On Manny

by Brien Jackson

I will admit, I probably wouldn’t have guessed Manny Ramirez was using PED’s if you asked me. He never really seemed that bulky, never really exhibited common symptoms, and frankly, never seemed to care enough to bother with it. Manny always looked like hitting was effortless to him, and like the game was just fun. I would have leaned toward the view that A-Rod was clean as well, but I wouldn’t have had much trouble imagining him shooting up either. Not so much with Manny.

That said, it’s worth pointing out that baseball’s steroid hysteria is nothing but an attempt to take another crack at union busting, after the efforts to break the MLBPA failed in the early 1990’s. That’s why the Mitchell Report made little note of ownership’s complicity in the prevalence of steroids in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and why baseball officials have seeded “rumors” that “union officials” were tipping off players to upcoming drug tests. From a PR standpoint, they’re playng on the inate resentment fans feel for players who are making a lot of money to do something most of them (the fans) wish they could do, even for less money. That’s the sentiment you hear expressed about how the legends of yesteryear “did it for the love of the game,” never mind that most of them hated the reserve clause that kept their salaries artificially low, and embraced free agency when it finally came around, and forced owners who wanted to compete to pay players a fair market value. And as an aside, let me say that while he might have been a stupid, overbearing, egotistical son of a bitch, George Steinbrenner deserves a lot of credit for embracing free agency early on, and killing any attempts at collusion ownership might have attempted before it could even start.

So far as numbers are concerned, there’s really no other way to explain the phenomenon. Lots of records were broken a generation or two ago. Roger Maris broke Bae Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961, Hank Aaron broke his career home run record in 1975, Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record in 1986, and so on. The difference between these guys and today’s players, for the most part, was money. Records broken before free agency were broken by guys who were still being paid a pittance of what they were worth, because of a regulation that bordered on legalized slavery. Rose is an exception, breaking Cobb’s record about a decade after free agency became a reality, but Rose was generally regarded as a guy who managed to produce above his natural talent level by sheer force of “hustle,” always the kind of guy fans like to see, because they’re easier to live vicariously through.

And then you have the really ridiculous aspects of the way writers employ a double standard to the issue. I love Andy Pettite, but the guy was named in the Mitchell Report, and you never here it mentioned, or if it is, it’s mostly to explain why “it’s different.” Same for Brian Roberts, Paul Lo Duca (who sounds like a narco-trafficer in the Mitchell Report), etc. And don’t get me started on the “old-timers.” Nolan Ryan had a sudden resurrgence after he turned 38 years old, even as he moved to a very hitter friendly park in Arlington, in the late 1980’s. Cal Ripken Jr. played in 2,632 straight games, most of them in the 80’s. I’m not saying these guys used steroids, if for no other reason than that there’s no way to prove it, but we know there were steroids in baseball at this time, there was no testing whatsoever for them, there was no real “hard” rule against them, and so on. If either of them were playing today, especially if they were Hispanic, it would just be widely assumed that they were juicing.

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