See more updates at the bottom of this post
Just yesterday things couldn't have been any better for the Dodgers. They had the best record in baseball and they had just set a Major League record for the best start at home. Now, this once promising season has suddenly taken a dramatic turn for the worst.
According to the LA Times this morning, Manny Ramirez has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and will immediately be suspended for 50 games. We don't yet know what substance he has tested positive for, nor do we know his explanation. However, I have reason to believe that a player can appeal a steroid suspension, so the fact that he reportedly hasn't leads me to think him, his agent Scott Boras, and the Dodgers organization don't believe it's an appeal he can win.
This news is absolutely devastating to the Dodgers. The team has been on cloud 9 ever since Manny came over from Boston and energized an organization and a fan base. He has helped bring the clubhouse together and his presence in the lineup has changed the way teams pitch to LA. It's one thing to lose Manny for 50 games, but it's quite another to lose him under these circumstances. With all of the scrutiny that will come from this, I'm not sure if the Dodgers can recover this season.
The news is also devastating for Manny personally. Financially, it will cost him $7.7 million alone this season. Most expected him to opt out after this season, when the economy would hopefully improve, and thought Ramirez would get the large pay day he wanted (not that his current contract wasn't already generous). Now I expect Manny to pick up his player option for next season at $25 million per, and he'll never get another large contract.
This also seriously jeopardizes Ramirez's Hall of Fame chances. With over 500 home runs, and no significant steroid rumors allegations until today, Manny was a lock for Cooperstown. But now, Ramirez will be lumped in with Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Alex Rodriguez as known steroid users with Hall of Fame numbers. It's obvious that the Hall of Fame has no idea how to evaluate the "steroid era" and if McGwire is any indication, they will just keep voting steroid users out until the tide of public opinion dramatically turns or they have a compelling reason to do otherwise. I've always said that baseball should appoint a blue ribbon panel to determine the Hall of Fame viability for steroid users in order to provide guidance for voters, but it doesn't seem like that will happen any time soon.
Ever since Manny came to LA, his performance has quite frankly been too good to be true. Yes, he was a fantastic hitter in Cleveland and Boston, but he hit .396 with 17 home runs in just 2 months last year. That's super-human, even for the best players. This year, he was off to another amazing start with a .492 OBP and a .641 slugging percentage at age 36. The local media and Dodger fans all wanted to believe that Manny's great numbers were a simply a function of him being happy in Los Angeles. I guess we know better now.
UPDATE 9:43 AM
According to a statement issued by Ramirez, the slugger claims the positive test was due to medication prescribed by a doctor. We still don't know what substance he has tested positive for, nor do we know what medication he was prescribed. But this story seems far-fetched at best.
The MLB banned drugs list is quite clear. Any player of Manny's stature would know to check any medication before taking it. And any doctor who would see a player of Manny's stature would also have to be aware of the banned drugs list and know what someone could test positive for.
If Ramirez's mistake were really that innocent, then I would expect the doctor to come out immediately with an apology, and I would have expected Ramirez to challenge the suspension considering what he has at stake.
I'm sure we'll know more details as this story progresses.
**UPDATE 2 PM**
Tim Brown and Steve Henson of Yahoo! Sports (both formerly with the LA Times) report that a source close to Manny Ramirez claim he was prescribed a sexual enhancer to address his erectile dysfunction. If that is true, it would fall in line with his explanation that he saw a doctor in Miami for a "personal health issue."
Still, there are some pieces that don't quite fit. According to ESPN.com's Mark Fainaru-Wada and TJ Quinn, Ramirez used hCG, a female fertility drug that athletes can use as part of a steroid cycle to restart the body's natural testosterone production. So while hCG is not actually a steroid, nor human growth hormone, it would be used in connection with a steroid and it's on the MLB banned substances list.
So why on earth would a doctor prescribe a fertility drug to address erectile dysfunction? Brown and Henson's Yahoo story interview an expert who questions the prescription as well.
"Testosterone and similar drugs are effective for erectile dysfunction in that they jazz up your sex drive," said Charles Yesalis, a professor at Penn State who has testified before Congress on issues of performance-enhancing drugs. "But far more clinicians accept that affect with Viagra and Cialis. It's hard for me to understand if it was erectile dysfunction why they would use it."
It's hard to see this as anything other than what it is: a player using performance-enhancing drugs to get an edge. Most ballplayers are at their peak between the ages of 27 and 31, so for Ramirez to be having some of his best offensive production at age 36 is unusual, although certainly not impossible.
If Ramirez's story is true, they're going to have to find some doctor in Miami to answer to the media, and even then, I'm not sure how many people will believe Manny.
In the meantime, the "Mannywood" section of Dodgers.com has been taken down, and it probably won't be long before the Mannywood billboards come down around the city.
The Dodgers have scheduled a 4:30 PM press conference for today. I have no idea how the crowd (whoever shows up) will act tonight, nor do I know how the team will react. But remember, they have a record 13-game home winning streak on the line.