The joyless swan song of Manny Ramirez
Apparently all it takes is getting busted -- remarkably, somehow -- for drugs yet again.
Manny Ramirez notified Major League Baseball on Friday that he was retiring after he was notified of an "issue" under the league's drug-prevention program.
Out went a terse statement from MLB announcing his retirement, which included this: "Rather than continue with the process under the program, Ramirez has informed MLB that he is retiring as an active player."
What a miserable way to go. It’s one thing to leave without fanfare, but quite another to have to slither off in the shadows.
Manny had already, of course, served a 50-game drug suspension with the Dodgers in 2009 when he tried to get in touch with his feminine side. A second violation would have meant a 100-game suspension.
It points to a man desperate to reclaim the magic that deserted him last season with the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. He finished the season with a career-low .460 slugging percentage (he has an impressive career mark of .585). He was giving it one last go at age 38, but he seemingly didn’t feel that he could regain his bat speed and power the natural way.
Not that it helped. Manny was one for 17 for the Tampa Bay Rays this season. Wednesday, he was benched and did not make the team’s trip to Chicago, with Manager Joe Maddon saying he wanted to give Ramirez a break because he was trying too hard. By Thursday, Maddon was saying Manny had to deal with a family issue.
By Friday, the jig was up. And Manny was done. There was no more fight left.
Such a sad exit. Manny was headed to the Hall of Fame. He was one of the great hitters of his time. He ends his 19-season career with 555 home runs, 1,831 runs batted in and a .312 batting average. Numbers better than Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson.
And in the end, he’ll best be remembered as a drug cheat. If it’s not Barry Bonds’ territory, he’s cruising the same neighborhood.
Manny was always something of a conflicting presence. When he first arrived from the heavens free of charge from the Red Sox in 2008, he was absolutely incredible. Cast away by Boston, he was relaxed and outgoing. He immediately changed the entire culture of the Dodgers' clubhouse. And in my 30 years of being around the Dodgers, I have never seen a position player so electrify a stadium. Every at-bat was an edge-of-your-seat happening.
The Dodgers don’t go to the National League Championship Series in consecutive years without him.
Then last spring he unexpectedly, and without giving reason, stopped talking to the media. He became a more reserved presence in the clubhouse. And though fairly effective, by his standards he struggled at the plate. The love affair with L.A. had run its course, and by the end of August he was waived.
Now it ends in shame, the story of a phenomenal hitter who tried to hang on too long and by any means. There’s no final Manny quip, no dramatic last at-bat, no last chapter to make it right.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Manny Ramirez waits his turn to take batting practice during spring training in Florida. Credit: Dave Martin / Associated Press