Ever see a clubhouse picture of Joe DiMaggio with his shirt off? There are a few that pop up in books about the Yankee Clipper. His biceps have a bit of definition, but otherwise the only thing that really pops out at you is his ribcage — he looks as if he just came off of a hunger strike. Had I been a writer at the time, I would have been tempted to bring him bowls of pasta. Steaks. Freshly killed zebras. Joe DiMaggio was not a bodybuilder. Thank you for that, Joe.
The foregoing is an oblique reaction to Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension for failing a test for a so-called performance-enhancing drug. According to one article, that substance was a gonadotropin, a substance used to light a fire in underperforming testicles (I believe that in 10 years of writing this feature that is the first time I have typed the word “testicles”). In other words, these drugs kick off testosterone production. Testosterone helps build muscles. Muscles make you stronger. Stronger makes you… Well, we really don’t know that stronger makes you anything but stronger, but you see the reasoning that is at work here.
As always, what is depressing about this development is not its actual impact but the dishonesty that comes with getting caught. Ramirez’s statement on the matter said, “Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me. Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility.”
No, Manny, actually it’s your doctor’s responsibility too, and I fully expect that you will be suing him. Thing is, we know Manny won’t be suing, because then this tissue-paper excuse would collapse. For that matter, he would also appeal the suspension, submit medical records as proof of his contention, and make every effort to stay on the field and clear his name. That’s not what he’s doing. Rather, he’s meekly taking the rap.
Ramirez is seemingly oblivious to much besides his personal comfort level, so I don’t expect him to have much feeling for his place in the game or its history, but it sure would be nice if we had a player or two who felt an obligation to the game who had made them famous multimillionaires and exercised due caution, even excess caution, so they did not get into these situations, whether by choosing to do drugs that the public considers to be cheating, or by asking some extra questions of their physician so as to make sure they don’t get poor advice, as Ramirez supposedly did. In the end, it’s really not what the drugs do, but what the public thinks of them. Unfortunately, all the propaganda has been in the service of the Incredible Hulk Theory of PEDs (baseball has chosen to capitulate rather than educate), so rightly or wrongly, when you get caught the public starts thinking of you the way they used to think of Shoeless Joe.
As such, Ramirez now gets a seat at the table that now holds Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Alex Rodriguez. This is a hitter who, whatever controversies have surrounded him, has been an All-Star every year since 1998, who has 533 career home runs and nearly 1,750 RBIs, whose career slugging percentage is .594. Whatever one thinks of Ramirez personally, be you a Yankees fan, Red Sox fan, Dodgers fan, if you’re a fan of baseball it is disgusting and abhorrent to you that a hitter of this stature is now perceived to have fallen.
A note of sympathy for Joe Torre, a guy whom must have been cursed to live in interesting times. His team has the best record in baseball, in part due to Ramirez’s terrific start. He now finds himself suffering a violent drop in production in left field, from Ramirez to Juan Pierre. That is, to quote Tom Petty, freefallin’. The Dodgers do have some Minor League outfielders that can play a bit, including prospect Xavier Paul at Triple-A (.344/.385/.542 and a big grain of salt at Triple-A) and journeyman bat Val Pascucci.
If they choose to be more assertive than just surrendering to the Pierreness (rhymes with “unfairness”) of life they can try to patch a bit. Regardless, Torre has his work cut out for him. Needless to say, this is one of those meadership moments that can make for a good line on one’s Hall of Fame plaque — if the Old Man can pull a rabbit out of his hat.
If not, the Dodgers, one of baseball’s best teams in one of its biggest media markets, a club off to a record-setting 13-0 start at home, becomes another casualty of steroids hysteria combined with a player’s ignorance, stupidity, and selfishness. Good work, congratulations to everyone. And so we ask again, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”
Actually, if he were here, we’d probably get on him for his cigarette habit. Alas, no one is perfect.
I watched the Alex Rodriguez press conference so you wouldn’t have to, and I have to say that you didn’t miss much. Certainly nothing was said that would convert an A-Rod skeptic or critic into a believer or supporter. Rodriguez hit upon a singularly bad turn of phrase when he said, “I’m here to take my medicine.” However, his answers were basically evasive. He repeatedly fell back on the excuse of youth (he was 25) and naivete, wishing several times that he had gone to college instead of being a Major Leaguer at 18.
That’s fine as far as it goes, but his claims of innocence and ignorance are inconsistent with his other answers. Rodriguez explained that he had little knowledge of the substance he was being injected with, didn’t know how to use it, wasn’t really sure what benefit he received from taking it — he said it was supposed to provide “energy” and did confirm that he felt more energetic — and wasn’t even sure that it was a banned substance. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. At the same time, he felt, he said, that he couldn’t reach out for education, because his use had to be secretive.
These two sentiments seem to conflict. Rodriguez was ambivalent about the illegality of his usage, but felt that he had to conceal that usage. That doesn’t exactly scream “innocent mistake.” Say this for Mark McGwire: he had the stuff out on his locker shelf for all to see, because he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. One doesn’t take pains to conceal what one does not feel the need to conceal. You ever sneak an extra dessert when no one is looking and carefully throw away the wrapper so there’s no evidence? That’s one Twinkie that just disappeared. Could have been anyone who took it, since there’s no evidence to connect you to the crime, whereas, the legit food that came with dinner, you didn’t sneak under the table to eat it. You had it right out there in front of everyone else.
Now, we all conceal certain things out of fear of embarrassment or ridicule. That is only human — we do not share 100 percent of ourselves, even with our closest loved ones. Maybe you don’t want the wife to know about the time you wound up on the observation deck of the Empire State Building without any pants. More likely, you don’t want the wife to know about the time you thought about being on the observation deck of the Empire State Building without any pants, because that might lead to other, more difficult questions, such as, “So what was it about that scenario that appealed to you?” Her perception of you might change, if only she knew what lurked in the unswept corners of the Id. That’s true of her for you as well, and all of us.
This kind of discretion is distinct from concealing something that you know or strongly suspect is criminal and will open you up to some form of official sanction. If A-Rod was the naïf he claims to be, would he have simply taken a random drug for “energy?” One suspects at least a bit of familiarity with the possibilities of such “aids,” just as one suspects a pretty clear understanding of the consequences of dabbling.
There were other inconsistencies, like this apparent need to rehearse his story with the unnamed “cousin” who suddenly became a major character in the story, one who was not mentioned to Peter Gammons or Katie Couric or Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor. These things hardly seem worth commenting on, except to say that today’s conference was about Rodriguez regaining his credibility, and it doesn’t seem like that happened.
Of course, none of these concerns go to the bottom line, which, as A-Rod correctly pointed out, is that he had his best season in 2007, and there has been a testing regimen in place for a few years now, one that seems to have been successful in nailing quite a few players. There remains little evidence that steroids do much more for ballplayers than build muscle, or that Rodriguez’s numbers were affected in any significant way. He remains one of the best ballplayers in the business and also one of the hardest to like. From the point of view of winning pennants, one out of two ain’t bad.