From the Sidelines - Manny Ramirez

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Maybe you’ve heard the question over coffee, or beer, or even a bong hit (whatever that is):

What would you trade for a year of your life, providing it’s the LAST year? The one where you might be getting around so well, drooling more than usual (which, in my case, was last Thursday), perhaps a burden on your loved ones. Would you cut that loose in exchange for something? Anything?

Baseball players, the dirty ones, already have squared up to a similar query, although it seems they’ve spent maybe a nanosecond thinking about it: Sure, there could be a lot to gain if I start shooting steroids – but what am I giving up?

It’s doubtful Manny Ramirez considered the consequences before joining the MLB equivalent of the Pepsi Generation.

The first time he decided stick that needle in his ass, or his arm, or wherever, he knew the path he was taking. Get bigger, stronger and richer. Do what the other guys are doing. Keep up. Compete. It’s what got him out of Santo Domingo and made him one of the most successful, and therefore richest, athletes on the planet.

He assumed the risk. Athletes with steroid-related health problems, the kind that are beginning to claim football players who shot up in the 1970s, are being reported now almost routinely. But that’s something to worry about years from now. It’s tomorrow that concern guys like Manny. Tomorrow, you gotta hit… drive in runs… win.

Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro, Clemens – tack their baseball cards on the wall and your room would resemble the sports equivalent of the post office. None of them has admitted they were guilty of doing something that, according to the rules of the game at the time, was not illegal. But it was wrong.

Manny knew this. And he did it anyway. No, he wasn’t caught with a steroid in his system. He was caught with another substance players use to cycle down from steroids. So unless he need the stuff because he was having problems with his ovaries, he was clearly on the juice. And it worked for him.

Ramirez became known as one of the prime clutch hitters in the game, even if his Boston Red Sox teammates couldn’t stand him. He bolted for the L.A. sunshine, and it paid off.

He made the Dodgers relevant again. He hit, they won. And the fans loved him. Kids would pester their parents into buying them Manny wigs, at primo MLB prices. Hell, sometimes it was Dad caught on camera, wearing the fake dreds. Big fun, all of it.

Now comes word that Manny-Being-Manny included Manny-On-The-Juice. If you’re the Dodgers, where do you go for a refund?

Ramirez will serve his 50-game suspension, maybe pay a fine. The players’ union, no doubt, will appeal on his behalf and perhaps get the suspension trimmed – in spite of the fact that Manny has admitted, not guilt, but responsibility. The guilt, he implied, lay with the doctor who gave him the stuff.

Never mind the fact that baseball has made it clear to its player not to take ANYTHING without running it past your respective team’s medical personnel. To that end, players now have wallet cards covered with phone numbers they can call to check.

No, Manny was being Manny when he juiced up. Apparently, this got past the Dodgers when the decided to drop $45 million to keep him in Chavez Ravine. And when he comes back, he’ll still be Manny – only, not as good.

If he’s clean, he’s not Manny. Home runs now become warning track outs. Line drive doubles don’t get to the wall quite as quickly. They’ll die in the mitts of outfielders.

People who say steroids don’t help you hit a baseball are only partly correct. If you don’t have the hand-eye coordination to begin with, ‘roids won’t make you a ballplayer. But if you do, they’ll help you get stronger – which means

* you’re quicker, so now you have more bat speed;
* more bat speed means more power – more home runs, more extra-base hits;
* less recovery time after a weight-room workout, so you’ll get stronger even faster.

It says here, Manny’s numbers won’t be nearly what they were. He won’t be the RBI machine he became in Boston, the one purchased by the Dodgers. And he also won’t be the iconic figure he was before the story broke.

If he does manage to produce RBIs, fans will be quick to forgive. That’s what we do. If not, he’ll become just another bum who let us down by hitting the juice.

You wonder if he considered all of this, the first time he asked himself the question: What am I trading for this stuff I’m injecting?

You wonder if he even asked the question at all.

(Former WKYT Sports Manager Dick Gabriel is a 20-year veteran of the UK radio and TV networks. He reports from the sidelines during Wildcat football games on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network. He can be heard each evening from 6-8 p.m. ET on “Sports Nightly,” on 630 WLAP-AM.)

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