* With PEDs.
“U have no idea!” a Red Sox friend texted at the end of last July. “U haven’t heard half the stories. Ones u have r only half the truth.” The trade of texts ended with guesstimates of just how much the trade of Manny Ramirez had extended the lives of everybody in Boston from the team executives to the clubhouse attendants.
These stories constituted as wide a range of accused crimes and misdemeanors as any modern player has ever collected. But none I ever heard included a specific charge about performance enhancing drugs. That there is surprise at the 50-game suspension, at the perfect dagger through the heart of the Dodgers’ perfect start, is about the means, not ends. “Looks like a great team,” a Dodger told me not two months ago in Arizona. “Watch Manny screw it up. He got his money.”
The stories, dating back to Cleveland, ranged from unbelievable/nonsense to just unbelievable. He supposedly shirked, showed up late or not at all, forced the trade, tried to get it undone. Guys in the dugout said they saw him once picking at his nails, his glove under his arm, as a righty made contact and pulled the ball right to him (he made the catch). His personal hygiene was supposed to be indescribable. Teammates wondered if he was “all there.” As late as this spring a Dodger individual predicted a phony injury. His extraordinary natural gifts, they thought, gave him the ability to wallpaper it all. The near-.400 stretch with the Dodgers last year was an indication of what he could do if he was trying – and if he was scared.
There were some specifics. Last July 6th – maybe the first public indicator something was desperately wrong – the infamous Sunday Night game in New York when Ramirez didn’t start, and only appeared as a ninth-inning pinch-hitter against Mariano Rivera with two out and the winning run at second. Manny never took the bat off his shoulder. Not, he got called out on three Rivera cutters. He never moved. Went silently to the plate, left Boston’s last runner of the loss to fade away at second, left without comment for the clubhouse.
Last July 31st, the Red Sox and Pirates and Dodgers beat the deadline and Manny is gone. And the phone supposedly rings in Boston. It’s Manny, shocked into reality. He wasn’t happy, sure, but he was only doing what the agent suggested to get them to pick up his 2009 option (not that the agent suggested all this) and he was really sorry and he would play his heart out and he’d be there extra-early for BP and he was glad the trade hadn’t happened. And the person at the other end of the line needed several tries before he managed to get the idea through to Manny that the trade could not be undone, that he had to move to L.A., that time would not roll backwards just because Manny wanted it to.
That’s the thing that makes it surprising that we are all surprised today. All the stories about Ramirez could be total slanders. The claims about intelligence and hygiene and focus and selfishness could be utter nonsense spread to make those who survived him look better, gentler, more long-suffering. The Cookie Cutter Excuse No. 3 – my-doctor-prescribed-it-it-was-an-accident – could even be true. But the one continuous thread through every tale, true or false, is exactly the explanation for the PED user who gets caught – a presumption of invincibility and an inability to discern cause and effect.
Forgive the anonymity of the quotes – again – but this was in Glendale in March and a Dodger person (sorry) traded a greeting with Manny and then we watched as Manny joined a group stretching in the outfield. “Look at him wincing,” he said. “I’d be concerned but he told me, now that he had signed, and now that he had gotten his timing in the batting cage, since he hated spring training so much, he figured he’d pull a hamstring so he could get a few days off.” The Dodger person looked only at Manny. “He actually told me that. Look at him. He’s practicing looking hurt.”
I offered that he saw the new contract not as payment for services to be rendered, not as a lifeline to encourage a repeat of last year’s intensity, but as just desserts for what he did last year, that there when you were Manny Ramirez there were no incentives, no forward-thinking. The Dodger person squinted out towards number 99, and finally answered. “Yes. I think that may be it. But who (expletives deleted) knows. When they said that this was ‘Manny being Manny’ in Boston, we had no idea just how much that meant.”
Apparently none of us did.