A-Rod, Manny detract from otherwise fascinating season
Things seemed to be going so well.
It's fine to hope that superstars are clean, but the hard lesson from the revelations of Rodriguez and Ramirez is that it's probably best not to get those hopes too high. Now that two of the game's biggest names have been brought down, only months apart, baseball is short of two more players who are shining examples that players could still reach great heights through hard work and natural ability.
In some ways, Pujols might be the last great defender of the game. His numbers make him a lock for the Hall of Fame and his character and cleanliness have never been legitimately called into question. He's already stated publicly and for the record that he has never used performance-enhancing drugs. Because of his status as the game's premier slugger, the spotlight will always shine even brighter on him. For all the value of singles and doubles hitters, it is the great sluggers who will continue to generate the most excitement, and thus have the most potential to disappoint when their gargantuan blasts are found to have been chemically enhanced.
OK, Jon: you're wrong. Players have always been as interested, if not more so, in playing for money as they have been for any other reason since
Verducci's story this week details what happened to Manny after he tested positive, but here's the short answer. Ramirez did take a banned substance and Major League Baseball examined his medical files to see if that could explain why he was taking such a substance. If Ramirez was taking a banned substance for a legitimate medical issue, he could have gotten a therapeutic use exemption, but he never applied for one. If he actually felt the ban was wrong and that all he would be facing if he appealed was the embarrassing, but potentially legitimate, revelation of why he was taking a female fertility drug, then he should have tried do everything he could to clear his name. The fact that he didn't bother suggests, on some level, that he could not clear his name because he was as guilty as MLB suspected he was when he failed the drug test in the first place.
I don't think that has any chance of happening. The players who were clean don't deserve to have their accomplishments wiped away just because a teammate of theirs, likely unbeknownst to them, was cheating. Furthermore, I don't think it's much of a disincentive. The NCAA routinely strips teams of its records and accomplishments when players on those teams are found to have used an ineligible player, for example, but that hasn't stopped players, coaches, agents, etc. from doing shady things. No one can or will ever take away the Red Sox's 2004 and 2007 world championships, and even if those banners were forced to come down, the memories and the record books would never be erased.
That would require going back to a balanced schedule, which doesn't seem very likely. The unbalanced schedule -- which pits division foes against each other almost 20 times a year -- was put in place before the 2002 season and the result has been interesting. For the first seven years of the wild-card era, no teams finishing outside the top 10 in winning percentage in a given season made the playoffs (the Astros, who won the NL Central with 84 wins in 1997, had the 10th-best winning percentage that season). In the seven seasons since the advent of the unbalanced schedule, the top eight teams have made it twice, and four times the playoffs have included a team outside the top 10. (The '05 Padres finished 14th, the '06 Cardinals were 13th -- and went on to win the World Series -- the '07 Cubs finished 12th and the '08 Dodgers finished 15th).
Playoff teams ranked by winning percentage, 1995-2008:
1995: 1-7, 9
It could still happen, but if form holds, it would be the Blue Jays and not the Rays who would join the Red Sox and Yankees in the 90-win column. Given the dire state of Toronto's pitching staff when the year began, coupled with the Rays' emergence last season, that would be an enormous surprise.
Ichiro has been celebrated as one of the best players in the game since making his American debut in 2001, when he joined