Manny will soon be Manny again.
Any day now. Maybe. Possibly.
OK fine, nobody except Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane has any real clue when Manny Ramirez might be ready to join the big club, thus ending a lengthy absence from Major League Baseball made up of a sudden retirement in 2011 and a 50-game PED suspension this season. Beane will know when Manny is ready when his scouts say Manny is ready.
Nobody should hold their breath. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported this on Monday:
The A's do have one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time at Triple-A Sacramento, but scouts and baseball executives who have seen Ramirez recently agree with Oakland's assessment that he is not ready for the majors. In addition, Ramirez has been bothered by left hamstring tightness that limited him to one at-bat in the past four games, but Ramirez is hanging in there, he said Sunday.
Technically, Manny is ready. He's not actually ready, though, because he's old, out of shape, out of form and, well, washed up.
So, as a lot of people expected it would, Manny Ramirez's triumphant return to baseball in 2012 is turning into a not-so-triumphant joke. I'll tip my hat to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News for summing it up best by writing that Manny is "a pipe dream of a powerless team."
This was meant to be. Though it's turned into a sort of dark comedy, the Manny Ramirez story has been absurd ever since he washed his hands of baseball in 2011. The saga itself is a mockery of Major League Baseball's longstanding problem with performance-enhancing drugs.
Manny's first 50-game suspension in 2009 was a bittersweet storyline for MLB. It was bitter because one of the game's biggest stars had been nailed for PED usage, and it was a sweet storyline for that exact same reason.
For years, the league had been forced to endure criticism for how it thrived on the exploits of cheaters for so many years. With Manny's suspension in 2009, MLB got to show (a) that its testing system works and (b) that even the game's biggest stars can't escape punishment. The fact that the league got to punish Manny for testing positive for a female fertility drug (see Los Angeles Times report) made him look like a particularly twisted villain.
Major League Baseball was a winner when Manny was suspended, and the league continued to be a winner after he came back. He hit just .269 with a .492 slugging percentage in 77 games after returning to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009. Before his suspension, he was hitting .348 with a .641 slugging percentage in 27 games.
That huge drop-off in production was, in essence, proof that juicers won't be the same if you take their juice away. Score one for MLB.
Manny failed to prove otherwise in 2010, as he hit just .298 with a .468 slugging percentage and nine home runs in 90 games with the Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. He was even worse in 2011, collecting one hit in 17 at-bats with the Tampa Bay Rays before abruptly retiring.
And Manny retired, of course, because MLB caught him again. Since it was his second violation, he was facing a 100-game suspension (see New York Times report). Instead of serving it, he washed his hands of a sport that he could no longer play without, ahem, help.
MLB's victory should have been complete. Bud Selig should have said, "Good riddance," and walked away. That should be have that.
This didn't happen. When Manny came crawling back, MLB was welcoming. Worse, the league allowed the union to talk it into giving Manny a break.
As reported by Fox Sports, the MLB Players Associated believed that Ramirez had effectively served his 100-game suspension when he retired and forfeited his 2011 salary. The league and the union ultimately came to a decision to reduce Manny's suspension to 50 games.
A punishment of this magnitude is still significant, to be sure, but by giving Manny a second chance and slicing his penalty in half, Major League Baseball removed itself from the winner's circle. In the eternal battle between MLB and Manny Ramirez, Manny now had the edge.
The league had one of the sport's most notorious cheaters broken and beaten, and it let him off the hook.
In doing so, the league showed that its PED penalties are not set in stone, but flexible. There are ways around them, even if players have to do drastic things (i.e. retire) in order to exploit these loopholes. That's not the kind of message MLB wanted to send to the rest of the sports world, and things only got worse when Ryan Braun beat the system a few months later (which, admittedly, is an entirely different headache).
The message, in so many words, was this: "Yeah, we're cool with known cheaters. What of it?"
Manny is going to get called up eventually. The A's are desperate for offense, and Manny is a guy who at least has the potential to help them score runs. They'll also call him up because, frankly, they need somebody who can help fill seats.
When Manny does get called up to the big club, the resulting circus will further embarrass MLB. Just as he did when he first joined the Rays, he'll crack some jokes, make reporters laugh, and generally do everything in his power to make everyone fall in love with the lovable version of Manny Ramirez.
It's been a while since the old lovable Manny has been glimpsed, and A's fans should eat him up just as much as the press. A's fans like a good personality just as much as fans of other clubs, perhaps even more so.
Will the two positive PED tests be forgotten? That's doubtful, but few are going to care enough about them to make a scene. For many, Manny's troubled past will be water under the bridge.
If so, that will be another victory for Ramirez, and another defeat for Major League Baseball.
The league should not be in any kind of hurry to forgive known PED users, and it did that with Manny. The league also shouldn't want fans and the media to forgive Manny, and that's going to happen too.
This is not to say that baseball clearly needs Manny more than Manny needs baseball, but baseball clearly doesn't mind Manny's continued presence. There are no hard feelings where there should be a lot of hard feelings.
After what happened last year, Manny should be done with baseball right now. He should be out of the news. His tragic saga should be over.
But he's still around. Still swinging it. Still being Manny.
Alas, Major League Baseball is still a refuge for cheaters.
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