it?

And if you were taking the drug that is being reported, what possible explanation could there be -- except that you wanted to try to mask taking PEDs?

Falling back on "Manny Being Manny" doesn't cover nearly this much ground.

In baseball, trying to cover up what drug you tested positive for is almost hopeless. Once, at a news conference at which Rafael Palmeiro was issuing his steroid-free version of events after a positive test, I had to leave the interview room to take a cellphone call from a source telling me exactly what steroid he had taken. Sometimes, you can't even get the spin out of your mouth before the truth is arriving.

Of course, baseball's latest earthquake feels familiar, especially the player's use of an explanation that attempts to put him in the best possible light.

Just two months ago, Alex Rodriguez -- like Ramírez, a client of agent Scott Boras -- had a convenient cousin who backed his story that every aspect of his PED use in 2001-03 was stupid, but not illegal -- no legal loose ends, no ramifications for MLB to study, a tale all tied up with a perfect bow so A-Rod could get back to baseball.

Rodriguez is expected to return tonight to the Yankees' lineup. To some extent, his explanation of events has been accepted by the public. According to A-Rod, he and his cousin were just a couple of crazy young guys, buying drugs that are legal right off the street in the Dominican, shooting each other up even though they barely knew what they're taking or if it would even help them get stronger. As soon as the cousin materialized, A-Rod got a pass. Tough to prove it's not so.

But Manny may have a harder time, unless he's telling the straightforward truth. At a minimum, Ramírez and Boras need to provide a whole lot of details. Please, don't let Manny have a cousin who's a doctor.

Right now, baseball has nothing but problems. The sport can't even open a new, obscenely exorbitant Yankee Stadium without getting a black eye. The Yanks have already slashed prices just to get people to sit in the best seats in the house behind home plate. But MLB is on such a losing streak that it can't even catch PED users without looking like it may suffer from an ingrained cultural bias. So far, in the last two years, the only players suspended under the program have been Eliezer Alfonzo, Humberto Coto, J.C. Romero, Sergio Mitre and now Ramírez.

"No 'Stan Smiths.' No kids from Nebraska. That's troubling for sure," said one veteran baseball executive.

Until now, despite all the steroid scandals, suspicions and allegations surrounding Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, there had not been a major star who has been nailed by baseball's own new, and supposedly much tougher, program of testing with penalties. But you can't nail anybody much bigger than Ramírez, for whom the Dodgers have gone whole hog with a huge "Mannywood" ad campaign to make him the face of the hallowed, tradition-rich franchise. Do they take the billboards down?

However, now that "Manny Being Manny" has new meaning, players throughout baseball are going to have to confront the reality that a failed drug test can get anybody, no matter how famous or central to the game, and that if such a fate befalls them, it can cost millions as well as enormous damage to their good name and place in the game's history.

If you make a huge salary and know you can be suspended -- without pay -- for 50 games for PEDs, then shouldn't you call together your trainer, agent, doctor and everybody except the family dog and say, "If I get caught with anything in my body that isn't supposed to be there, then I'm firing everybody I can fire and I'm suing everybody else. Or I may fire you and sue you, too. Don't believe me? Meet my lawyer.

"Job One around here is: Keep me clean. So I don't end up under suspicion, like Roger, Alex, Mark, Sammy, Barry . . . And now, Manny."

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