Friday, May 08, 2009

Manny being Manny

I heard Buster Olney on the radio this morning talking about Manny Ramirez. Buster was whining about the fact that players like Manny Ramirez are essentially ruining baseball. He claimed that Manny was hurting other players by casting all of baseball under the steroid shadow. He cited an unnamed general manager who allegedly voiced concern that Manny, by signing a fat contract, was being rewarded for cheating.

I don’t disagree with Buster or his mysterious GM confidant, but Manny didn’t victimize Joe Torre or the Dodgers’ organization. Both parties entered that deal with eyes wide open. Just because the Dodgers didn’t want to ask why Manny was still such a beast at the plate even though he’ll be 37 in this month doesn’t mean Manny tricked them. Just because Joe Torre says he doesn’t want to believe that steroids are the norm doesn’t mean he actually believes it.

If the Dodgers, or any team, really cared about steroids they’d include anti-steroid clauses in the contracts, but nobody does that. If Major League baseball really cared about steroids they’d implement the same testing policies and procedures used by the International Olympic Committee.

The reality of the issue is that steroids are good for baseball. Getting caught is bad, but as long as players can stay ahead of the tests and beat the system, everybody’s happy. The proof is in the salary structure. Manny Ramirez got caught cheating. He trotted out that sorry “medical condition” excuse, but didn’t see fit to appeal his case to Major League Baseball.

Now it’s possible that Manny really was receiving treatment for a “personal” medical condition that he doesn’t want to talk about. Maybe he wants to get pregnant. But it’s interesting that about five minutes after the announcement was made, investigators identified the drug he tested positive for and experts immediately connected it to steroid use. It turns out that the practice of using female fertility drugs to stimulate testosterone production after a steroid cycle is pretty old school.

According to reports, Manny tested positive for elevated testosterone, which prompted further investigation. That yielded paperwork that connected Manny to hCG, which is similar to a designer drug that was at the middle of the BALCO investigation. This drug is used often enough for performance enhancing purposes that it is listed as a banned substance. Ergo, Manny is a cheater.

What people need to grow up and realize is that Manny is not the exception, he is the rule. There’s too much money being thrown around for these guys not to cheat, especially when the testing procedures are wanting and the penalties aren’t stiff enough. The IOC issues two year suspensions for doping and people still try to beat the system. The Tour de France is also strict but that doesn’t stop dozens of the world’s best bicyclists from taking their chances.

And we haven’t even talked about football. College and professional football players defy logic but for some reason we don’t connect them to steroids unless they fail the NFL’s testing procedure. Former players have called the test a joke, but because they admitted to cheating they are deemed unreliable and their claims are dismissed, but consider this: wide receivers and defensive backs are among the greatest athletes in the world, yet none of them ever compete in international track and field events. Why is that?

Perhaps the NFL doesn’t want players to miss summer workouts, but you’d think that letting a star receiver skip the preseason to represent his country at the Summer Games would reflect positively on the league. Surely none of the franchises would object to allowing a player to take some time off to pursue a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Still, we haven’t seen a prominent NFL player participate in an Olympic event since Willie Gault joined the US bobsled team more than 20 years ago. Maybe that’s just a coincidence.

Maybe Manny’s telling the truth. Maybe A-Rod is too and Barry Bonds never tested positive for steroids, did he? Perhaps we should take them all at their word. Never mind the bulging biceps and 30 pounds of solid muscle that magically appeared in an offseason. Forget about the fact that a 36 year-old veteran is playing with the vim and vigor of a 20 year-old rookie. Ignore the logic that says people shouldn’t be coming back from surgery in four or five weeks.

Just don’t complain when the next superstar tests positive.

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