Friday, April 8, 2011

Actions, not steroids, should keep Manny Ramirez out of Cooperstown


By Alan K. Stout
COMMENTARY

When word came down today that Manny Ramirez had unexpectedly retired, and that he had done so mostly because he had failed yet another test for performance enhancing drugs, the talk immediately steered towards whether or not his badly stained reputation would hurt his chances of being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I watched a pretty good discussion of the topic on the MLB Network and heard some others on ESPN Radio, and the general consensus among some very smart baseball people is that Ramirez - despite his incredible talent - will never receive the honor.

I would tend to agree. But Ramirez's use of PEDs is only a part of the reason I'd never put him in the Hall of Fame. I'd keep him out because he didn't always use his talent - a talent that made him one of the most feared hitters of his time. I'd keep him out because he often shortchanged his fans and his teammates. I'd keep him out because, at times, he was a complete bum of a baseball player.

Unfortunately, in all of the discussions I'd heard today, that seemed to had been forgotten. All of the talk was about how great of a player Manny was, and how the juice had brought him down, and how that will probably keep him out of Cooperstown. But if you ask some diehard Red Sox fans, or baseball fans in general, their memory might be a little more clear. I'm sure they remember how Ramirez played himself - or, more accurately, un-played himself - right out of Beantown.

Ramirez was making nearly $19 million dollars from the Red Sox for the 2008 season and the team had an option to retain him in 2009 for $20 million. They had the same option for 2010. But that wasn't good enough for Ramirez, who wanted to be a free agent at the end of the year. Only a trade, however, would put him on the market. So what did Manny do? He essentially stopped playing. And he acted like a fool.

There was a heated altercation with teammate Kevin Youkilis, a ballplayer's ballplayer who always plays the game hard. And there was even a physical altercation between Ramirez and an elderly Red Sox traveling secretary. The two were arguing over the secretary's inability to fill Ramirez's large game-day request for 16 tickets to the game, and Ramirez pushed the 64-year-old man to the ground. In late July, according to Boston.com, after sitting out a game against the Mariners with a sore knee, Ramirez was slated to start against the Yankees. Several minutes before the game, however, he informed the team he would not be playing. During the series Ramirez was sent to an area hospital for MRIs on both his knees, where the results showed no damage. When back in action, Ramirez frequently failed to run out ground balls. And in one of those games against the arch-rival Yankees, Red Sox manager Terry Francona simply asked Ramirez to pinch-hit in a big spot in the 9th inning. Facing Mariano Rivera, the usually aggressive Ramirez never took the bat off his shoulders, taking three straight strikes down the plate.

That's what Ramirez did in the middle of a pennant race. That's how he went about earning his $19 million. That's how he went about repaying the loyal Red Sox fans who had come to accept his zany "Manny being Manny" ways. That's how he played before thousands of adoring young kids at Fenway Park who wore his name on their backs. That's how he played for his teammates.

He quit on them. And he disgraced the game.

Soon - within days of all of this - Manny had gotten his way. He was traded to the Dodgers, where he went on a hitting tear and was rewarded with a two-year $45 million dollar contract. He returned the favor by being suspended for the first 50 games of the 2009 season for failing a drug test. Previously, it was reported that he also allegedly failed a test in 2003 and was included in the infamous "Mitchell Report." And now, in 2011, he's failed yet another.

This, many say, will keep Ramirez out of the Hall of Fame. But to those with a better memory, his actions in Boston in the summer of 2008 provide for an even greater blackmark on his career. Other great players have been linked to PEDs. None, however, ever appeared to not be trying their best to help their team win ballgames.

And for that alone, Manny's door to Cooperstown should be forever closed.

NO EXCUSES: YANKS NEED TO STEP IT UP   TO MANY FANS, ONLY A FULL ROUND OF OCTOBER BASEBALL QUALIFIES AS 'PLAYOFFS'    ...