Ramirez's drug violation sends clear message to fans, players
The timing of Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension is very significant
Regardless of how Hall of Fame voters react, this will always follow Ramirez
He needs to get in front of the camera and speak honestly about what he did
SI.com caught up with senior writer Tom Verducci after news of Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension broke:
SI.com: Does this show that drug testing is getting tougher?
Tom Verducci: This is a culture-changing event in baseball because a lot of what we know about superstars and performance-enhancing drugs has been going back in time and doing discovery on a different era -- whether that means the survey testing of 2003, in terms of Alex Rodriguez, or Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds from the 1990s. This is really the first time since the stricter testing policy went into place in 2003 that a major superstar has fallen. It's a very clear message to the fans and a signal to the players that the testing and disciplinary processes are blind to the stature of the player. Manny Ramirez was treated the same as anyone else. The fact that it happened now and not in 2003 is very important, and it's a message fans and other players are going to hear loud and clear.
SI.com: What effect do you think the loss of Ramirez will have on the Dodgers on the field?
Verducci: Listen, there's a big dropoff between Ramirez and Juan Pierre, but the good news for the Dodgers is they've built such a big cushion in the NL West that they can withstand this -- I don't want to say easily, but better than most teams could in losing a franchise hitter in the middle of their lineup. They're 21-8 now, so they can go 66-67 the rest of the way and still win 87 games, which, in most years, is good enough to win the NL West. It hurts, but they have a nice cushion to land on.
SI.com: How does it affect the clubhouse atmosphere?
Verducci: I think they're really going to miss him there. Not being able to have him there physically is definitely a detriment. Besides not being in the lineup, the insights and every-day demeanor he brings to the ballpark will be missed by all the Dodgers. I know that's crazy for someone from Boston to believe based on how Manny left the Red Sox, but he really did change the vibe of the Dodgers. His presence will be missed.
SI.com: What is his legacy now?
Verducci: It definitely calls into question, unfairly or fairly, the entirety of his career. I'm just basing that on the way other people have been treated in the same situation. Whether it's Rafael Palmeiro, who failed one test late in his career, or Barry Bonds, who we've had as much evidence of his drug use as any one player. In the court of public opinion they all seem to be treated similarly: There is a taint to their career. You can argue how big that taint is or how much it should be held against Ramirez. The fact is it will now be attached to him forever.
SI.com: How will Hall of Fame voters view Ramirez?
Verducci: I think over time we still have to see how the issue of steroids plays out with voters. So far all we can go by is Mark McGwire. I don't think Rafael Palmeiro will be getting in, but he's on the ballot. In the short term it doesn't look good for Manny, but it's an issue that will continue to evolve. We're a long way from Alex Rodriguez or Manny being on the ballot. None of us are smart enough to see how these players will be viewed down the line. The waiting period is important to really examine what went on with players. It's important to step back from it all and judge a very tainted era.
SI.com: How is Ramirez doing in terms of damage control?
Verducci: I think Manny needs to get in front of the camera. I think one of the best things he has going for him is his charisma; his personality. He's a very likeable person. He's better served by speaking honestly from the heart than by letting overly prepared statements speak for him. People are forgiving in general, but even more so when it's a person like Manny. His response should be one that's very personal, and he should take control of the situation himself. A statement without Manny standing behind it is literally the least of what he could do.
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