You can't blame New Mexico residents for flocking to the Albuquerque Isotopes' stadium to witness Manny Ramirez's cameo appearance. After all, New Mexico is one of the 25 states without a professional team; it is completely void of sports celebrity.
What is inexcusable, however, is that the league has allowed Ramirez to play in the minors in the first place. Even worse is ESPN's overabundant coverage of his every at-bat for the Isotopes. Why is a "rehab stint" for a Triple-A team getting so much exposure?
He is at the tail end of a suspension for female fertility drugs, which are used to mask steroids in tests. But the Dodgers' "Mannywood" fans stand by him. He's been known for zany antics that often cross the line to inappropriate behavior, but he’s always excused by the phrase "Manny being Manny." Well, fans will be fans.
Now he has been receiving thunderous applause from New Mexico, because for these past few exciting days of their typically boring year, they have felt like a real state in sports. This is understandable.
But why does the league permit such commotion, and why are ESPN and the rest of the nation giving Ramirez applause? Isn't he still suspended from the MLB for cheating?
Twenty years ago, a player was outcast from society for cheating, his reputation never to be salvaged. Today, it seems that America roots for the cheater more than the underdog. Maybe they have no choice—steroids have run so rampant in the '90s and 2000s that anyone with elite talent is suspect.
The best player of this era, Alex Rodriguez, is the active poster boy of the steroid era, with Ramirez joining as his right hand man. Retired but not relieved of allegations are Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, and Roger Clemens.
That accounts for five of the top 12 all-time home run hitters (Bonds is first) and arguably one of the best pitchers ever.
Maybe it's too late to demand outrage, because the national fanbase already seems desensitized to the concept of Major League cheating. Last decade, bandwagon fans helped save post-strike baseball during McGwire and Sosa's single-season homer campaigns. Then Bonds crushed both the single-season and all-time homer records.
Clearly, everyone's blinders were on because of the nation's fawning admiration for the long ball. All three players have since been exposed as frauds, seemingly revoking the collective impact of their feats. That was a big hit for the game to take.
But those fallen stars led to the desensitization, which has worked perfectly for Ramirez. He already pissed off Boston and was sent packing to L.A., where he was welcomed warmly.
Now he has pissed the wrong thing into an MLB official's cup and again has been sent packing. This time, his warm welcome comes from Albuquerque. Where will his warm welcome be the next time he lies, cheats, or exhibits disloyalty?
The eradication of professional class and sportsmanship is epitomized by Major League Baseball. It is the laughingstock of professional sports leagues, to the point where even the NFL is looking down at baseball. An NBA referee has been imprisoned for throwing and betting on games, and pro basketball still has fewer dark clouds than the MLB.
There are a few possible ways to try to restore the dignity of the national pastime.
The first is to resist the urge to forgive the offenders so easily. This goes for the fans, the media, and all facets of the league itself. The decision to enforce a 50-game suspension for any player’s first positive test was a crucial step in the right direction. However, it should be taken even further.
Commissioner Bud Selig should make examples of the cheaters. He should disallow mid-suspension rehab stints like Manny's vacation to New Mexico. A suspension should mean no competitive play, for major or minor league teams. The player's organization would still have the option to place him in a rehab assignment upon returning from the suspension.
Also, the league should prohibit the suspended player from playing in the All-Star Game. There are countless reliable, clean players who deserve the honor more than someone who took a banned substance to bolster his game.
Sure, All-Star voting is at the discretion of MLB fans. So the name of the cheater should be removed from the ballot and barred from write-in votes.
Lastly, any player with tainted statistics due to performance-enhancing drugs should be forbidden from the record books and the Hall of Fame. If they were caught cheating, they shouldn’t be able to write history. Injecting yourself with steroids is like going back in time, messing with the numbers, and claiming victory when you come back on top.
The concept of immortalizing steroid abusers for their on-field feats is shameful to the game and its forefathers. Not to mention, it sends out a deplorable message to the youth fanbase.
Obviously, some of these suggestions are harsh. But if the situation is not confronted as aggressively as possible, the dark clouds will persist.
If steroids elevate players to fame, then positive steroid tests should negate that fame. As punishment, the league should nullify the guilty party's profit gained through the illegal act.
You can't rob a bank, get caught, get thrown in jail, get released 10 years later, and go home to the million dollars you originally stole. You lose all that you gained during the illegal act.
As for ESPN, the network should stop acting like the sports section of the tabloids. When Brett Favre retires and unretires again and again, viewers are bombarded with round-the-clock Favre coverage. This year, it even got to the point that a few analysts uttered sarcastic quips, as if to say "here we go again."
Now, Ramirez gets in trouble, and ESPN shines the spotlight on him before he even returns from suspension. If viewers wanted to give a person their undivided attention for doing the wrong thing, and offer them undeserved glorification, they would watch Jon and Kate, Paris Hilton, or Kim Kardashian’s shows.
The majority of fans just want to watch good, clean, competitive sports. It's doubtful that most SportsCenter viewers hope for opening highlights of a suspended baseball player—especially when he goes 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a groundout in a Triple-A game.
It’s bad enough when big league stars tarnish the image of the MLB with steroid use. But it's contradictory and wrong for the league to give these offenders "get out of jail free" cards.
Even worse is ESPN's ratings ploy to further deify players like Ramirez, especially mid-suspension. True stars have no need to cheat; they deserve the media overexposure.