Manny joins cheat club

KEN FIDLIN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- There are an estimated 20 million people who call Greater Los Angeles home. You could have knocked every one of them over with a feather yesterday morning.

Shocked. Stunned. Devastated. Choose any or all those words to describe the local reaction to the news that Manny Ramirez, who has come to rival Kobe Bryant as the No. 1 sports personality in Southern California, had been suspended for 50 games under baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

And throw in one more word. Outraged. Just hours after the Dodgers won their 13th consecutive home game to start the season, Ramirez, who previously had skated free from any rumours or allegations regarding performance enhancing drugs, had been ensnared in the PED net and will be sidelined until July 3 when his suspension will have been served.

According to ESPN reports, Ramirez was suspended for using HCG, a women's fertility drug. HCG is specifically banned by baseball's drug program and is considered a smoking gun in the detection of steroid use. It is not a steroid but is often used by PED users coming off a steroid cycle. HCG's effect is to kick-start a person's own testosterone production which is often suppressed by steroid use.

In his own defence, Ramirez issued a statement.

"Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue," said the statement. "He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me. Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy, that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now. I do want to say one other thing; I've taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons."

The biggest, most popular player on the Los Angeles Dodgers and the single personality most responsible for the revival of one of the game's grand old franchises as a force in the National League, will have to do better than that vague explanation if he wants to rehabilitate his reputation.

It stretches the boundaries of credulity to think that Ramirez, a finely-tuned athlete at or just past his prime, would need to take a women's fertility drug for some unspecified medical condition. Baseball's drug program has built in safeguards for such legitimate usage. A player can apply for what is termed a "therapeutic use exemption" and while he must show documented medical evidence to back his claim that the drug is necessary, there is no indication that Ramirez asked for such an exemption.

PARALYZING

This could be a paralyzing blow for the Dodgers who have built their entire marketing campaign around Ramirez.

Ramirez came to the Los Angeles last July, traded from the Boston Red Sox in a three-team deal that saw Jason Bay go from Pittsburgh to Boston. Ramirez immediately hoisted the Dodgers on his shoulders and carried them to the NL West title and past the heavily favoured Chicago Cubs in the playoffs before being eliminated by the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Championship Series.

In 53 games down the stretch, Ramirez hit .332 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs.

In the early days of the 2009 season, the Dodgers have raced away to a 61/2-game lead in the NL West, one of baseball's weakest divisions, with Ramirez a clear catalyst.

Manager Joe Torre is an old hand at handling controversy, having dealt with all manner of weird situations as chief lion-tamer in the Bronx Zoo, when he was managing the Yankees. He will have to summon all of his calming influence through this trying time.

As noted, the Dodgers have emerged as the best team in the division and could maintain that position in Ramirez' absence. But how will it affect them when he returns?

On a personal level, Ramirez has now joined that bevy of stars who populate baseball's grey area, tarred by the brush of performance-enhancing drugs. As his career winds down, Ramirez was, until yesterday, a lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame. If he tries to spin this controversy in the same deceitful way that Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens have handled their problems, you can't like his chances.

Ramirez also stands to lose $7,650,273 US of his $25-million salary.

No matter whether he tells the complete unadorned truth, Ramirez was caught by the system and suspended for current use.

Until today, Manny was an interesting knucklehead. Now he's just another cheat.


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