It really is a shame to see Manny Ramirez go out in the fashion that he has, scurrying away into retirement instead of facing a second PED suspension. Actually, it was more of a shame to see his first suspension last year, which immediately cast him into a shameful collection of baseball players (McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Giambi, Sosa, and Palmeiro) who represented the best the game had to offer from the mid 90s to the mid 2000s, but who also defined an era of steroids, PEDs and rampant drug use throughout baseball and probably will never gain entry to the sports Hall of Fame (at least not while they’re alive in all likelihood).
What is amazing about both drug tests is the basic idiocy displayed in actually getting caught. The baseball drug testing policy is already considered to be among the easiest and most basic to skirt, continually being criticized by the WADA for its lack of transparency and lack of accountability. The CBA lays out exactly what drugs are being tested for, and the players pretty much know when and where they’re going to be tested. The policy isn’t nearly as draconian as what (say) professional cyclists go through, yet players continue to use and get caught. The fact that Ramirez got caught twice is really amazing.
Manny Ramirez retires with these amazing statistics:
- A career slash line of .312/.411/.585
- A career OPS of nearly 1.000 (final figure: .996 for his career)
- A career OPS+ of 154, roughly meaning he batted 50% better than the average major leaguer for his career.
- 555 career homers, averaging a homer every 14.8 plate appearances.
- 12 All star appearances, 9 silver sluggers and 11 seasons receiving MVP votes (most being consecutively from the years 1998-2006, not coincidentally the height of the steroid era).
Leaving steroid and PED use out of the equation, one can easily say Ramirez is one of the 4-5 best right handed hitters of the last half century. He can be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Hank Aaron, and Frank Robinson in terms of being a complete hitter.
Yet, in the end his 2nd drug suspension will define his legacy. He’ll never be in the Hall of Fame, not while we have a voter base that refused to elect Jeff Bagwell in his first year of eligibility, seemingly on the question of whether or not he “could have been using” despite not one shred of proof otherwise.
I’m of two conflicting thoughts on the eligibility considerations for players who used PEDs. On the one hand, the most hallowed records in the game (single season home run and career home run records) were shattered by hitters who artificially enabled themselves to surpass the previous records and forever change the game. Many of the hall voter base are long time baseball writers who grew up idolizing those players whose records were “stolen” by these modern day cheaters, and they will forever penalize the likes of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds for destroying the memory of Ruth, Aaron or Maris. The 2013 hall of fame ballot especially highlights this issue and may be our best test case for how these players are treated.
On the other hand, the culture of the game at the time encouraged and fostered drug use during the mid 90s, and various opinions from players at the time put the overall usage across the entire league in the 75% range. We didn’t discount the pitching performances of players in the dead ball era, nor do we ignore the performance of pitchers in the late 60s who dominated their counterparts during a small era of dominance. We used to have dozens of batters hitting .400 prior to the turn of the century, yet now the best hitters in the league hit in the mid .300s at best. Players in the early parts of the century played in a non-integrated sport, and players in the 60’s and 70’s notoriously used stimulants on a regular basis to make it through the grind of the season. At some point voters need to realize that omitting an entire generation of players based on innuendo or suspicion is doing the game a huge injustice and destroying an entire generation of legacy that merits inclusion in the hall of fame.
There is no good solution. At some point though we need to at least acknowledge this generation’s greatest players. Unfortunately, it probably will take a veteran’s committee 30 years from now to do it.