Fair warning: this is just one blogger’s view of Manny Ramirez and performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). I’m not here to judge Manny’s intentions or crucify him for his decisions and I don’t have any grand solutions for the PED issue in Major League Baseball. This is just my take on his positive test and how it impacted me.
As you know, Manny tested positive for using a testosterone-generating PED, hCG. The hormone is often used to speed the generation of testosterone at the end of a steroid cycle. Under MLB’s drug testing program Manny must serve a 50 game suspension effective yesterday.
Many of the superstars (and regular players, for that matter) from baseball’s steroid era have been indelibly linked to steroid or PED use. Manny, however, was seen as something of a man-child, baseball’s answer to the idiot savant. His antics were frustrating but often charming (at least to me and, I suspect, most of Red Sox nation). The man-child persona also had the unintended benefit of giving him some cover in the endless debates on which players were juicing. The argument went something like this: “Manny would never use PEDs. The guy peed in the scoreboard at Fenway during a pitching change! He’s not sophisticated enough to pull it off.” I’ve heard plenty of versions of it and, in full disclosure, I’ve used it a few times myself.
Well, the man-child defense just got thrown out the window. Turns out he was sophisticated enough*. It’s pushed me to the point where I cannot escape this conclusion: if Manny did it, everyone did it.
*Incidently, the Boras factor should not be overlooked here. I’m not saying that Scott Boras gave Manny PEDs: I have no proof or even any circumstantial evidence of this. I am saying that Boras’ two most high-profile clients have been linked to PED use in the past four months. That counts for something in my book.
Now I know this is not exactly breaking news. It’s been a common point of view for several years now, but it just resonated more for me when Manny tested positive. You see, I’ve long been that guy who defended steroid-era players. I may have suspected that certain players were using PED’s, but I just didn’t want to believe it until it was unavoidably obvious*. My typical defense? “Well sure, Player X used PEDs, but Player Y didn’t because (insert lame excuse).” Well, you know what? Too many Player Y’s went on to fail a drug test or be otherwise implicated. Manny and his man-child persona were the straw that broke my back.
*The one exception? Roger “The Rocket” Clemens. I wanted that bastard to be caught red-handed with a steroid needle in his ass. Needless to say, I’m a big Brian McNamee fan.
Which brings me to Mike Piazza. Not to get all Jeff Pearlman on you, but Manny’s positive test has finally led me to the point where I can no longer defend Mike Piazza in the PED debate. This is NOT to say that I believe he used them. Quite the contrary, actually. He’s always been a stand-up guy, someone who represented himself, his family, and the franchise with pride. Beyond that, he’s one of my favorite players and I hope beyond hope that he’s never implicated. But here’s the rub: I can’t honestly say that I’d be surprised anymore if evidence came out today proving that he did use PEDs*. That’s the saddest thing about the Manny affair: it finally stripped me of the last shreds of my doubt and disbelief.
*And by the way Jeff, I need more more than circumstantial evidence or anonymous sources. I’m willing to believe you based on your body of work, but you have to do better than some snide “backne” comments. Come out with something more substantial or stop taking shots at Piazza. Considering the fact that you wrote one of the best Mets books ever, it’s downright infuriating to me that you took that route.
It’s not fair to Piazza, or Frank Thomas, or Pedro Martinez, or any other superstar from the steroid era. But hey, it’s not fair to us fans either. We now live in a reality that mandates we doubt every single statistical achievement from that era because the “good” guys can no longer be reliably separated from the “bad” guys. And that’s just rotten for all of us.
In seeking the silver lining to this mess, I came up with this: the fact that one of baseball’s biggest stars was snared by MLB’s drug testing program indicates that it is working. Yes, it’s imperfect and yes, cheaters will find ways around it. But it offers a respite to the fan: if you’re favorite player never tests positive, you can at least rely on the fact that he regularly passed a test for chemical enhancements that one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time failed.
That’s where David Wright comes in (and Jose Reyes, Daniel Murphy, and others of that age bracket). As he continues his assault on the Mets’ record book, we know that David has not failed a drug test. Until he does, we can be reasonably assured that he’s clean. Should he make it through his entire career without failing a test, we can refer back to his body of work without the spectre of PEDs hanging over it. And that’s at least a start.
Granted, this is not the greatest silver lining I’ve ever come up with. I’d love to be able to say that David positively does not cheat because he hasn’t been caught (I do believe that, by the way). The reality is that MLB’s testing program is far from perfect. There are no reliable means to test for some human growth hormones in use today, and MLB’s tests will always be reactive rather than proactive. It’s in the nature of the beast that chemsists will invent new performance enhancers and athletes will use them until they are caught. The cycle will repeat itself and we’ll be forced to look back on their achievements with doubt, wondering when exactly they became tainted.
At least a supervisory structure exists now. Is it perfect? No, it’s an imperfect solution that will produce imperfect results. I’m angry that the best I can say about David Wright is that at least he hasn’t failed a test yet, because I genuinely think he doesn’t use PEDs. But then, I thought that about Manny. Look where that got me.