ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – You have your answer, if it was important to you, if you cared.
Take it how you will.
Not a denial.
Not a denial and an emphatic finger point (done before, by a different potential Hall-of-Famer).
Not a denial via translator (done, too).
Not a denial followed by avoidance and syrupy tears (see above).
Not a denial followed by a story about a helpful cousin. (yup).
Not a denial from beside a blustery Texas lawyer (ahem).
Not a denial followed by a few pointed paragraphs in the Mitchell Report (lots).
And not an apology.
"Whatever happened is in the past," Ramirez said, so, yes, a little something borrowed. "I'm just getting myself ready to come back."
The rest – the jacked-up testosterone level, the quack who prescribed the female fertility bounce, the notion that the drug might have been necessary to manage years of steroid use – well, he said, "I'm not talking about that. I've already said what I had to say."
The fact he was at best – at very best – plain stupid to have risked so much with a course of treatment he might not have understood, he said, "I don't know. That's what you say. I don't need to say anything."
He'd arrived on a Southwest Airlines flight a day earlier, wedged between Los Angeles Dodgers coach Manny Mota and the man he calls Uncle Rico. Middle seat, so clearly in the C group. Then, 48 days after he'd been dragged down from behind by baseball's anti-drug program (in a rare non-analytical finding), Ramirez returned to a professional baseball lineup. Surrounded by ESPN cameras (and live cut-ins!), a mascot wearing dreadlocks and an adoring, record-breaking crowd ("Mannywood, New Mexico," one sign read), he played left field and batted leadoff for the Albuquerque Isotopes on a warm night under low gray clouds.
He played four innings, saw eight pitches, struck out once and grounded to shortstop against Manny Parra(notes), the Milwaukee Brewers' left-hander who had been demoted to Triple-A Nashville after losing eight of 11 decisions. Before the fifth inning, Ramirez gathered a couple bats and disappeared into the tunnel beside the third-base dugout, so he missed ushers chicken-dancing on the dugout roofs a few minutes later.
Ten days before he would be allowed back into a big-league park for reasons other than batting practice or a good massage, he settled into a couple corner lockers in the home clubhouse at charming Isotopes Park. He took his indoor batting practice in private behind a beefy security guard in an area ordinarily open to reporters, but not on Tuesday. For hours before he consented to answer a few questions, he ducked behind doors and teammates and light comedy.
"Media out!" he screamed at one point, kicking out a door stop and slamming a door behind him.
He was joking. Mostly.
"Why you want to talk to me?" he pleaded.
Told it was simply time, he said, "I ain't talking, baby. Write whatever you want. I'm just going to go play."
But then Ramirez did talk, though he'd been advised not to by his agent, Scott Boras, and though baseball preferred he not talk, even if the policy seems vague. He didn't say much.
The greater issue is why Ramirez would be here before his suspension expires, playing ball, appearing with the commissioner's approval or outside the commissioner's reach. Instead of being banned from the sport for 50 games, he's been a regular at the ballpark, been tended to by coaches and trainers and now rehabbed by big crowds and another organization’s players. The Dodgers, indeed, would like to thank the Brewers for providing their pitcher to get Manny in shape.
But that would be of no concern to Manny, who banged a few BP home runs into the thin air ("This field is a joke," he crowed. "I want to play here."), mingled (if anyone left the ballpark without Manny's autograph, they just weren't trying), did his four innings and returned to his hotel.
He'd be back Wednesday for five more innings, then Thursday for seven, then return to a Los Angeles suburb for a handful of games in the California League. As he completed his night, the Dodgers were winning in Chicago, winning again without him. And still waiting.
"I'm just going day by day," Ramirez said. "I have to do my rehab and move on."
All part of the process. All part of what he did and how he's planning on fixing it.
But he wouldn't want to talk about that, which, of course, is less than a denial.