Manny Ramirez, the popular but mercurial slugger for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has been suspended 50 games for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
The suspension was announced Thursday afternoon. A statement from Manny Ramirez claims that he received the substance in question from a physician in Florida. He claims that his use was not recreational, and that he was unaware that the drug was banned.
Early reports indicated that Manny would appeal the suspension, and there were even arrangements made for a hearing to be scheduled in Los Angeles. According to ESPN's Peter Gammons, though, Manny backed off at the last minute and declined to appeal. Ramirez has taken public responsibility for using the substance, saying: "LA is a special place to me and I know everybody is disappointed. So am I. I'm sorry about this whole situation. "
There has been no official word on what the substance was that triggered the suspension. But ESPN writers T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada — famous for writing the Barry Bonds/BALCO expose Game of Shadows – are reporting that it was hCG, a women's fertility drug. According to the American Pregnancy Association's website, hCG is produced during pregnancy by cells that form the placenta. WebMD states that hCG levels can be tested to determine pergnancy but may also be affected by tumors.
That sounds innocent enough, but it fails to explain what an otherwise healthy adult male such as Ramirez would need them for. T.J. Quinn, speaking on an ESPNews broadcast, states that despite its uses as a female fertility drug, hCG is used almost exclusively by steroid users. hCG helps renew the body's ability to make testosterone. This is made necessary when steroid users have been doping for a certain period of time, inhibiting their body's ability to produce testosterone naturally. Not only does hCG seem to indicate steroid abuse in the vast majority of cases, but the substance itself is banned under baseball's drug policy, since it does enhance the body's testosterone levels.
Despite an official statement both from Ramirez and the MLB, there is some confusion as to how the substance was detected. It may or may not have come as part of baseball's random drug testing. Quinn reports that the hCG wasn't actually detected at first; his sources report that the only abnormality that registered was elevated levels of testosterone. This led investigators to determine what was responsible for the high levels of testosterone, and the use of hCG was indicated, reportedly, through documents uncovered during the process.
It was this lack of a smoking gun, so to speak, that fueled speculation that Ramirez would lodge an appeal. His last-minute decision not to has raised some questions, with some speculating that Ramirez feared further incrimination during the appeals process. By declining an appeal, the matter is settled as far as the MLB is concerned.
This revelation has produced an instant outcry from the sports media. Peter Gammons tells us Ramirez's side of the story (in a manner that makes him sound more like Ramirez's agent than a journalist), whereas Fox Sports contributor Ken Rosenthal has nothing but contempt for Manny, not only for using but for getting caught at a time when a player's bodily fluids are under incredible supervision.
Ramirez's suspension casts a harsh shadow over a Dodgers team whose 21-8 record is the best in baseball. Not only that, but the Dodgers recently set a new record by notching 13 straight wins at home to begin a season. They've won seven straight and sit a comfortable 6.5 games ahead of the second-place Giants. Ramirez was the engine behind the Los Angeles offense, hitting .348 with 6 homers, 20 RBI and an incredible .492 on-base percentage. The bulk of the playing time in left field will likely go to Juan Pierre, a prospect that should send a cold chill up the back of Dodger fans.
There are still many unanswered questions surrounding this story. We'll have to keep looking to learn more and get some confirmation of the early reports coming from ESPN and T.J. Quinn. Either way, though, it looks like "Mannywood" will be out of action for nearly two months.