The new rules for Manny Ramirez read like something out of the Wild West, which is somehow appropriate since baseball doesn’t get played much farther west than Dodger Stadium. Instead of having to be out of town by sundown, Ramirez must be out of uniform by the time paying customers begin making their way into the seats once known as Mannywood.
Baseball has its own peculiar way of dealing with its outlaws, though it’s likely Ramirez will miss the $7.7 million he’ll be docked in salary more than he will the privilege of wearing Dodger blue every night.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, surely will miss him. So will the fans who shelled out good money for bad dreadlocks and bought No. 99 jerseys by the armful.
Ramirez will return well rested on July 3 to the welcoming arms of his teammates and the cheers of fans. Knowing his flair for the dramatic, he just might hit a home run on the first pitch offered up to him as Alex Rodriguez so famously did Friday night in Baltimore.
In the meantime, the Dodgers must get by with the ultimate anti-juicer, a scrawny outfielder with so little power that Joe Torre has taken to batting him in the pitcher’s spot. The last time Juan Pierre was this close to a steroid scandal he was appearing before kids urging them not to cheat at the same time Barry Bonds was at Dodger Stadium stalking the home run record.
Pierre doesn’t throw well, struggles to get the ball out of the infield and has hit only 13 home runs in 10 years. But he treats every at-bat like it’s his last, can steal a base and has somehow managed to get the Dodgers to pay him $9 million a year for his limited skills.
Pierre didn’t want to talk much about Ramirez the other night, and it’s hard to blame him. Here’s a guy who has had to fight for everything he’s gotten, yet seemed destined for a season on the bench while a cheater with far more talent than he could ever imagine played in front of him.
There’s a lot of guys like that in baseball. Like Pierre, though, they have all stayed strangely quiet even as players around them kept getting bigger and began hitting the ball farther than ever. They’re the ones who have to compete on an uneven playing field, yet somehow the unwritten code of the clubhouse forbids them from speaking out against the juicers.
Steroids have ensnared some of the biggest names in baseball, yet the silence is still deafening. There are more than 100 more names that might never be released, but if the fans can point to some likely suspects you can bet the players know even more. They’ve seen how others can get better through chemicals, and they know why certain players began struggling about the same time baseball got serious about testing.
Yet they say nothing.
Unfortunately, as long as Rodriguez keeps hitting home runs, he’ll be cheered in the Bronx. The same goes for Ramirez in Los Angeles, where on Saturday two kids who couldn’t have been older than 10 sat in a front row at Dodger Stadium wearing fake dreadlocks.
They were probably too young to know much about steroids or the reason their hero wasn’t in the ballpark. But there is one thing they surely did know.
They weren’t there to see Juan Pierre.