— The world of baseball executives has become almost as shadowy and secretive as the CIA. They should hold their annual meetings at Langley.
You just never know what they know. They won’t tell. They keep their traps shut. They leak information on a “need to tell” basis. All that fans and media get are informational table scraps.
This Manny Ramirez news is a prime example. He just got suspended 50 games for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.
What did the Dodgers know, and when did they know it? Did they hear any rumors? Did they know the score?
Are they suckers for being the only team willing to sign Ramirez to a contract this past offseason? Or have the Dodgers, and all major league teams, become so numb to steroids, so accustomed to their existence in the day-to-day operation, that they’ll sign a possibly tainted player to a two-year, $45 million contract anyway?
So far this season, it’s been Mannyfest 2009. The Dodgers were riding high before the news broke Thursday. They just set a major league record with their 13th straight home victory at the start of the season. They lead the majors at 21-8. And Ramirez has been on fire, leading the team in batting average (.348), on-base percentage (.492) and slugging percentage (.641).
Of course, those numbers are phony now. They don’t count. They’re not to be trusted.
But does it matter?
Manny clearly is a Hall of Fame-caliber player, even without juice. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Dodgers decided to plunk down a guaranteed $25 million this season and another $20 million — at the player’s option — next season even though they knew there were rumors about Manny and performance-enhancers, but disregarded them.
Not ignored them, mind you. Disregarded, as in knowing, but not caring.
We’ll never really know what the Dodgers knew, so it’s impossible to accuse them outright of knowing he was a cheater when they signed him.
Yet remember back to last October, November, December. Agent Scott Boras was insisting his client deserved a five- or six-year deal, comparable to what some of his pricey peers in the game have commanded. After all, Manny is one of the biggest stars in baseball. Why not?
And the reason that was circulated about why teams avoided Manny as if he were a flu carrier was the messy Red Sox divorce. Manny being Manny got old in Boston, went the conventional wisdom. Relationships in the clubhouse and the front office became too frayed to continue. He was traded to the Dodgers.
Teams opted not to sign Manny this past offseason, the storyline went, because he was trouble. But in L.A., after the trade, he was suddenly as beloved in Dodger Nation as Vin Scully. So he was clearly misunderstood.
Perhaps the part that was misunderstood was the possible real reason for Manny being shunned. Maybe rumors that he was on the juice, plus the fact that he would also turn 37 on May 30, kept everyone else but the Dodgers away.
If the Dodgers had an inkling that he was using, then they obviously decided they could handle the risk and withstand a potential lengthy suspension because Manny was a great hitter anyway, performance enhancers or no performance enhancers.
Although he leaves a considerable hole in the lineup, the Dodgers’ pitching is still formidable. They lead the National League in team ERA at 3.72. He returns from suspension on July 3. They’re in a weak division. They can handle it.
The Dodgers can also take the public relations hit, because Manny has adopted standard operating procedure in these matters by claiming ignorance about a substance given to him by a physician for a personal medical matter that will never fully be explained or revealed, in true clandestine fashion. That will provide some cover for Manny, the Dodgers and Boras.
The other explanation is that the Dodgers are just dumber than a pail of dirt. That is more difficult to believe, because whatever you think of them, they’ve built a fine ball club. That doesn’t occur out of sheer stupidity, although naivete is a possibility.
Just about everyone in the majors who posts sparking numbers these days is said to be on steroids. That’s just the way it is now. Fans can thank Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and a host of others for that permanent cloud of suspicion.
It could be that the Dodgers are not alone on this issue.
When you spend thousands on a new house, you have the foundation checked. When you buy a new car, you do your homework. But nowadays when teams are shopping for players, they might ignore warning signs of performance-enhancing drug use because it’s so rampant. If you use that as a criterion for eliminating a player from consideration for your roster, the thinking goes, you might not have any players left to sign at all.
We may never know what the Dodgers knew when they signed Manny. But Manny is the biggest star in the game that has been suspended since the testing program began in 2003. To say that Manny has brought shame to the game is a little silly, since the game is already steeped in shame because of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. If anything, Manny might be a little late to the party.
It is the Dodgers who are a little red in the face today. They’re the home buyer who snagged a deal too good to be true, only to find out the place sits on a toxic waste dump. They’re the car shopper who can’t understand how a 1999 Mercedes can only have 30,000 miles on it, until he realizes that odometers can be rolled back.
The Dodgers spent $45 million on a guy who everyone else avoided, then a month into the season it’s announced he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and will be suspended for 50 games.
We don’t know everything about the murky world of baseball intelligence, but we do know this looks bad for the Dodgers.