Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez has been suspended for 50 games for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball confirmed that his suspension will begin on Thursday and he will be eligible to return to the team on July 3.
"Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was OK to give me. Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now. I do want to say one other thing; I've taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons. I want to apologize to [Dodgers owner Frank] McCourt, Mrs. McCourt, [manager Joe] Torre, my teammates, the Dodger organization, and to the Dodger fans. LA is a special place to me and I know everybody is disappointed. So am I. I'm sorry about this whole situation."
A report on Thursday afternoon has more sinister connotations, however. ESPN's T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada are reporting that sources told them that Ramirez tested positive for HCG or human chorionic gonadotropin. The drug is a woman's fertility drug, but is commonly used by steroid users to restart natural testosterone production after coming off of a steroid cycle.
The Dodgers summoned AAA outfielder Xavier Paul to take Ramirez's place on the roster. No one will be able to come close to replacing Ramirez's production, however, which will likely make the team's 13-0 home start a distant memory by the time Ramirez returns to the lineup.
Ramirez is, by far, the biggest star ever punished under baseball's drug testing policy. The other stars implicated in steroid use have suffered public indignity and some face potential jail time for lying about the use, but none has ever been suspended by baseball for using drugs.
While Ramirez may be blaming a positive result on medication, it will be, pardon the pun, a tough pill for the public to swallow. So much trust in baseball has already been eroded that few will accept that he simply took the wrong medication. Baseball can point to the positive test as a sign that their program is working, but will still take a massive PR hit from the news that one of the game's biggest stars tested positive.
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Ramirez's excuse may also hold a little less water with observers because of Jose Canseco. Canseco spoke at the University of Southern California in April and said he was "90 percent" sure that Ramirez was one of the players who failed drug tests in 2003. Ramirez laughed off the claim, but Canseco has been proven correct over and over again. Many will likely feel that this is another vindication of baseball's biggest whistleblower.
Whatever good PR they get from the positive test will almost certainly be doused by the fact that another superstar has fallen under a cloud of suspicion. You can't write much of a history of baseball's recent history without Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa, and all of those players' accomplishments have now been tainted.