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Sports Then and Now

Manny Ramirez’s Legacy Comes With a Black Cloud

Posted on April 09, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Manny Ramirez is retiring after a week in the lineup of the Tampa Bay Rays.

On some fronts the news that Manny Ramirez is retiring from baseball to avoid his second suspension under the banned substance policy is shocking. However, given the combustible nature of his personality, you had to know that he wouldn’t exit baseball in a conventional manner.

Now, with the reality that this player with unquestioned Hall of Fame credentials has failed not one (during the 2003 anonymous testing), not twice (50-game suspension in 2009), but now three tests for using a substance related to performance enhancing drugs, the debate begins about whether he is indeed worthy of being in the Hall of Fame.

In some ways, the case of Manny Ramirez is going to be significantly more difficult to judge than that of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.

In the cases of all four of these players you have a significant body of work before you know that they started taking steroids that either shows that using steroids took them from being pretty good to great (McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro) or from great to immortal (Bonds and Clemens).

Because Manny Ramirez was great from the day he got to the minors (.315 batting average in three minor league seasons with 31 home runs and 115 RBI in 1993) and his numbers were remarkably consistent for his first 14 full seasons in the league, it is much more difficult to get an understanding of when Manny started using steroids than it is for any of the players I just mentioned.

In many ways, Manny’s situation is most similar to Alex Rodriguez, who also was a superstar from the day he got to the majors.

When he was confronted with his own steroid use two years ago, Rodriguez attempted to mitigate the damages by putting a defined period around his steroid use. Even though are enough irregularities to believe that his steroid use went beyond the years he has admitted to, for the most part Rodriguez has put the situation behind him and the belief is that he will eventually get in the Hall of Fame.

Should Manny Ramirez be in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

  • No (61%, 11 Votes)
  • Yes (39%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 18

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However, unlike Rodriguez, Manny has not admitted to anything specific and also unlike Rodriguez, he didn’t have a couple monster seasons that seemed too good to be true.

At his best, Ramirez brought excitement to the game and could carry a team on his shoulders.

Between 1995 and 2008, Ramirez eclipsed 30 home runs 12 times and 40 home runs during five seasons. He also drove home more than 100 runs during 12 seasons and hit better than .300 11 times.

One of the things that makes it hard to get a good sense of when Ramirez might have started using steroids is that he never had a season where his numbers were far better than in the rest of his career. His career-best years for home runs, batting average and RBI all came in different seasons and he never finished better than third in the MVP race.

The first season where Ramirez failed a drug test was in 2003. But during that season his numbers of a .325 average, 37 home runs and 104 RBI fall well short of some of the numbers he posted earlier in his career.

He did hit better than 40 home runs again in both 2004 and 2005 and his 144 RBI in 2005 were the third best season of his career.

It seems unlikely that Ramirez was using steroids from the start of his career in 1993, but because baseball didn’t start testing for such use for another decade, we will never know.

The beginning of his career does coincide with what is generally considered to be the start of the steroid era, so it certainly is possible that this young player looking for an edge and a ticket to the majors was one of the first steroid superstars.

The point is that Ramirez is another reminder that during the steroid era numbers really don’t matter. His totals of 555 home runs and 1,831 RBI rank among the top 20 all-time, but basically aren’t worth the paper in the record books.

As we now debate Manny’s place in history, many are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because his numbers were so good and he was such an important part of four teams that reached the World Series and two championship squads.

However, now that he has become a three-time loser of the steroid game, it is likely that in determining his legacy those will end up being the only numbers that really matter.

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