Like old times, Sox players forced to address yet another Manny controversy

Glen Farley

In many ways, the day served as a trip back in time at the old ball yard on Yawkey Way.

The topic of discussion in the home clubhouse at Fenway Park was Manny Ramirez – and the man himself wasn’t around to answer any questions.

Manny being Manny?

The old saying hit new depths Thursday when Major League Baseball slapped the Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder with a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

“It’s another mark for baseball,” Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay said prior to Thursday night’s 13-3 rout of the Cleveland Indians in, ironically enough, a matchup of Ramirez’s previous two teams. “It’s tough that a lot of this stuff goes down.

“Obviously, as a baseball player, a baseball fan, it’s another black eye that you’ve got to kind of crawl out of a little bit, but what’s done is done. It’s unfortunate, (but) we’re going to move on.”

Which is exactly what the Red Sox were looking to do last July 31 when they sent Ramirez 3,000 miles away to L.A. as part of a three-team trade that brought Bay to Boston from Pittsburgh.

“We got more things to worry about on our team,” Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon answered when asked about Ramirez suspension. “Obviously, this is a big news story and blah, blah, blah, but there are so many more things on our team that we have to get ready for and move on. He’s not in our clubhouse anymore. This is something that we’re not even worried about.”

The Red Sox may not be worried about it, but on this day, as so often was the case in the past, members of the team were being asked to comment on yet another Ramirez firestorm.

In this instance, however, Ramirez wasn’t refusing to meet the press. He was literally miles away.

“I play for Boston. Manny plays for L.A.,” designated hitter and Ramirez ally David Ortiz said a couple of hours before he was scratched from the Red Sox lineup with a stiff neck. “Go and ask him (about the matter).”

Third baseman Mike Lowell echoed those sentiments when asked if Ramirez might have done anything to violate baseball’s drug policy while a member of the Red Sox from 2001 through July of last year.

“I have no idea,” said Lowell, a teammate of Ramirez for a little more than 2 1/2 seasons. “He’s a phenomenal hitter and I never saw anything so I defer to asking Manny that question.”

This much is certain: Ramirez would have plenty of time to answer.  As a result of his suspension, the 36-year-old Ramirez – he of the career .315 batting average with 533 home runs (17th all-time) and 1,745 RBI (19th) in 2,130 big league games – won’t be pulling on jersey No. 99 for the Dodgers until July 3.

Safe to say, though, the fireworks have already been felt in baseball circles from coast to coast.

“Certainly it’s another shot at baseball’s attempt to clean it up,” first-year Sox pitcher John Smoltz said. “I’m on the tail end of my career and I hope they clean it up. I really do. I hope it gets back to the greatest game on earth and I’m confident it will.

“Unfortunately, you’ve got to go through stuff like this. Speculation, hearsay, legitimate stuff, sooner or later there will be enough wakeup calls and guys will do whatever they can to make sure their name is not on the news for (things) like this. I’m sure nobody in their right mind wants to be dealing with it.”

Added Lowell: “(It’s) another big-name guy. I think it’s just another black eye for the game. I think guys that are playing the game trying to maximize the talents that they’ve been given naturally, you know, everyone’s linked in that category and I think that’s what’s a shame.

“I understand it’s hard for Major League Baseball to try to glorify guys that they think are doing it right because we don’t know. That’s almost what it’s down to. I think that’s very unfortunate, but we keep finding these guys and I think the message is terrible, especially for young kids who might aspire to be Major League Baseball players.”

Lured from Cleveland in December of 2000 by an eight-year, $160 million contract that contained $20 million options for 2009 and 2010, while problems with his attitude ultimately led the Red Sox to cut their ties with him, there can be no disputing the fact that Ramirez put up numbers that helped carry the team to World Series wins in 2004 and 2007.

Given that, there will no doubt be a faction that contends that those two titles are now tainted.

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but I don’t feel like our ’07 season was tainted,” said Lowell. “This is still a 25-man team.”

Glen Farley is a sportswriter for The Enterprise