My fellow Dodger Featured Columnist, PJ Ross, inspired the following with an article you can read by clicking this hyperlink. He also supported me with the insights he has gained from watching every single Dodgers game this season, a few of those in person. He contributed greatly to this effort, and for that, I wish to say, “Thanks Peej!”
Ladies and gentlemen, friends and foes:
Step right up to the three-ring circus that is Major League Baseball!
Where records are being broken by cheaters, and an entire generation of players hang under a heavy, acrid haze of suspicion.
As my friend and fellow Dodgers Featured Columnist, PJ Ross, said to me yesterday in a message regarding who’s dirty and who’s clean, “I think its certainly an elephant in the room, and even though some might jump on you, there are numbers that will back up your argument.”
I’m going to attempt to tackle the elephant in the room. The 800-pound gorilla. I might get squashed like a bug, but somebody’s got to do it, so I nominate me.
I’m going to speculate publicly about a subject that countless Dodger fans have only discussed in private, if at all.
I think that Manny Ramirez is struggling because he’s no longer on the juice.
I feel it would be irresponsible for all of the Dodger FCs to ignore discussing, at the very least, the possibility that something fishy is going on with the team’s megastar.
PJ, who has watched every pitch of every Dodger game this season, is providing observations based on what he’s seen thus far.
Hard Evidence Against Manny Ramirez
This is as good a time as any to repeat some basic facts about the Ramirez suspension that many, many fans (myself included, at one point) fail to recognize:
1. The only thing that MLB detected on Manny’s drug test was an elevated testosterone count; they found no drugs in his system.
2. It was determined that Ramirez took human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) from documents obtained by MLB. These documents then became the basis for his 50-game suspension.
So, am I saying that Ramirez is innocent? That he never 'roided?
Not a chance.
What I am saying is this: we need to get our facts straight. MLB suspended Manny because of documents (whatever they might have been) that proved demonstrably that ManRam had been taking hCG.
The investigation began when he had unusually high levels of testosterone when he was randomly tested. The testosterone was subsequently found to be artificial in nature.
I point this out for several reasons.
First of all, Manny Ramirez himself says that he has been tested for illicit substances “about 15” times in five years.
That means elite athletes have found some very creative (and apparently foolproof) ways to mask performance enhancing drug (PED) use.
Secondly, if you thought there were always obvious physical methods of detecting steroid use, think again.
Manny looks pretty much the same way he always has. I haven’t examined his back for acne, but he’s not bulked up and his forehead doesn’t make him look like a cousin of the Elephant Man.
This leads me intuitively to believe that there is no way to know for certain that any high level athlete is clean.
Just How, Exactly, Do PEDs Help Major League Baseball Players?
Are PEDs and steroids really useful to Major League ballplayers? And if so, then how?
Baseball players rely on flexibility far more than the casual fan understands, so it’s not really about the bulk. Muscle is helpful to an extent, but too much is actually a hindrance.
A baseball player needs strength through his core, he needs endurance for a long season, he needs strong hands, and he needs to be able to recover quickly from training or injury.
PEDs, then, help different players in different ways.
For Barry Bonds, it gave him the extra “oomph” he needed to turn “x” number of hits and fly ball outs per year into home runs, even though he was on the wrong side of 30 when he started.
It also allowed him to keep up his insane training regimen virtually year round without breaking his body down.
For Eric Gagne, the core strength and extra leg push he gained took him from promising middle reliever or back end of the rotation to the best closer baseball has ever seen for about a two year stretch.
All 'roiders will see a boost in energy, endurance, and lowered recovery time; once they go clean, these advantages are stripped away, to their statistical detriment.
The Intuitive Case Against ManRam
Notice what PJ Ross has seen from Manny:
“Manny is certainly slower in the hands.”
This is a very interesting—and damning—piece of evidence.
Muscle memory, reaction time and reflexes are important to major league hitters. Either you have them or you don’t; there’s not a needle in the world that can give them to you.
But a large part of playing baseball is repetition, being able to count on the body to do the same thing the exact same way, over and over again.
Manny Ramirez, through years of playing baseball, can reach out and lash a knee high fastball over the plate with percussive force at any time. He could be drunk, high, or comatose and he would still ride a heater out the park when he gets his arms extended.
It’s the curveball and the inside fastball that are exposing him.
Those pitches require multiple, subtle adjustments as the baseball hurtles toward the dish.
Leg drive gets it all started; the power is generated in the trunk and the core; the forearms, wrists and hands make the adjustments to the bat head.
If the legs and hips cannot fly open explosively enough, you’ve got a hitter who is essentially hitting only with his arms. It doesn’t take a huge drop off in leg strength for the problem to show up, either.
The trunk and core keep the hitter balanced. Take a man off PEDs, and the gradual decline of his trunk strength will cause minute changes in bat head angle and speed that will throw off the hitter’s timing, and leave him spraying balls that he used to power.
It can also lead to a man trying to overcompensate by consciously swinging more with his arms, which further saps his power. He would have more fly balls, but fewer home runs, as he would be hitting under the ball in an artificial effort to provide more lift.
Finally, once a juicer stops with the chemical magic, it is much more difficult to maintain the strength in the forearms, wrists, and hands than any other body parts, because it is so much more difficult to isolate these regions when working out.
Might it be logical to conclude, then, that these areas suffer more deleteriously than the casual observer cares to admit?
The Statistical Case Against ManRam
Let’s look at some numbers. All statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
Here are Manny’s key career statistics, broken down into first and second half numbers:
BAbip = BATTING AVERAGE ON BALLS PUT IN PLAY