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VOL. 128 | NO. 145 | Friday, July 26, 2013

 

Baseball Can’t Shake PED Drama

DON WADE | Special to The Daily News

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You know that baseball is nowhere close to solving its PED problem when on the same day the Ryan Braun 65-game suspension story breaks, one Manny Ramirez is playing at AutoZone Park for the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A team.

Ramirez, of course, already has served PED time. He’s also 41 years old. But apparently more important to the Rangers, who again are in the playoff hunt, is the possibility that Manny, magically, might have something left. He hasn’t played in the big leagues in two years, but just five years ago he did hit 37 home runs with 121 runs batted in for the Red Sox and Dodgers. Whether he was clean or dirty at the time, the idea of signing Ramirez to a minor-league contract and taking a look is the same:

“If he can help us, I’m all for it,” Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski told ESPNDallas.com.

Manny Ramirez has already served suspensions for PED use. That hasn’t stopped the 41-year-old from attempting a comeback, one that saw him in Memphis recently playing with the Round Rock Express.

(Andrew Woolley/Four Seam Images via AP Images)

The Rangers made it to the World Series in 2010 and 2011, but lost each time. If Manny taking a few at-bats at designated hitter or off the bench could bring them a world championship, why shouldn’t the Rangers get theirs? It would merely make them like everybody else.

Look back at the rosters of every World Series team for the past 25 years. Then look at the names of players who have tested positive for a banned substance, been linked to PEDs through the infamous Mitchell Report or other sources, or have confessed, or been accused in detail, by other admitted PED users or suppliers.

The overlap covers a lot of ground, sort of like peanut shells in the stands.

The 2012 world champion San Francisco Giants gained home-field advantage for the World Series on the strength of their very own Melky Cabrera’s heroics that earned him the All-Star Game MVP; shortly thereafter we learned of his positive test for PEDs and he received a 50-game suspension. Then, with the rest of baseball really wanting to teach him a lesson, he signed a $16 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Oh, and a key hitter on both those Texas Rangers teams that reached the World Series? Outfielder Nelson Cruz, who has been linked to the Biogenesis investigation and could be suspended any time.

Look at the 2009 World Series champion Yankees: They had Cabrera and third baseman Alex Rodriguez, admitted steroid cheat and again in baseball’s sights as part of the Biogenesis investigation and possibly even facing a lifetime ban.

Look at the 2004 world champion Red Sox: Manny Ramirez hit 43 homers with 130 RBIs for them.

Look at the 2002 National League champion Giants: Barry “the cream” and “the clear” Bonds hit .370 with 46 homers and 110 RBIs. At age 37.

Look at the 1998 NL champion San Diego Padres: Third baseman Ken Caminiti, who had won the NL MVP in 1996, admitted in 2002 to taking steroids and died two years later of a drug overdose. First baseman Wally Joyner testified in the Mitchell investigation that he had used steroids and 18-game-winning pitcher Kevin Brown was linked to a former Mets clubhouse man who supplied players with PEDs.

And last but not least, look at the 1988-1990 Oakland A’s World Series teams: They featured Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, the guy who literally wrote the book on steroids.

These are just the convenient examples – a small sample size, if you will.

Two years ago Braun beat Major League Baseball’s positive PED test by challenging the chain of custody in collecting his sample; the sample had revealed elevated testosterone. This time, however, Braun cut a deal with MLB. Braun was part of the Biogenesis investigation and apparently MLB had enough evidence that even Braun could not deny – as he did earlier, boldly saying in a 2012 press conference that “I would bet my life that this substance never entered my body … .”

Players have been more outspoken in their criticism of Braun than any of the other big names linked to PED’s – from McGwire to Rafael Palmeiro to Bonds to Roger Clemens. While Braun still received at least lukewarm support within his Milwaukee Brewers clubhouse, other players took offense to his denials and Lance Armstrong-like arrogance; some even suggested his 2011 National League MVP Award should be seized.

Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who finished second to Braun in the 2011 MVP voting, said he felt “betrayed.” Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer called Braun’s actions “despicable” and said he would like to see the contract that still pays Braun $113 million after this year voided. The Dodgers’ Skip Schumaker, a former St. Louis Cardinal and Memphis Redbird, said he was pulling his autographed Braun jersey from his baseball collection, adding, “I don’t want my son … comparing Braun to me.”

Less than a year ago, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency summarized Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs with two words: “serial cheating.” Unfortunately, that same description applies to what has been going on in baseball for more than two decades.

So while the outrage from a few players is refreshing, it doesn’t signal that real change is coming. The clubs themselves have practiced “serial enabling” from the days of the 1998 Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa Home Run Chase to today, when the Texas Rangers are happily paying 41-year-old Manny Ramirez a $500,000 pittance in an effort to magically find the Fountain of Youth.

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