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May 7, 2009

Prospectus Today

Manny's Return

by Joe Sheehan

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I very rarely leave a baseball game before it ends, but last night at Camden Yards was an exception. My friend and I bailed during the third rain delay at around 10 p.m., and as it turns out, we missed two very wet innings of baseball played over the subsequent three hours. I really like the ballpark, which must have seemed so incredibly different when it opened in 2002. So many parks are clones of Camden Yards that it isn't unique any longer, but the impact of this place on folks who were used to attending Memorial Stadium had to be something else.

We'll try again tonight, and I'll write about it, as well as the Orioles and Twins, in Friday's column. As it turns out, I have something else to write about today.

Manny Ramirez has been suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. Note that the wording is specific. He wasn't suspended for cheating, for setting a bad example for kids, for violating the sanctity of statistics. He was suspended for testing positive for a substance banned under the agreement.

Ramirez released a statement in which he took responsibility, sort of, passing some of the blame to the doctor that prescribed the drug. This afternoon, ESPN.com is reporting that Ramirez tested positive for HCG, a substance that is used to promote testosterone production in men. A dip in the natural production of testosterone is a side effect of steroid use, which is why HCG finds itself on the banned list-it can be used to counter the negative effects of steroid use. Players who have a medical need for this, a natural one, can apply for waivers; Ramirez did not have a waiver.

I'm not an expert-that's Will's area-but this doesn't appear to be an Olympian getting flagged because he used Claritin or something. HCG's purpose is to aid in the production of testosterone, and the reasons for a testosterone deficit in a 36-year-old man can be narrowed to a fairly small range. That Ramirez is not being suspended specifically for the use of a steroid, but rather for a drug that is associated with steroid use, is a detail, and a seemingly small one.

This suspension will have a negative effect on the Dodgers, who now end up where they were 10 weeks ago, with Juan Pierre playing left field most of the time. As Jay Jaffe notes, there are other, potentially more palatable options available to Joe Torre should he choose to get creative. Jay's analysis indicates that in spite of the suspension, the Dodgers are still the favorites in the division, thanks to a lineup that runs seven deep for the next 50 games, and a good back of the bullpen and front of the rotation. The depth issues that are their main problem remain so, but we'll see the return of Ramirez before we see any attempts to shore up the back of the roster. Fortunately for the Dodgers, the NL West lacks a team that is likely to push past 90 wins, or perhaps even 85. Losing a few wins to Ramirez's suspension may keep them from home-field advantage, but it shouldn't kill their playoff hopes.

For me, well, this time it counts. I'm talking about the All-Star Game voting. Manny Ramirez has been elected to start the All-Star Game in nine of the past 10 seasons, every year except 2006. He has been qualified by ability and by stardom, and his popularity in his home cities has been very strong. Now, Ramirez will serve a suspension for almost the entirety of the voting period, and will begin playing again on July 3, just 11 days before the All-Star Game in St. Louis, and two days before the All-Star teams are announced.

We are about to find out how much the fans truly care about this issue. Remember, fans have voted players onto the All-Star team who were having lousy seasons, who were injured and missing large parts of the current season, or who had been in decline for years. During the period of time in which Barry Bonds, villain, was accused of steroid use, he was voted onto the All-Star team in every season. It wasn't until he missed most of 2005 with a knee injury that he missed the All-Star Game, and when he was once again healthy enough to play, he made the team-he was elected to the team by the fans-in 2007. For me, this was strong evidence that the fans didn't care about purported steroid use.

Well, this year is a better test of that idea. Baseball fans around the world are going to get to vote, up or down, on whether Manny Ramirez should be an All-Star. In doing so they get to vote, up or down, on how they feel about a player suspended for using a substance he shouldn't have been using. No one boos Ryan Franklin, no one throws syringes at Juan Rincon, and no one argues that the home runs hit by Alex Sanchez should be stricken from the record book. Fine. Now, though, there's a ballot with a name next to a chad, and there's a website with a list of options, and a player who is clearly an All-Star based on every other criterion up for election. What are baseball fans going to do?

The 2009 National League All-Star voting is going to be the best information we yet have about how fans really feel about players suspected of using steroids. The potential for Ramirez to be voted onto the All-Star team while serving a PED suspension is easily the most interesting thing about his suspension today.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Manny Ramirez,  The Who

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