Rather than face a 100-game suspension for his second performance-enhancing drug violation, baseball slugger Manny Ramirez decided to retire from baseball on Friday.
During this off-season, Ramirez signed with the Tampa Bay Rays for a paltry $2 million, a fraction of the $25 million salary the Los Angeles Dodgers paid him last year. Had he stayed on with the Rays and agreed to the suspension, Ramirez would have become the first player to be suspended twice under rules that went into effect in 2005.
His first violation came in 2009 and resulted in a 50-game suspension. At that time, Ramirez tested positive for female fertility drugs, often used as a masking agent for steroid users.
Three questions come to mind as we think about all this.
First, what caused him to retire this time instead of coming back to the Rays after a 100-game suspension? Many say that for Ramirez, these decisions are always about the money.
As Boston Globe columnist Tony Massarotti explains:
"In 2009 in Los Angeles, even after missing 50 games, Ramirez still earned $13.83 million with the Dodgers. He subsequently qualified in 2010 for another $25 million. But the Ramirez of 2011 was a on a one-year, $2 million deal that meant he would have played August and September (or thereabout) for a meager $765,432, and we all know that Manny wasn't going to stick around for chump change like that out of a sheer obligation to his teammates."
Second, in light of his two-time violation, does Ramirez deserve election into baseball's Hall of Fame? I think the answer is clearly "no."
Even after his first suspension, Ramirez still had a chance to be enshrined. That is to say, the jury is still out as to whether known steroid users will be elected to the Hall. So at the very least, Ramirez had the same merits as other performance-enhancement drug using superstars such as Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Rafael Palmeiro.
But Ramirez's case now involves a certain hubris (or stupidity) that is unlike the other guys. All players are being tested regularly now. Everyone knows, or should know, that if he uses these substances he will be caught. That Ramirez thumbed his nose at the rules, not once but twice, reveals a great disrespect for the game itself. Such disrespect does not deserve the honor of being in the Hall of Fame.
Third, Does Ramirez's transgressions represent the fall of a hero? No, because I don't think he ever aspired or attained that status.
Make no mistake. At his peak, Ramirez was feared at the plate and fun to watch. He was one of those players who caused people to put down the remote when he came up to bat. Leaving baseball at the age of 38, his career stats are impressive: 555 home runs, a 12-time All-Star, and the MVP of the 2004 World Series, just to name a few.
Even for players who don't cheat, there must be a second component of greatness to their life if they are to be emulated and esteemed. When talking about athletes, we do well to reserve the word "hero" for those who not only accomplish their sporting feats with integrity, but who also act selflessly and for the good of others off the field. Earning the label "hero" should require much more than simply hitting or pitching a ball better than everyone else.
Being a hero may not have ever been a concern to Manny Ramirez, but such an athlete misses out on the greatest good they could have accomplished with their talent and platform.