SAN DIEGO – Manny Ramirez(notes) sauntered into an interview room at Petco Park on Friday afternoon wearing blue sunglasses, a tight white T-shirt and baggy baseball pants. He took one look at the assembled media, yelped, "Showtime!" and plopped into a seat in front of a microphone.
A news conference was held a few hours before his return from a 50-game suspension, and Ramirez might as well have stepped into a batter's box. The questions weren't much different than pitches. He fought off the tough ones, crushed the ones tossed down the middle and all but spit on the ones he felt were out of the strike zone.
Fifteen minutes later it was over and the Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder still hadn't said whether or not he'd taken steroids. He did apologize to baseball fans and his teammates, but wouldn't specify for what.
Ramirez, the perpetual adolescent, was alternately flip, evasive and nervous. None of it was a surprise. His agent, Scott Boras, told Yahoo! Sports on May 18 that Ramirez probably would never offer an explanation about why he tested positive for synthetic testosterone or why he had a prescription for a banned fertility drug, human chorionic gonadotropin, used to boost the testosterone levels of chronic steroid users.
The first question was like a wicked slider on the outside corner. How long were you doing steroids? He didn't bite. "First I want to say that God is good and good is God, and I don't want to get into my medical records right now," Ramirez said. "I'm happy to be here. I miss the game. I'm ready to play."
The DEA is investigating a Florida physician, Pedro Bosch, who might have filled the prescription for HCG. Ramirez was asked if the he'd been contacted by the DEA.
"I don't want to talk about my criminal record," he said, laughing nervously.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre watched the thrust and parry with reporters from the wings and drew a conclusion: "He's just very uncomfortable. When you weed through the whole thing, he didn't deny doing something wrong, and he apologized for it and doesn't really want to talk about it."
The apology, when it did come, was vague.
"I want to say I'm sorry to the fans, to my teammates, they are always there for me," Ramirez said. "I want to thank [Dodgers owner] Frank McCourt for his support. I'm here. I'm excited. I can't wait to get to the field."
He was asked what he's sorry about: "Not being there for [the fans]. Because I'm a huge part of the Dodgers and I'm proud to wear that uniform. When I say I'm sorry, I let those fans down that go out to see me.
"We are humans. We learn from mistakes. Only one man was perfect and they killed him. So that's how I look at life."
Ramirez is perhaps emboldened by the overwhelming support he's gotten from many fans. Online feedback to stories critical of Ramirez can be summed up thusly: Leave him alone and let him play baseball.
"Everywhere I go people are there for me," he said. "They give me their support. It hasn't been that bad. I just want to get out there with the guys and move on."
He said any negative reaction will serve only to motivate him: "When you are good and you are not at home they are going to boo you. That is going to give you more fire to do good. So bring it on."
Every time a question about steroids was raised, the response was the same: "I'm not getting into that, sir. I'm going to talk about the game."
And when the topic was baseball, Ramirez brimmed with confidence. "I've got a challenge, I've got to go out there and show people that I can still do it," he said. "I know I can do it. That's good. I'm not going to fail. So, I'm going to be good, I'm going to be fine."
A Dodgers public relations official tried to wrap up the session. A final attempt at drawing a substantive response was attempted. He was asked whether it bothers him that some people will assume he's a cheat, like so many other sluggers of his era.
"You cannot control what people say," he said. "You have to move on with your life. I'm just going to enjoy my time playing. I'm against the clock. So, I'm going to enjoy it the most I can."
With that, Ramirez stepped away from the microphone and said to no one in particular, "It's showtime tonight."
A few minutes later Torre tried to make sense of Ramirez's answers.
"I just think this is an uncomfortable time for him," he said. "When he came to our ballclub last August he said he just wants to play baseball and go home. That's what he wants to do.
"He doesn't look shy with all the antics you see from time to time. I don't think he's comfortable with all the public stuff. But that's my opinion."