So, now it's MannyBManny. Well, can't say I saw that one coming. As far as I know,
Funny thing, I never suspected Manny Ramirez of taking PEDs, and the reason will sound wrong: He never seemed quite committed enough to take them. He always seemed to me perfectly uninterested in everything except swinging the bat; hitting seemed easy for him, natural, like a jaguar running. A jaguar may not enjoy running -- never asked one -- but he does it, and does it well, it's in his nature. That's more or less how I felt about MannyBManny at the plate. I couldn't envision a jaguar taking PEDs to get faster.
But now that he has tested positive, well, it just takes us one step closer to that inevitable conclusion that we should have come up with a long time ago: We're just not going to be able to pick out drug users by deduction. They come in all different hat sizes, all different body builds, all different personalities. Some seem driven. Some seem aloof. Some seem sinister. Some seem naive. Some, I suspect, seem a whole lot like ourselves.
Yes, every time another story like this emerges, I find myself again asking the same hard question: Would I take performance-enhancing drugs? That is not the same question now that it was four or five years ago ... now, there's more aggressive testing, and as MannyBManny proves again, you can get caught. That does change the question. I have an almost irrational fear of getting caught. Even as a kid, I was always too scared to move to a better seat at a game for fear that the real ticket holder would come find me and boot me out. Safer to stay in my lousy seat.
But, 10 years ago, there was almost no chance of getting caught. There was no testing. There was little or no backlash. So the question: Would I take performance-enhancing drugs in order to succeed as a baseball player ... if I knew, absolutely knew, that taking PEDs would make me a better baseball player ... if I knew, absolutely knew, that the odds of getting caught were miniscule ... if I knew, absolutely knew, that other players were using and without drugs I would have little chance or surviving or thriving on my own talents ...
There are easy answers to the question. One easy answer is "No. I would not do steroids or HGH or any of those. I am not a cheater. I have too much respect for the game."
Another easy answer is: "Yes. I would take steroids. I would take performance-enhancing drugs. I am human, and I love baseball, and I want fame and fortune, and everyone else was doing it. I didn't create the atmosphere. I definitely would have done it."
I think the harder answer is somewhere in between. On the one hand, we live in an America that demonizes drugs, declares war on drugs, etc. On the other, we live in an America that, in so many ways, celebrates performance enhancers. It's there with us, every single day. If I have a cold, and I'm coughing, and I have a headache, and I'm miserable, I don't want regular-strength medicine. I scoff at regular-strength medicine -- frankly, I cannot believe they even still MAKE regular-strength medicine. Who gets regular-strength headaches or regular-strength heartburn? You know the old
In other words, YOU might have a regular-strength headache. My headache hurts a lot more than that. I need something more than regular relief.
I don't want extra-strength medicine either -- sure, I appreciate the extra effort, but extra isn't enough. No, I want MAXIMUM STRENGTH medicine. It's like
You turn on the television, and there are miracle drugs advertised on there every day, drugs that prevent us from going to the bathroom too often, drugs that promise to lower our cholesterol, drugs that inspire our bodies to have sex when the moment feels right, drugs that help us sleep more soundly, drugs that promise to give us more energy, drugs that help us lose weight, drugs that help us gain muscle, drugs that help us overcome debilitating conditions, drugs and drugs and drugs.
The side effects for many of these drugs are bountiful and terrifying. Vomiting. Diarrhea. Loss of hearing. Temporary blindness. Muscle pain. Nervousness. Sleeplessness. Hallucinations. Mistaken feelings of self-importance. In rare cases: Death -- sounds like pharmacy companies pushing the envelope on that Maximum Strength thing.
But millions and millions of people take them anyway. We live in a time of quick relief and instant soothing and fast reduction of pain and tough actin' Tinactin. We are willing to deal with the side effects. We will handle the marked drowsiness. We will follow directions and not operate heavy machinery.
We live in this drugged-up world, and yet we expect our athletes to stay away from those drugs that might help make them stronger, faster; that might help turn their warning-track fly balls into home runs, that might help their 89-mph fastball become 92-mph, that might give them five more infield singles a year, the difference between hitting .291 and hitting .300, the difference between a two-year deal and a three-year deal.
We expect them to play to the edge, to give their all, to run out every ground ball, to give a good fight every at bat, to pitch without fear, to chase fly balls into walls, to steal a high percentage of bases, to come through in the clutch, to protect their teammates, to be strong enough to hit home runs and throw serious heat, to engage in a little gamesmanship now and again ... but we demand that they stop there, say no to drugs.
Is the point, then, to excuse the players who used steroids -- to say it's no big deal? No. It all goes beyond logic. I'm bothered by the Manny Ramirez suspension. I bothered by the mounds of evidence that suggest that
And that's what it all comes down to for me -- because after thinking about it again and again -- and yet again now that Manny Ramirez has been suspended -- I guess my answer to the "Would you use performance-enhancing drugs" question is not "Yes." And it's not "No," either.
It's this: "I wish I am the kind of person who would not use performance-enhancing drugs." Manny Ramirez is one of the greatest hitters I have ever seen. He has been goofy and quirky and sulking and all that. But he has thrilled me again and again at the plate. Sure, I wished that MannyBManny was the kind of person who would not need drugs to make it thrilling. Wishes don't always come true.