A Giant Redemption
Manny Being Manny


May 12, 2009

“Did you hear about Manny?” The question lingered in the air as I thought of all the possibilities. I hadn’t heard, but with Manny Ramirez’ past the possibilities seemed humorously endless. This, after all, was the same man who made trips inside the Green Monster at Fenway during breaks in play to answer nature’s call, the same Manny who left millions of dollars in uncashed paychecks scattered around his locker. What could he have done this time to top his prior escapades? Take a five foot bong into the outfield and use it during pitching changes? Then again, would anyone notice a cloud of smoke in left field or would they assume its just LA smog?


Then the news was broken to me. Manny Ramirez, one of the best hitters of his generation and heretofore exceedingly likely future Hall of Fame inductee, had been suspended for testing positive for steroids. My response was not one of shock nor outrage but rather righteous, vindicated though muffled glee. I didn’t care enough for it to make my day, but the news certainly brightened my morning, as did discovering during my ensuing internet research that Manny had been busted for taking women’s fertility drugs (commonly used in as part of the steroid cycle to restart testosterone production).


I am a Giants fan and a Barry Bonds fan (for Giants fans of my generation, the two usually go hand in hand). For years Barry Bonds and his alleged steroid use was hung as a millstone around Giants fans’ collective necks. “Steeeeerrroooiiidss!” How could we support such a cheat? “73*” How could we stand and cheer as he impugned the integrity of the game? “756*” How could we embrace him as he made a mockery of the most hallowed numbers, the most hallowed records, in sports? In the eyes of fans in LA, Boston, New York, and elsewhere, we were all accomplices to the greatest crime in modern sports. We were as guilty as Bonds.


Bonds had somehow become the unwitting lightning rod of what is referred to as the Steroid Era (which is a misnomer resulting from the baseball world’s continual head-in-the-sand stance on performance enhancing drugs). He and he alone among active players was made to wear an invisible scarlet S at all times. This was preposterous as even by the most salacious accusations Bonds started using steroids around the turn of the millennium, a decade after the first admitted steroid aided MVP in baseball, at least three decades after steroid use became prevalent in the NFL, and 45 years after anabolic steroids began to be used in the Olympics.


Yet in the eyes of the public, the wasteful and vindictive District Attorney’s office [not to be confused with the individuals themselves, they’re the best, I love each and every one of them, and the cops; please don’t shoot me the next time I jaywalk], and the willfully ignorant commissioner and baseball consigliari the only bad guy was Bonds. Sure Mark Mcgwire and Sammy Sosa had rewritten the home run record books and misled Congress, but Mcgwire was retired and Sosa had been affable for much of his career. Sure Rafael Palmiero put up Hall of Fame numbers and had brazenly outright lied to Congress and tested positive for steroids, but he had a better rapport with the media (the racial angle isn’t something I care to delve into here). Others admitted to steroid use but were quickly absolved for their honesty despite the sudden heartfelt vague confessions to minimal and sometimes accidental use of something that may or may not have been a steroid always came after being publicly outed as a user. Giambi, Pettitte, Clemens, Tejada, etc. The list goes on and on (and no, it’s not just the AL East).


Yet Bonds was given the blame. When the Giants would play in San Diego he would be greeted with syringes raining down upon him (none of this was discouraged by the Padres organization, which was so Bonds obsessed they built their new stadium to be Bonds-proof and in the process alienated their own power hitters who could no longer so much as reach the warning track with regularity). In LA the fans spent more time booing Bonds than watching the game (and LA fans’ game-watching time was already squeezed by their need to show up for only the middle 3 innings, missing the beginning and end but making an appearance and “beating” traffic despite half the stadium leaving at the same time). The venom flowed everywhere, especially in the bigger markets as their media played up the Bonds as baseball Satan angle. WWF villains didn’t get the open hostility that Bonds received. Watching Bonds step into an enemy batting box was the sports equivalent of witnessing Osama get on the New York City subway. Watching Bonds unfairly singled out brought Giants fans even closer to him. He may have been a jerk, he may have even been a cheat, but he was our jerk and we wanted others to back off. Instead we were lumped in with Bonds as peripherals to the great evil, Sauron’s minions. Bonds was the mythical ring and if only he were destroyed, the game would be saved and all would be well.


[And destroyed he was. With the exception of making occasional appearances at Giants games, Bonds is being completely ostracized by baseball. Worse, the owners are colluding to keep him out of the game, a major violation of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement (and one that it has been convicted of breaking before), a charge that the MLB players association claims it can prove but is waiting for Bonds’ legal issues to be resolved before pressing their case. His last remaining years of being able to do what he loves and what he is good at are being taken from him while numerous others who have actually been caught (at this point there is a lot of evidence against Bonds but he hasn’t actually failed any drug tests nor has anyone offered any proof of witnessing Bonds knowingly taking steroids) are allowed to play and make millions of dollars.]


Then came news of Manny and Alex Rodriguez, and suddenly there were shards of glass houses raining down upon rock throwing fan bases coast to coast. Seattle, Cleveland, Texas, Boston, Los Angeles, and New York now had to face the reality that they spent years cheering for an MVP level player who was cheating. These fan bases had all known that others who wore their colors had used steroids, but they were lesser names or past their primes when the news came out. But now fond memories were sullied and realities shattered.


Alex Rodriguez, it turns out, has been taking steroids since high school. His use has gotten so out of hand that it’s reportedly an open secret in the New York Yankee locker room and the cause for his teammates bestowing upon him the nickname “bitch tits” in reference to Rodriguez’ unusual pectoral growth as a likely result of chemical intervention. Rodriguez won an MVP in Texas, but Ranger fans can no longer look at that accomplishment with any pride. He was a part of the 1995 Mariners that made the playoffs, beat the Yankees, and saved baseball in Seattle. He was a major part of their playoff teams in 1997 and 2000. Those memories are sullied for struggling Seattle sports fans. He won two more MVPs with New York and led the Yankees to four playoff appearances in his five seasons with the team. New Yorkers overlooked the steroid use of hired gun Clemens, homely Pettitte, and declining Giambi by arguing that their very best players were clean, that Rodriguez was the white night riding in to save baseball’s record books from Bonds. Now Bitch Tits is a career cheat and theirs for another decade at the low, low price of only a quarter billion dollars! 


[Side note: finally, Rodriguez provides affirmation of my theory about how ridiculous it is to assume that a player uses steroids only if they bulked up while in the majors. Nothing prevents a player from using steroids to get to the big leagues. And yet, somehow being a physically imposing power hitter from day 1 in the majors somehow seems to make a player exempt from scrutiny. I’m looking at you, Albert Pujols.]


Best of all is the damage Manny has inflicted. Dodger fans now know that their playoff run last season and this season’s newfound status as a championship contender is built on a foundation of steroid enhanced hitting power. Steeeeerrroooiiidss! Poor Cleveland fans now have to live with knowing that the Tribe’s run in the late 90s when Manny helped them get to five consecutive postseason appearances and two World Series appearances (after having a grand total of 3 playoff berths, all into the World Series, in their first 94 years of existence) is tainted. But the most damage from Manny being Manny is to the psyche of the entire New England area. The same fans who hungered for just one World Series championship before they died for their beloved Red Sox and then turned into their egomaniacal winning-is-our-birthright fans as their hated rival fan base in New York now awake to a new reality. Not only is their 2007 championship tainted, but so is their beloved 2004 championship. Both teams were filled with guys likely to be taking steroids – unless one believes that David Ortiz went from being a no power designated hitter cut by the Twins to a top 5 in the MVP voting slugger overnight by joining Boston on his own – but now arguably their best player has been confirmed as a cheater. The team that New Englanders expected to be happily telling their grandkids about is now the team that they’ll struggle to explain to those grandkids. Suddenly, Barry Bonds is just another user. Suddenly, Giants fans were just ahead of our time. Suddenly, more and more fan bases are finally starting to deal with the fact that their best and most beloved players and teams were likely taking steroids. Suddenly, the tainted number is not 73*, 756*, nor 762*. It’s 2004*.


Welcome to the dark side, fellow baseball fans. Welcome to the gray area in which most people have to live. And lest you forget: 2004*.


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