It’s time for Ramirez to get serious
“I’d say, ‘Manny, why are you always so scared of the dark.’ He’d say, ‘Because, Mama, I’m a scaredy cat.’ ”
– Manny Ramirez’s mother, Onelcida, in his biography, “Becoming Manny.”
LOS ANGELES – Manny Ramirez (notes) is somewhere in the vicinity of Chavez Ravine this weekend, summoning the testicular fortitude to address his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates, and then the world. Nobody is sure when either inevitable event – one exceedingly private, the other dauntingly public – will take place. Not the Dodgers, not Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras, not even Ramirez himself.
This is a darkness he’ll have to navigate alone.
On Saturday, Ramirez telephoned Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and met with agitated owner Frank McCourt. Manny’s message: I’ll eventually talk to the team and the media, but I’m not ready yet.
Explaining why he took a banned fertility drug commonly used to boost the testosterone level of steroid users won’t be necessary to his teammates. They know the reason. Some might have gone down that path themselves. They’ll want to hear that he’s sorry for being stupid, that he won’t be a stranger during his 50-game suspension, that he’ll stay in shape and work out with the team before some home games, that he plans to return with a vengeance July 3.
Addressing the public, which means answering to a probing, prying media horde, will be far dicier. Ramirez will be asked point blank whether he has used steroids. When and for how long. With the Cleveland Indians, the Boston Red Sox, the Dodgers, or all of the above.
He’ll need to be transparent enough to satiate the rightfully skeptical media’s desire to know or forever be branded not only as a cheat, but as a deceptive cheat, a far worse offense based on other fallen stars. Scorn escalates with defiance, the graph rising from Jason Giambi(notes) (remorseful cheat) to Andy Pettitte(notes) (admitted cheat) to Jose Canseco (insufferable cheat) to Mark McGwire (sniveling cheat) to Rafael Palmeiro (lying cheat) to Alex Rodriguez(notes) (scripted cheat) to Roger Clemens(notes) (insolent cheat) to Barry Bonds(notes) (absolutely defiant cheat).
Where will Ramirez fit on the continuum?
Sources close to him say he is petrified at the prospect of fessing up. The pithy one-liners Ramirez has long delivered as his Manny-being-Manny method of maintaining a pleasantly superficial relationship with reporters won’t cut it. He can’t joke his way through this one.
He’s spent a lifetime avoiding conflict. Ramirez attended high school in the Washington Heights area of New York City after emigrating from the Dominican Republic. He played on a travel team in addition to his high school team and on one occasion the two teams had games on the same day. According to “Becoming Manny,” Ramirez chose to play for the travel team but didn’t tell his high school coach, and the team bus departed an hour late after waiting in vain for the star slugger.
The conflict avoidance persists to this day. Dodgers sources said he makes a habit of telling team officials he will follow through with media and charity requests, then conveniently forgets when the time comes. No phone call. No text message. Just absence.
The Dodgers leave on a weeklong trip to Philadelphia and Florida after Sunday’s afternoon game. Ramirez could duck into the clubhouse beforehand and talk to teammates, but sources said it is unlikely because he does not feel ready to talk to the media and doesn’t want to risk a chance encounter.
A safer bet is that he’ll return to his offseason home in Florida and quietly slip into the visitors’ clubhouse when the Dodgers play the Marlins in a three-game series beginning Friday.
As for his taking a deep breath and addressing the media, the Dodgers have gotten no indication from Boras when or how he’ll do it. Simply showing up in the clubhouse and taking questions at his locker would be insufficient. A meticulously planned news conference at Dodger Stadium arranged by Boras is more probable, even while the team is on the road.
The Boras camp loathes the term “scripted,” suggesting that Ramirez will speak honestly and from the heart. Sources close to Ramirez have already said that he took the banned fertility drug HCG to treat a “personal health issue,” perhaps paving the way to his hiding behind HIPAA regulations and other privacy protections when it comes to providing details of any drug use.
Boras has a recent precedent for such an unpleasant exercise – A-Rod’s news conference under a tent at the New York Yankees’ Tampa, Fla., spring training site in February after it was reported that he tested positive for steroids in 2003. Reviews were mixed. Rodriguez gained points for admitting he used steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001 to 2003 and for describing how he and his cousin acquired the drugs. But widespread skepticism persists about the completeness of his confession.
A-Rod held the news conference 10 days after Sports Illustrated reported the positive test result, giving him ample time to rehearse answers and become absolutely clear what to divulge and what to leave out. In addition to tapping into Boras’ vast resources, Rodriguez was advised by a top public relations firm and also by the William Morris agency.
It is unclear who is giving Ramirez advice. Or if he is listening to any of it. His business relationship with Boras began only last year, when Ramirez dropped longtime agent Greg Genske, hired Boras and sought ways to get out of Boston, where he’d played since 2001. His circle of trust is extremely tight, basically consisting of family and a handful of friends and mentors he’s known for many years.
The perception of Ramirez as a goofy hitting savant who never quite grew up isn’t far from the truth. Besides a few violent blowups, he’s spent his life suppressing the serious and floating along, cultivating an irresistible persona as someone who treats baseball as a game while playing it as well as anyone ever has.
Turns out the pressure to succeed at a superior level and to please adoring fans might have taken a toll after all, prompting him to seek illegal ways to enhance his performance. As with A-Rod, unreal expectations might have triggered weakness.
Now the expectation is that Ramirez stands tall and speaks candidly. It’s a performance that can’t be artificially enhanced. And it’s his only way out of the dark.