He’s back, and despite suggestions to the contrary, the attention and hoopla he received is neither surprising nor unwarranted.
On July 3, Manny Ramirez returned to the Dodgers’ lineup after serving – sort of - his 50-game suspension for violating MLB’s drug policy. The 50-game suspension, it turns out, only applied to Major League games, so Manny tuned up for his return to the majors by playing in a total of five games for two of the Dodgers’ Minor League affiliates. Fans flocked to see the dreadlock-flowing rock star, with sold-out crowds cheering his every move.
A number of theories have been advanced to explain why there has not been more criticism of the slugger in the wake of his half-hearted admission that he “made a mistake.” There is some truth in all the theories, from Manny projecting a lovable persona (which in reality is mostly false), to the fact that he has served his sentence, to the public doesn’t care about the steroid issue in baseball, to Manny’s actions are merely a reflection of society.
Manny’s own take on his situation may also be instructive. The slugger told a group of reporters after a June 9 workout at Dodger Stadium (no, workouts at Major League ballparks weren’t on the suspension list, either), “I didn’t kill nobody, I didn’t rape nobody, so that’s it, I’m just going to come and play the game.” Of course, even if he had killed or raped somebody, it is doubtful the love-fest would have been different (see Ray Lewis and Kobe Bryant).
It isn’t just the fans who have embraced and coddled Manny. MLB allowed the slugger to remain on the All Star ballot during his suspension. The Dodgers served as apologists for him even as he refused to apologize for himself (Ramirez did issue an apology to his teammates – “for not being there for them” - hours before he took the field for his first game back against the San Diego Padres). His teammates supported him as if he had taken an aspirin instead of a female fertility drug, most likely as part of a carefully orchestrated plan to mask the use of performance enhancing drugs.
The media chronicled his every move – and non-move – as if the fate of the world hung on his words or deeds. The Boston Globe – teetering on the brink of bankruptcy – flew a reporter 3,000 miles cross country to chronicle Ramirez’ game against the Padres. And the fans, bless them, just wanted to be in his presence, as if Ramirez is the answer to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth.
The reason for all the hysteria is obvious. Ask yourself this: If Manny had been just another ballplayer, would anyone care? Would we even remember his name? According to Maury Brown at the businessofsportsnetwork.com, there have been a total of 29 Major League players, including Ramirez, and 229 Minor League players who have been suspended under baseball’s drug policy in the past five years. Other than Ramirez, how many of them can the average fan name? If any of those other 257 players were as talented or as well known as Manny, you can bet we would remember their names.
Much has been said and written about Manny, before, during and after his suspension. But this much is certain: He is one of the most talented hitters of his era, perhaps of all time. To most of us, that’s all that matters. The same Dodger fans that lived to boo Barry Bonds when the rival Giants came to town will cheer Manny on July 16 at his first post-suspension home game. And you can bet that the same fans who cheered Bonds in San Francisco will boo Manny when the Dodgers come to town on August 10.
If you have talent, you get a pass on most indiscretions that haunt the average human being. It has always been thus. Manny is a star, an entertainer, so the consequences of his suspension - the loss of more than $7 million in salary notwithstanding – and the hit to his reputation are virtually non-existent.
Of course, that could all change in the unlikely event that Manny’s talent erodes and he hits .220 for the rest of his career.
Jordan Kobritz is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. Jordan can be reached at
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