When Major League Baseball officials examined the results of urine tests from the slugger Manny Ramirez earlier this season, they became suspicious. While the tests did not show clear evidence of a performance-enhancing drug, there were traces of banned substances present, enough to initiate a process that has now left one of the best hitters in baseball history with a 50-game suspension.
Nearly 30 major leaguers have been suspended for using performance-enhancers since players began penalty testing in 2004, and Ramirez is now the biggest of those names. But he might have not have been punished at all had baseball officials, in following up on his ambiguous test, not asked for his medical files.
It was in those files, said people in baseball with knowledge of the matter, that the officials discovered that Ramirez had been prescribed human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG, a fertility drug for women that men can use to generate production of testosterone after they have stopped using steroids.
As a result, Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Ramirez on Thursday for the documentary evidence tying him to HCG rather than for a positive drug test. But the impact is the same. A player seemingly bound for the Hall of Fame now finds himself permanently tarnished, and baseball is left to cope with another drug revelation about another premier player.
The famously quirky Ramirez, known for his dreadlocks, baggy pants and often oblivious demeanor, had signed a two-year $45 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in March and will now lose about a third of his salary this season. And the Dodgers, who had put together the best record in baseball this season (21-8 entering Thursday), will be without their best hitter until early July.
The suspension is also a significant setback for the Dodgers’ efforts to grow their Hispanic fan base by marketing Ramirez as strenuously as possible. After he was traded to Los Angeles from the Boston Red Sox last July, Ramirez became the hottest hitter in baseball and carried the Dodgers to the postseason. The team’s attendance and television ratings increased significantly.
This season, the Dodgers even formally designated a section of seats in left field as “Mannywood.” In those seats, fans could hope to catch one of Ramirez’s home runs or yell out to him as he patrolled left field.
All that has been put aside for now. Instead, Ramirez now becomes part of an ever-growing group of elite players from the past decade — including Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmiero and Jason Giambi — who have been linked in one way or another to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Of those players, only Palmiero was actually suspended for a positive test. His suspension came in 2005, only months after he adamantly denied using drugs a nationally televised congressional hearing.
In a statement on Thursday, Ramirez, 36, stated that a doctor gave him a medication that was not a steroid for a personal health issue and that he believed he could use it without violating the drug-testing program.