MANNYWOOD – He should have been here.
The semi-circle of cameras and microphones on-field at Dodger Stadium cornered Joe Torre and Ned Colletti and other stiffly-suited Los Angeles Dodgers officials. It nearly brushed the batting cage as it fanned through foul territory, and Torre's voice was propelled across batting practice, so it washed over the private anxieties of the teammates Manny Ramirez(notes) left behind.
"The guy's not trying to hide from the truth," Torre said.
Except he wasn't here.
With the exception of a few weeks of spring training, he hadn't missed an opportunity to party, to laugh, to lobby for more money over more years. Lots more money over lots more years. He'd been here for every line drive, every big inning, every giddy curtain call.
But not on Thursday afternoon, not when he was revealed to be part fraud. He skipped that little show, where everybody stood around and pretended they'd look at their old pal the same way, where Torre excused him for being a human being, because, boy, does he work hard.
Well, you know, the last three guys people swore worked harder than anybody else in the game were Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez(notes) and Roger Clemens(notes). It will be their shared legacy, making the hard workers appear suspicious. It's not quite the Hall of Fame, but, hey, it's good to leave a footprint.
But Manny wouldn't get off his couch to shake Torre's hand, to weather Colletti's glare, to apologize to his family. Instead, he offered a statement.
Oh, he'll come around another day, maybe when the lights aren't quite so bright, when the hurt isn't quite so pointed, when the guys out on Elysian Park Avenue are tired of holding up the bed sheet with the words spray-painted, "WE SUPPORT MANNYWOOD."
And he'll keep up in the batting cages, assuming he possesses the strength to hoist a bat through his diminished testosterone levels. He'll change into his civilian clothes when the gates open, and before long go out on the 10-day minor league rehab tour that will cover the last of his suspension, and on July 3 he'll thrill Dodgers fans by returning to the middle of the lineup and left field.
He will, however, have lost the day he might have shown them something about accountability.
Oh, it'll also buy him at least another 24 hours to explain why he was on the drug bodybuilders use once they come off steroids, and why he might have been so low on testosterone to begin with, and why he hadn't bothered with baseball's Therapeutic Use Exemption protocol. He'd played 11 seasons without being drug tested, and now he's low on testosterone, a 36-year-old man, and presumably he'll be working on just the right words and expressions to convince us this was not sinister, only incredibly stupid.
Colletti had it right when he called it, "a dark day for baseball." But, you know, after enough of those end to end, at some point you stop assuming the sun is coming. You turn on the lights and line the field and go. As one old baseball guy said Thursday night, "Man, if the next guy is Albert Pujols(notes) or Chipper Jones(notes) or someone like that, I'm just gonna kill myself."
I was going to say we're just about out of baseball heroes, but that's not true. They're just not hitting all those home runs anymore, and their fastballs don't get anywhere near 95. They don't have secret doctors who'll pump them full of whatever for a few thousand dollars and an autographed picture. They get tired when they should be tired. They show up when they should show up. Maybe they're a guy like Xavier Paul, who took Manny's place on the roster, and is part of a new generation that has never played an inning without being drug tested first.
And at the ballpark, they have teammates and coaches, not enablers. Because they don't need enablers.
"He feels very badly," Torre assured us. "Right now he's trying to gather his thoughts."
How long can it take to gather shame? Remorse? Humiliation?
At least a day, apparently. Everybody else pretty much had their thoughts gathered.
"How I felt?" Colletti said. "Sick. Saddened. Sick and saddened."
That's about where we are. Again.
Late Thursday night, from a corner of Dodger Stadium once named after Manny, a chant grew. The Dodgers were leading. The breeze was warm. The air smelled like summer. It was very nearly perfect.
"We want Manny!" the people shouted in unison. "We want Manny!"
But, he wasn't here. He should have been. He owed it to them. And he deserved it.