Poster Child: Manny Ramirez and MLB’s Drug Testing Policy

In the last decade, the innocence of Major League Baseball has been rocked by performance enhancing drug scandals involving the sport’s biggest stars.  Since a steroid precursor was found in the locker of Mark McGwire during a season when he went on to hit 70 home runs, Major League Baseball has taken a hard stance against the use of performance enhancement drugs by its players.  Such a stance was inherently necessary in an age when many believe that most of the greatest players of the last decade will not make it into the halls of Cooperstown, because of reputations tarnished by alleged performance enhancing drug use.

In recent months, many have observed that MLB is prepared to apply its drug testing policy and subsequent punitive measures equally to its big-name stars and to lesser known players.  This equal application has been seen most recently in MLB’s treatment of last year’s National League MVP, Ryan Braun.

In the early 1980s, to combat what former President Richard Nixon coined the “war on drugs,” the D.A.R.E. program was created.  Recognizing that a drug battle was being waged on its own fields, MLB adopted its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program in August 2002.  In 2004, the program’s punitive measures went into effect.  The most widely known of these punitive measures is that related to performance enhancing drug use.  A MLB player testing positive for performance enhancing drugs for the first time receives a 50-game suspension under the program.  Second offenders receive 100 game suspensions.  If a player tests positive for performance enhancing drugs three times, they are banned from MLB play for life.

While the success of the D.A.R.E. program is debatable, one method the program instituted to sway America’s youngsters away from drug use was to show them how drug use could negatively affect their lives.  If MLB wished to deter its up-and-coming stars away from performance enhancing drug use, they should merely point them to the story of Manny Ramirez.

Ramirez’s fall from the graces of baseball elite is the perfect example that the punitive phase of MLB’s drug program is operating properly.

In the history of MLB, only 13 men have hit more home runs than Ramirez’s 555 career home runs.  His career has been graced with glory, seeing that he is a 12-time All-Star, who has played on two World Series winning teams, and even captured the World Series MVP award in his first go-around.  Ramirez last won the World Series in 2007 with the Boston Red Sox.

In its “what not to do” presentation, MLB would arguably point to 2007 as the beginning of the end of Ramirez’s triumphant domination of MLB.  In 2009, Ramirez tested positive for a banned substance and received a 50 game suspension.  This suspension relegated him to the ranks of minor league baseball.  Although he would achieve some career highlights after completing his suspension, including passing Mickey Mantle on the home run leader list and hitting for his 2,500 career base hit, Manny was never Manny again.

In 2010 he hit .261.  In 2011, he hit .059.  His 2011 wasn’t given much time to improve, because he abruptly retired five games into the season after reports surfaced that he had again tested positive for a banned substance.  This second positive test meant that Ramirez would now be forced to sit out 100 games.

Ultimately, Ramirez “retired” and attempted to play in the Dominican Republic.  When this plan was thwarted by MLB because of its relationship with the baseball league in the Dominican Republic, Ramirez ultimately reached an agreement with MLB, requiring him to only serve a 50 game suspension.

Yet, the damage was done.  Although Manny was technically “back,” few teams took the bait and expressed interest in signing him.  Ultimately, the Oakland A’s, who have had what can only be described as the most interesting of off-seasons, signed Ramirez to a one-year contract.

However, this contract did not mirror Ramirez’s most-recent contract in any sense of the imagination.  In 2011, Ramirez received a one-year deal from the Tampa Bay Rays worth $2 million.  The deal with the A’s is only worth $500,000.00, and perhaps even more embarrassing, is that it is a minor league contract.  That being said, Ramirez only earns the $500,000.00 when he makes the ranks of the A’s roster.  So, there is a great possibility that given his performance in recent years, that Ramirez could be playing AA ball for what he’d consider peanuts in 2012.

Ramirez’s story is one that no true baseball fan can find any pleasure in.  Ramirez was a fan favorite in many of the cities he played in.  Teams loved him for the marketing opportunities his persona brought.  Dodgers fans in particular can attest to this, as an area of Dodger Stadium was renamed Mannywood and many braved traffic for the “Manny Bobblehead Night” game.

Yet, Ramirez’s story is one in which MLB can use to set an example for future stars.  It is a lesson that talent and performance numbers alone do not buy you a way out of complying with MLB’s policies.  It is an example that even if only 13 men in the history of baseball have hit more home runs than you, that non-compliance with policies may limit your options for playing baseball to the minor leagues.  Most importantly, though, Ramirez’s story is proof that MLB and its teams plan to hold those who violate the sport’s drug testing policy accountable.

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