the score

Manny Does the Dell

Hall of Fame numbers tainted by failed drug tests

By Russ Espinoza, 4:43PM, Sat. May. 26, 2012

Photo courtesy of Sacramento RiverCats

Round Rock’s Dell Diamond has staged a lot of Pastime over 12 broiling seasons of Round Rock Express baseball. A small town’s worth of hot-shot prospects, scuffling and rehabbing Major Leaguers and Crash Davis’ have kicked up Dell’s dirt, but none (aside from Roger Clemens) have been as accomplished and mythologized as Sacramento RiverCat Manny Ramirez.

Manny went Good Manny for 15 of the most individually prolific seasons in MLB history. His patented “Manny Being Manny” antics were often loveable deviations from the league’s stuffy majority. The former Indian, Red Sox, and Dodger left fielder – who will DH for the Oakland A’s beginning on May 30 – minted his own license to blunder in the field with 555 career home runs (14th all-time), 1,831 RBIs, a .312 career batting average, and 12 All-Star appearances.

Media and fan characterization of Ramirez during his seven-and-a-half-year tour in Boston wavered from “problem child” and “cancer” to hero and fun-loving “idiot.” The wakes of Boston’s 2003 and 2004 seasons dramatically exemplified both sides: Red Sox GM Theo Epstein put Manny up for grabs to any team willing to eat his contract after Boston lost the 2003 ALCS to Aaron Boone’s Yankees in seven games.

No team bit.

One year later, the 2004 Red Sox dashed the 86-year “Curse of the Bambino” by sweeping St. Louis in the World Series; Ramirez led the American League in home runs (43) and slugging percentage, then was named World Series MVP.

This was the Manny, now days shy of 40 and slightly graying, whose big league comeback odyssey passed through Round Rock for four games against the Express. But he’s also the two-time “cheater” who disgraced his image and first-ballot Hall of Fame résumé with two violations of Major League Baseball’s drug policy since 2009. His many detractors since could probably forgive cocaine or heroin use (e.g. Texas’ Josh Hamilton), but not steroids. Those of the opinion, “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” will never forgive or forget Ramirez’s crimes against the game.

It appears that a reformed and rejuvenated Manny Ramirez has surfaced, though. He came across as accountable and humbled during his brief 11-minute media session with reporters hours before Monday’s series opener with the Express.

“I was looking at myself in the mirror, and told myself I needed a change,” he said. “I needed something positive in my life.”

At times, remember, fans and media in Boston would smolder and numerously accuse Ramirez of playing with indifference and obliviousness – these too were maddening aspects of Manny Being Manny. Today, Ramirez seems devoted to doing himself and his family proud by playing the game right.

“You make a mistake, you’ve got to pay the price ….I thank God for the good things and for the bad things,” he said. “I want to be different.”

The Dell’s bucolic, scaled-down confines are an alternate universe from LA’s “Mannywood,” Boston’s Fenway Park, or any of the four World Series’ Ramirez played in between 1995 and 2007. Clad in head-to-toe Sacramento gray as No. 11, Manny went 4-12 in his dozen trips to Dell’s batters-box – each walk-up eliciting a cacophony of cheers and jeers, with boisterous men bellowing, “Hey Manny, where’s the juice?!” Ramirez hit .333 for the series – with four singles, two RBIs, two walks, and two strikeouts – but his classic dreadlocks were batting .1000 – a vestige of the familiar Manny spilling out gloriously from his batting helmet and green A’s skullcap.

Love him or hate him, baseball can’t have Manny forever. And at nearly 40, Manny’s days as a professional ballplayer are scant, and he knows it. But unlike Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, or the steroid era’s other prominent “villains,” Manny Ramirez can play his way toward partial redemption: by replicating his past numbers on the level, but chiefly by adding a dose of maturity to the “Good Manny” that captivated so many.

He seems ready to do just that.

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