The Week That Was in Baseball: May 4-10, 2009
Manny Ramirez (Sigh) Embrace Him or Vilify Him, A-Rod is Back
Will Ryan Zimmerman Ever Stop Hitting?
Thank God for Padded Outfield Walls

The Dope on Manny
This past Wednesday, all was nirvana for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They were cruising with a productive top-to-bottom lineup, a suspect pitching staff holding its own and a 13-0 start at home, the best in major league history. Within the next 24 hours, the feel-good vibes would be shattered; super-slugger Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for illegal performance enhancement, and a stunned, Manny-less Dodger team went out and lost to the lowly Washington Nationals, 11-9, ending their record unbeaten streak at Dodger Stadium. Overall, they finished the week losing three out of four at home without Ramirez, including a 13-inning, 7-5 defeat to San Francisco on Sunday that could very have been different had Ramirez been present with his bat.

Immediately upon the announcement of his suspension, Ramirez released an official statement saying that the offending chemical was “not a steroid” but a doctor-prescribed drug that was not meant to improve his performance on a baseball field, but to improve it in bed. If so, we’ll know it’s working if we stumble upon Ramirez and his wife lying comfortably outdoors in the countryside in his-and-her bathtubs.

The drug Ramirez was accused of taking was human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a female fertility drug. Perhaps Manny, after hearing the story of that pregnant man a few months ago, was looking to add to his family.

Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, was asked by the Associated Press about HCG and was skeptical that Ramirez would be using the drug solely to increase his sexual drive, as Ramirez claimed. “It’s highly unlikely an otherwise healthy, young athlete would need HCG for a legitimate medical reason,” Tygart said. “That said, if there was valid medical need, his high-priced representatives should be fired for not ensuring that he was informed of the process that could have granted him permission to use it.”

Side effects of HCG are said to include headaches, mood swings and depression, which may explain Ramirez’s behavior in his final days with the Boston Red Sox.

There have been questions, if Ramirez has been taking steroids in advance of HCG, over how long he may have been using them. That’s for Ramirez to tell us if he pleases, but here’s some straight facts: In 2007, at the age of 35, Ramirez easily had his least impressive output since the start of his career, batting .296 with 20 home runs and 88 RBIs. Fine numbers to be sure, but weak by Manny standards. In 2008, Ramirez turned 36—an age in baseball that ushers in over-the-hill status—and was putting out only slightly better numbers. Then came the trade to Los Angeles, and from the moment he arrived, it was like he was 26 again. In 88 games (including postseason) since he’s put on a Dodger uniform, Ramirez has batted .391 with 27 homers, 83 RBIs, 72 walks and 67 runs scored. His on-base percentage is over .500, and his slugging percentage is a monumental .740. Could age and the pressure of playing at his best in advance of free agency have prompted him to dip into the juice? One wonders.

Pure Irony
Are the Dodgers looking to rent a slugger while Ramirez is out? Barry Bonds is available.

It Takes One to Know One
He’s ostracized from baseball, so what the heck: Jose Canseco will speak up regarding Ramirez. The granddaddy of major league steroid abusers believes Ramirez was using HCG because it helps bring testosterone levels back down to normal for a steroid user trying to go “cold turkey.” Canseco can relate; it was HCG he was trying to sneak in from Mexico, which led to his arrest and his current probation.

They Said What About Manny?
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports: “The intent of Ramirez’s breach of baseball’s drug policy – supposedly he was trying to stimulate sexual performance, ironic and convenient at once – does not matter. Everyone who tests positive has an excuse. There is a list of 58 performance enhancers and 30 stimulants written out, and millionaires with everything at their disposal still can’t help themselves. So it’s time for Major League Baseball to do it for them.…Banish the cheats.”

BALCO founder Victor Conte: “This is failing more than a drug test. This is failing an IQ test.”

Atlanta Brave manager Bobby Cox: “Nothing surprises me anymore.”

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: “Mannywood has officially gone to hell. The giddy streets are lined in shadows. The colorful houses are painted in lies. The friendly shops are stocked with juice. The mayor is a drug cheat.”

Tom Massarotti of the Boston Globe: “…At the time the Red Sox sent him to the Dodgers, Ramirez was batting .299 with a slugging percentage of .529. What has happened since, of course, has been a resurgence of Ruthian proportion. In one-third of a season with the Dodgers, Ramirez slugged .743 and hit nearly as many home runs (17) as he did in his last four months with the Red Sox (20)….Along the way, Manny just happened to be playing for a new contract. Is it so outrageous to think he simply cycled up when he most needed it?”

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News: “At heart, all of the drug-using players are selfish jerks. When the drugs allow them to put up better and more fantastic numbers, those players are taking away playing time and money from the clean players. And when the drug users are caught and punished, as Ramirez was, those players can't help their teammates at all.”

Houston Astro slugger Lance Berkman: “It wouldn’t surprise me if (Ramirez) was on steroids. It’s sad to say, but that’s the way I feel about it.”

Don Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe: “Manny’s a cheat, which means he may have been a cheat in 2004 and 2007, which means those trophies that were paraded from Groton to Halifax are not quite as shiny as they were last week. No team was untouched by the steroid era. Everybody was doing it. Even some of the Idiots.”

This Great Game's Ed Attanasio, a Dodger fan, e-mailing to TGG's Eric Gouldsberry when the news broke on Wednesday: "Ouch."

Our Final Thought on Manny
All we can say at this moment is: Please, Ryan Howard, please, Albert Pujols, please tell us you’ve been clean all these years. You’re our only hope.

Life Outside of Short
For the first time in his 21-year major league career consisting of 2,691 games, Omar Vizquel started a game at a different position besides shortstop when he took third base for the Texas Rangers in Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. The 42-year old future Hall of Famer has previously played twice each at second and third and once in the outfield, but in those games he had moved to those positions after starting the game at short.

Oh No, It's Jo-Jo...
It may be time to reassess Jo-Jo Reyes’ status as a major league starting pitcher in Atlanta. Reyes has gone winless in his last 17 starts, losing nine of them with a 6.27 ERA; just as alarming, he’s lasted an average of only 4.7 innings during this stretch. Reyes last won on June 13, 2008 at Anaheim.

...And Jose
The White Sox’ Jose Contreras, like Reyes, needs a turnaround and fast. In the 37-year old’s last 14 appearances dating back to last June, he’s 1-8 with an 8.61 ERA. His manager, Ozzie Guillen, is fed up to the point that he says he’ll start someone else in Contreras’ spot for his next scheduled outing this Wednesday.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Most hitting streaks start with a player on fire and, as he goes deeper into his run, plays it conservatively and gets that one hit or two every game. It’s been something of an opposite case for Ryan Zimmerman, who ends this past week with a 28-game hitting streak, the longest in the majors this season. It seems that with each game, the Washington third baseman just gets hotter and hotter; over his last nine games, he’s 19-for-40 (.475). If Zimmerman can keep the streak alive through this week, he’ll surpass two milestones; the franchise record for the longest hitting run, currently held by Vladimir Guerrero for the 1999 Montreal Expos, and the Washington modern-era record of 33 set in 1933 by the Senators’ Heinie Manush.

One Pitch, One Rebuttal
Alex Rodriguez, who’s shown an uncanny ability to produce when the heat of controversy is hottest upon him, launched a towering three-run homer on the first regular season pitch offered to him this past Friday in Baltimore, setting the tone for the New York Yankees’ 4-0 win over the Orioles. The Camden Yards crowd of 36,926—well represented by Oriole and Yankee fans alike—lit up the atmosphere with a combative mix of boos and cheers as Rodriguez stepped to the plate for the first time, an interesting barometer of what he’ll expect as he makes the rounds through the major league circuit this season after his admission to using steroids. Rodriguez missed the Yankees’ first 28 games of the season with a hip injury and, with the help of CC Sabathia’s first shutout in pinstripes, helped end a five-game Yankee losing skid.

Escaping Mario Mendoza
The only Yankee perhaps more thrilled see Rodriguez return to major league action, after Rodriguez himself, is Mark Teixeira, the Bronx’s $180 million free agent capture who was batting .198 before A-Rod’s debut on Friday at Baltimore.

A Padded Result
The outfield wall padding at Busch Stadium saved Rick Ankiel from suffering the same fate—or worse—as the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Pete Reiser on July 19, 1942 at the Cardinals’ old home of Sportman’s Park. This past Monday, the St. Louis center fielder chased after a deep fly pegged by the Phillies’ Pedro Feliz at full speed and appeared to make the catch, but then stumbled as he braced for impact against the wall and hit it awkwardly, his left neck and shoulder taken the brunt of the collision. Ankiel was carried off the field on a stretcher with a neck brace as a cautionary measure, but he was back at the ballpark the next day, out of uniform but with only muscle stiffness to complain about—although he would eventually be placed on the 15-day disabled list. Reiser wasn’t as lucky in a time before OSHA and a legitimate player’s union. He slammed head-on into the Sportsman’s Park wall, which was pure concrete with no padding whatsoever, and cracked his skull. A 22-year old superstar in bloom at the time, Reiser was never the same. Thanks to a bit of cushion, Ankiel has avoided a similar fate.

Musical Bases
The Boston Red Sox established an AL record and tied a modern all-time mark when they scored 12 runs in an inning before a single out was made in Thursday’s 13-3 rout of the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park. Jason Bay’s three-run homer capped the dozen-run rally in the sixth inning, to be followed by three straight outs. On May 24, 1953, the Brooklyn Dodgers also scored 12 times before the first out of the eighth inning during a 16-2 win at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park against the Phillies.

Repeat Defender
Leave it to the new Yankee Stadium: Mariano Rivera gave up back-to-back home runs for the first time in his long, illustrious career on Thursday night, allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to break a 6-6 tie to beat the Yankees, 8-6. The two blows, by Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, were the third and fourth allowed this year by Rivera; he’s never allowed more than five for an entire season since his rookie year in 1995, when he was a part-time starter and surrendered 11 homers.

Dom DiMaggio, 1917-2009
Dom DiMaggio, the youngest and second most-famous of the DiMaggio clan, died this past week at the age of 92. While brother Joe accrued a rightful share of celebrity within the family, Dom was by no means a hanger-on by comparison. In 11 major league seasons for the Boston Red Sox, he batted .298 with 1,680 hits and 1,046 runs scored; but the barometer of his major league success was best reflected in the fact that he was a seven-time all-star. Even when he attempted to emulate Joe’s record-breaking hitting streak with one of his own in 1949, it was Joe who grabbed the headlines at the end when his catch on a sinking liner ended Dom’s 34-game run. After his retirement, Dom was successful in the auto upholstery business and was a founding partner of the NFL’s New England Patriots.

Another Florida Cold Snap Ended
Last year, Ricky Nolasco ended a record-breaking string of 301 games in which a Florida Marlin starter did not earn a complete game. This past Friday, Nolasco ended another dubious (but not record-setting) skid when he became the first Marlin starter in 20 games to be credited with a win as Florida trounced the Rockies at Colorado, 8-3.

Forget Manny—Suspend Theriot!
Infielder Ryan Theriot of the Chicago Cubs hit three home runs in a four-game stretch this past week after playing 156 straight games without a single blast. The three homers give him ten in 390 career games.

Run, Carl, Run!
Certainly fueled by his record-tying performance last Sunday when he stole six bases against Boston, Carl Crawford continued to run, run, run, extending a streak of games with at least one steal to nine games that ended this past Thursday. Only two other major leaguers had run up a streak that long since 1954: Rickey Henderson, who did it three times in 1980, 1983 (with 11 straight games) and 1986, and Corey Patterson in 2006. Crawford has stolen 22 bases so far this year—easily the highest in baseball—and hasn’t been caught once.

Just a Bit High
Washington pitcher Daniel Cabrera has been known to be wild—so far in 2009, he’s given up 22 walks (with just ten strikeouts), thrown seven wild pitches and hit a batter in 29 innings of winless work—but he was briefly upstaged after exiting the mound in Wednesday’s 10-3 loss at Los Angeles when his replacement, Mike Hinckley, walked the Dodgers’ Orlando Hudson with the bases loaded on a pitch that flew 30 feet above home plate.

Catching Up
Bob Melvin replaced Bob Brenly as Arizona manager just as he succeeded Brenly as the starting catcher in San Francisco in the late 1980s, and so after Melvin’s firing this past week, making him baseball’s first managerial casualty of the 2009 season, we thought it made sense that his replacement would be Kirt Manwaring. Instead they went with another former catcher, A.J. Hinch—a man with no managerial experience and, at the age of 34, the youngest to take the reins of a major league team since Eric Wedge was hired in Cleveland in 2002 at a slightly younger age.

Winning Games, the Cla Way
San Diego reliever Cla Meredith (4-0) has one less win so far in 2009 than the entire Padre starting rotation.

Wounded of the Week
It’s officially a new trend in baseball; when a pitcher is performing downright ugly, his team usually comes to the conclusion that they’re must be something physically wrong going on, like some mass conspiracy at work. Carlos Silva, who’s been a stranger to fine pitching since signing a big contract with Seattle (he’s 5-18 with a 6.77 ERA so far as a Mariner) and the Mets’ Oliver Perez—who was incredibly given a contract almost identical to that of teammate and closer Francisco Rodriguez—were both placed on the disabled list this past week for, basically, lousy pitching. Their teams hope to find something medically awry that would explain their woes; after all, it can’t just be that these guys suddenly can’t pitch, right?

Other players making the major league MASH unit this past week include Chicago Cub ace Carlos Zambrano (a hamstring injury after trying to run out a bunt), Yankee catcher Jorge Posada (another bad hammy), Detroit outfielder Carlos Guillen (shoulder and Achilles tendon), Kansas City closer Joakim Soria (strained rotator cuff) and pitcher Yusmeiro Petit (shoulder), the stand-in for the also-injured Brandon Webb at Arizona.

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