Man Oh Manny: Ramirez' gaffe further complicates baseball's numbers game

Will NortonCorrespondent IMay 9, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 30:  Manny Ramirez #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a homerun for a 4-3 lead against the San Diego Padres during the third inning at Dodger Stadium on April 30, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Grow up and deal, baseball.

The problem, as I see it, with major league baseball’s lost sense of self in the “PED age” is that there is a preponderance of historians, journalists, and pundits within the game who simply can’t seem to cope in a universe where the sanctity of records, mystique of all-time stars, and innocence of baseball’s storied past are threatened by disingenuous, devilish drug users whose very existence in the game and in the record books is reason enough to call in Congress, drown the public in a flood of steroid-related tidbits, and take a huge degree of attention off the real stories of the present season.

I’m sick of it. I’m sick of watching SportsCenter at night and having to watch 35 minutes of Manny coverage, and 25 minutes of crammed highlights, playoff action, and Top 10 highlights. It should be the other way around, to a huge degree.

You lead with the Manny story, and then recognize that by giving it ample coverage and superfluous analysis through legal, medical, and historical lenses, you actually make the story “sports.”

And it’s not. At least it didn’t used to be.

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Throughout the last 50 years, sports has taken a violent turn from being a regional, communal dynamic of the larger social framework, to being the central unit of analysis wrapped up in an insane, Internet-driven SPORTS culture of micro-analysis and fanatical fandom.

It has, in short, become more than it was ever meant to be.

I write this as an avid sports fan, a lover of competition and the purity of many different types of sporting events, and, obviously, a passionate follower of baseball.

But don’t you sometimes have to take a step back and wonder why the character, integrity, and moral fiber of a Barry Bonds, a Manny Ramirez, or a Roger Clemens is really the central focus of the game?

Have we turned these athletes (that is what they are, professionals that get paid to be good at sport) into deacons of society, role models everyone should aspire to, icons that kids can depend on?

I understand the steroids coverage is speaking to and reflecting upon a much bigger story within the game, but give me a break.

Circling back to my original point about the preponderance of people surrounding the game today who seemingly can’t get over the numbers game of it all, quite simply they expect too much.

They’ve hoisted these athletes up on a pedestal and now expect them to carry the torch of baseball’s past into the future, but they’ve neglected the fact that the very nature of sports, the very context by which we watch the game of baseball, has changed drastically.

Today, we have AAU. We have junior hockey leagues bigger than some NHL teams. We have coaches, and trainers, and physicians, and strength coaches…for 11-year-olds.

We endorse private leagues, elite all-star camps, and top-tier invitationals for the most amateur athletes at the beginning stages of development.  

Sports are no longer a sandlot game, an innocent game of spunky, quirky characters. It’s a business, and for some people, the business of getting paid is all they have. There is nothing else.

So when a supplement comes along that may spike your energy levels over 162 games and it’s being sold at GNC, of course a guy looking for an edge is going to take it.

Why the legendary, absurdly talented mega stars like Ramirez and Bonds feel they need that edge, we’ll never know. But one thing is clear: the culture surrounding users like Man-Ram, BB, and thousands of other diamond professionals is one that was created, embraced, and conveniently ignored for years within baseball's inner circle.

This quiet acceptance of the “enhancement culture” was an umbrella Bud Selig and baseball allowed users to shelter themselves underneath for quite some time following the 1994 strike and lag in attendence figures.

And so I ask you this, historian, analyst, or journalist: why do you care? Why have you allowed yourself to become so bent out of shape?

Why have you elevated these now criminals and let them ruin the game for you? And this is coming from a guy who works with statistics, mainly those relating to baseball!

If you’re ticked off that Ramirez, Bonds, Sosa, and Palmeiro have shoved their way into a historical context they don’t belong in, then just be at peace knowing they’ve been exposed as frauds and their numbers are tainted.

If you think Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, and Clemente have been slighted and marginalized because of the pump-up effect steroids had on power numbers between 1980 and 2009, then embrace those old-timers as the best talent the game’s ever seen, and leave it at that. They can still be your hero’s, even if the numbers don’t vividly show it.

All of this is part of growing up and dealing with the fact that the record books aren’t as pristine as maybe we’d like them. They’re not straightforward and innocent. Neither are professional athletes.

There is a context and requisite explanation for many of baseball’s eras, from the dead ball era, to the pre- and post-mound lowering time frames, to the color barrier, to steroids and performance enhancers.  

It doesn’t have to be the central focus of following baseball in 2009.

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