Shocked. Confused. Bewildered. Abandoned. Mostly devastated.
Those words begin, but cannot fully describe how I felt upon hearing that Manny Ramirez took steroids—ahem, I mean performance-enhancing drugs.
You would have to have been under a rock over the past few years not to realize that performance-enhancing drugs are rampant in baseball, and I knew that statistics have ballooned due to an increase in PED usage. I knew that Barry Bonds had done steroids, Mark McGwire injected, and Alex Rodriguez—yes—he used PEDs, too.
Honestly, before Manny got caught, I would have been the first to tell you that PEDs had not ruined baseball and the first to contend that players like Barry Bonds—players who substantially increased their stats and arguably demeaned the entire sport in the process—should still be eligible for the Hall of Fame.
I would have argued that, during the “Steroids Era," enough players abused the drugs that everyone’s statistics were skewed and the most talented players, for the most part, still ended up with the best stats.
I would hear news of the latest player to test positive and think nothing of it. I was immune to steroid talk.
That is, until Manny.
Manny Ramirez was one of my favorite players. I admired his happy-go-lucky on-field persona, his post-at-bat handshakes with his teammates, and I don’t even know what to call it, but the way he points at teammates with two fingers to let them know he’s happy with them.
The one time I went to Fenway and sat in the left-field seats, I was about 20 feet from Manny’s perch all day long. In between pitches, he spent all his time smiling, laughing, and doing his two index finger-pointing thing. I don’t think anybody will argue with me when I say the man had more fun on a baseball field than anybody else I’ve ever witnessed.
No matter what was going on with his contract talks or his conflicts with the Red Sox organization, Manny always had fun playing baseball. He was constantly happy in the field, and never more so than when he was at the plate, doing what he did more naturally (we thought) than maybe anyone else in the history of the game.
The man could certainly hit. Eleven full seasons batting over .300, twelve seasons with over 100 RBI, and twelve more seasons with more than 30 homeruns.
He was a hitting machine, the rare man who seemed to all spectators as though he were born to hit. Everybody thought his penchant for hitting was natural, but teammates and batting coaches swear Manny spent more time in the cage and devouring scouting reports than anybody else.
He was clutch, too; amazingly, only twice since 2003 did he bat less than .300 in a postseason series. He made big hit after big hit, helping lead the Red Sox to their first two World Series titles in over 80 years.
With Manny Ramirez, every time he came to the plate, you always know what you were going to get; he was going to make the pitcher pitch a lot of pitches and, chances are, he was going to make the pitcher regret the one mistake he would make during an at-bat.
Notice how I wrote this entire post in past tense. Manny will never be the same. His career from now on will contain the same asterisk that has been applied to Bonds’, A-Rod’s, and McGwire’s careers.
I will never be able to look back upon his Red Sox career as fondly as I had. I will never be able to look back to the World Series’s without reservations. I will always remember Manny as a Red Sox player, but his legacy will forever be tarnished.
Now I know why there was such outcry over Bonds, A-Rod, McGwire, and everybody else cheating the game of baseball. When it’s your own player, it’s different.
One of the most amazing things sports achieve is creating relationships between people who don’t even know each other. Fans care about their sports figures to an extent they may not even care about their own friends or family members.
Manny may not have been my friend, but after following him through seven and a half years with the Sox, I cared about him, and I trusted him.
Now, I don’t know who to trust. Could David Ortiz have taken steroids? What about Jonathan Papelbon? Could Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett have taken performance-enhancing drugs? Are all my legends frauds?
Manny has destroyed my faith in the game and in the integrity of sports. He may not have cheated the game, but he certainly cheated his fans.