A fertile subject

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Well, now we know why Manny Ramirez has never been nominated for a Nobel Prize in rocket science or chemistry.

Everyone from the White House to the Dalai Lama's footman has weighed in on the flaky Dodger's 50-game suspension and baseball's latest "shocking" black eye (although the true surprise will be when anyone is unequivocally proven to be clean). The prevailing opinion is that it takes a special man who's a few brain cells shy of the requisite load to get caught doping in these hypersensitive times of testing and stern punishment -- especially when he could have taken all the undetectable HGH he wanted.

Manny's excuse that his doctor goofed, and the rumors that he was taking something to reverse a batting slump in the boudoir, are sources of endless mirth. So is the news that Ramirez was using human chorionic gonadotropin, a relative of the female fertility drug Clomid. (GIRLIE MANNY screamed the New York Post's front page.) While HCG is used to treat delayed puberty (if that's the case, it explains Manny's often childish antics) and boost testosterone production in otherwise manly men (some of whom have shorted out their own supply by using steroids), this space is willing to believe that Ramirez was merely trying to get pregnant. (HCG has also been known to make men sprout breasts, which come in handy for feeding little bundles of joy.)

Would you put it past Manny? Like the Kinks sang, "Girls will be boys and boys will be girls. It's a mixed up, muddled-up, shook-up world." We live in a chemically- and surgically-enhanced age of males who squeeze out tots, so who's to say?

As for the realm of performance enhancement, this space has its own personal experience with Clomid, having injected the spouse in the caboose during our quest for a first child -- who is currently a surly recalcitrant teen -- and can report with great authority that while the drug did wonders for Mrs. Loose's fertility, it did absolutely nothing for her ability to hit the breaking ball.

On the opposite end of the performance-enhancer spectrum, we have tobacco. According to a gossip page item (so it must be true), Rangers pot-stirrer Sean Avery was spotted smoking cigarettes while consorting with comely wenches in a Manhattan Meatpacking District speakeasy. Canadiens netminder Carey Pricehas also been spied firing up butts while out on the town in Montreal. Of all athletic feats, the most amazing may be the ability to suck gaspers with any regularity while competing in an aerobic-intensive enterprise like hockey and actually make it around the rink without wheezing so loudly that the arena's organ is drowned out. Amazing now, too, were the old tobacco ads that featured stars like Mickey Mantle pitching a particular brand of coffin nails.

Chain-smoking managers like Jim Leyland or Earl Weaver (who used to call high-wire reliever Don Stanhouse "Full Pack" due to his intake while the man was trying to close out games for the Orioles) are one thing. So is pro golfing spectacle John Daly. They aren't required to break a sweat. But the NHL has had its share of notable puffers, such as Hall of Famers Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Guy LaFleur.

Also in the amazement bin: the price of cancer sticks these days. You need a pro athlete's salary to afford a pack of the damn things.

It is with dewy tears of melancholy that Getting Loose tips its cap to Danny Ozark, who passed away on Thursday at the ripe old age of 85. Ol' Danny was one of those classic dugout bosses of the kind they don't quite make anymore. During his time skippering the Phillies from 1973-79, and winning three straight NL East titles, Ozark contributed to baseball lore with several classic lines, among them responding to a question about his team's morale by saying, "It's not a question of morality."

And when asked about the reason for a losing streak: "It is beyond my apprehension."

His most famous gems:

"Half this game is 90% mental."

"Even Napoleon had his Watergate."

It seems Charles Wang has expressed some buyer's remorse about purchasing the New York Islanders in 2000 for $74.2 million and taking on $97 million in debts and obligations. That former silk purse-turned-sow's ear has relieved his piggy bank of roughly $23 million a year while the team struggled in its crumbling arena. (Nassau County is dragging its cement shoes on constructing a new one). Have to imagine Jerry Moyes feels somewhat the same now that his Phoenix Coyotes are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and he stands to bid farewell to $207 million. Ditto for Len Barrie down in Tampa Bay, where his OK Hockey ownership group is still on the hook for $130 million of its $200 millon purchase price while attendance sags.

A word to BlackBerry baron Jim Balsillie, who seems to hover over the prone carcasses of NHL teams (Penguins, Predators, Coyotes) like an ambulance chaser: owning a struggling franchise is a great way to go . . . if you're looking to shed that shirt on your back.

Much hooplah and huzzahs about Mine That Bird winning the Kentucky Derby at 50-1 odds, but this space grumbles that in a field weaker than your Aunt Ginny's tea, someone had to win. Grizzled old railbird that we is, we wouldn't have been shocked if the winner had come from the annual Thomas Vale Pantomime Horse Grand National in Birmingham, England. In fact, our binoculars are already trained on England's Beverley Race Course where a field of faux equine soccer players will compete at a grueling distance of 150 yards in the Hull Derby on May 12 -- four days before the Preakness.

Don't be surprised if the winners of each race meet in a decisive showdown in the Belmont Stakes on June 6. In the meantime, check out the raw pageantry of the Sport of Mimes. If it doesn't make you mist up like when they play "My Old Kentucky Home" during the post parade at Churchill Downs or when you realize that your ticket on Mine That Bird just went through the wash in your trouser pocket, then Jack, you dead.

In the unending debate about which sport's athletes are the meanest and nastiest, this space is compelled to nominate soccer. In recent days, Chivas defender Hector Reynosogot himself a suspension for making like he was going hock up a loogie in an opponent's face while Swine Flu dread grips the world. And in merrie olde England last month, a Chorlton Villa player earned a yellow card for passing gas while an opponent was taking a penalty kick. The kick was re-done and the second attempt was good. Villa's manager later expressed the "gut feeling" that the rude noise in question was made intentionally, but not from the end of the offending player that one would presume. Goes to show that soccer players will stoop to anything.

In this age of environmental dexterity, this space is all for hybrids. So we raise our Al Gore bobblehead on high while noting that a combination of volleyball and soccer is sweeping the land in Wisconsin. But for our long green, nothing beats a good old fashioned game of kickball, that ancient hybrid of soccer, dodgeball and baseball.

This space professes no official religious affiliation, but a man of the cloth (our local tailor) swears on a stack of bibles that Brett Favre has been talking with his pastor about coming back from the dead to continue playing in the NFL. "I'm told on good celestial authority that Favre read somewhere there's a precedent for that sort of thing and he's exploring the option for when the time comes," sayeth our source. "He reckons the Lions will still be looking for a quarterback and they'll give him a chance to continue haunting the Packers while playing in the NFC North."

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