It is pretty funny. Until you step back and realize the biggest star in baseball was suspended Thursday, and no one flinched. That's how immune we are to performance-enhancing drugs: Manny Ramirez got slapped with a 50-game suspension, and the reaction was: Yeah, sounds about right.
The intent of Ramirez's breach of baseball's drug policy – supposedly he was trying to stimulate sexual performance by rebuilding testosterone – does not matter. Everyone who tests positive has an excuse, and his was convenient for a person who got busted taking human chorionic gonadotropin, a female fertility drug that serves as a testosterone booster. There is a list of 58 performance enhancers and 30 stimulants written out, and millionaires with everything at their disposal still can't help themselves. So it's time for Major League Baseball to do it for them.
MLB must stop this assault on its game by the drug-using narcissists intent on ruining it. The slow burn of star after shamed star will come to roost unless MLB saves itself by doing what it should have so long ago.
Banish the cheats.
Forget suspensions. Kick them out of the game. Forever. On the first positive. Take their money, their fame, their livelihood. Punish them for the disrespect they showed a sport that deserves so much better.
Players have proven they're immune to suspensions. They're also willing to take a public flogging and eat the shame that comes with being a doper. They'll put in jeopardy their records, their places in the Hall of Fame and their legacies.
Everything to them is fungible. And yet MLB still allows them back, sullied reputation and all, to continue putting up numbers and cashing paychecks and spreading further their stains on the game.
Enough already. As much as we'd miss the superlative talents of Alex Rodriguez(notes) and Barry Bonds(notes) and Roger Clemens(notes), others would fill the chasm. Players' skills diminish. Players retire. Players vanish. The game endures because the game is ultimately what's great, not the individuals that play it.
For nearly two decades now, players have put their selfishness ahead of the game's health, and the price is dear. Fans still watch baseball because of what it delivers, though they do so with a skeptical eye cast toward every feat, every moment, every play. Nothing is real – including what's in Ramirez's undershorts.
Ramirez wants to turn this into a funny situation, the suggestion being that he got suspended because he wanted to get his freak on. He can't charm his way past the doping police, who know that hCG is a favorite among those who have just gotten off of a steroid cycle. If Ramirez did use steroids, his avoidance of testing positive for them – whether it meant bamboozling the system or taking something undetectable – is downright scary.
He and his people can spin it however they please. The facts: Plenty of legitimate sexual performance enhancers exist and are not on MLB's banned-substance list. Ramirez can threaten to sue the doctor who gave him the hCG all he wants. Ultimately, the onus is on every player to understand what he's taking and realize that whenever he pops a pill in his mouth, he's risking his career and reputation. Ramirez didn't. Were a lifetime ban were on the table, surely he would honed his supposed quest for invigoration.
To even acknowledge this as a valid excuse for testing positive is ludicrous. Athletes always have an excuse. They didn't know a supplement contained a banned substance, or they just wanted to get better, or their blood was tainted by an unborn twin. Cyclist Tyler Hamilton really tried that last one. Seriously.
This is a dirty game, one complicated by the fact that human growth hormone exists, and probably in greater quantities than MLB would like to admit. No test can detect it. None is near completion. So as much as commissioner Bud Selig tries to say the drug problem in baseball has improved, it's impossible to believe. He doesn't know.
In Selig's quixotic quest to rid the game of steroids, he has done some good. The drug testing caught Ramirez, and MLB was willing to serve on a platter its dreadlocked, feel-good, all-smiles Manny, the biggest star on the team in Hollywood that sports the game's best record. That's progress.
Getting the players' union to agree to anything more severe is likely an impossibility. Still, Selig should take all of his remaining capital and invest it into implementing the right drug program before his term as commissioner ends. He, along with union chief Don Fehr, got the sport into this mess by not acting quickly enough during its infancy. They must be the ones to rescue it.
To do so, they need to drop the bomb. There is no other solution, at least from management's side. If MLB applies lifetime bans, it can say: We have done all we can. And it would be in good conscience.
Every bit of responsibility would fall to the players, as it should. They load the needles and swallow the pills. They make the decision to inject and ingest. If MLB makes the culture so desperately unacceptable, the culture may well implode on itself.
There are risks involved with a plan so harsh. False positives exist, though Charles Yesalis, a doping expert at Penn State, said he remembers one in his entire career: Jessica Foschi, a teenage swimmer from New York, had her Gatorade spiked with steroids. Her two-year ban was ultimately overturned.
Such cases would be collateral damage to the goal of the policy: Return as much integrity to baseball as possible. Every year the sport produces so many great stories, and every year they're overshadowed and overwhelmed by word of another star who used performance-enhancing drugs.
So forget them, the egocentric many who flout their sport's best interest. Kick them out and make them realize what they've given up. It'll happen quickly. Long before that six-hour pleasure pill wears off.