AFP, LOS ANGELES
In a flash, the gloss was off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ sparkling start to the season with the news that super-slugger Manny Ramirez had been suspended for 50 games for using a banned drug.
The Dodgers were still glowing from their 13th straight home win to start the season — a modern Major League Baseball record — when the latest baseball drug scandal broke on Thursday.
“The mood was sad in the clubhouse,” Dodgers manager Joe Torre said of his meeting with his team prior to Thursday night’s game against Washington.
“You can’t have someone who is as much of an impact player and personality as Manny missing without it affecting people,” he said.
Torre said that while the Dodgers fully supported the suspension, they also would try to support Ramirez, who said he was given medication by a doctor that contained a banned substance.
The drug was reported by US media to be human chorionic gonadotropin — most often used as a female fertility drug.
“As tough as it is for us, it’s pretty tough for Manny, too,” Torre said. “I know he’s the one that did the wrong thing and nobody is trying to cover that up, but it’s still something that I know he’s sorry about.”
Ramirez, with his penchant for home runs, his idiosyncratic personality and dreadlocked mane, has become a fan favorite in Los Angeles, where a section of seats at Dodger Stadium had been dubbed “Mannywood.”
Now the Dodgers will have to try to find a way to win without him until he is eligible to return on July 3.
While they do that, their rivals and baseball fans were left to digest yet another doping scandal.
While Ramirez is the biggest name to be suspended under Major League Baseball’s anti-doping policy, the specter of steroids has haunted the game for years.
About 90 players were named in the Mitchell Report on doping as being linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
Home run king Barry Bonds is now facing charges of lying under oath to a grand jury in the BALCO steroid probe, while superstar pitcher Roger Clemens is under investigation over whether he lied to a Congressional hearing when he denied using banned substances.
Rafael Palmeiro tested positive, Jose Canseco admitted using steroids and sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have been tainted by doping allegations.
Prior to this season, Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez admitted using performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003, but didn’t face a suspension because baseball’s anti-doping rules weren’t in place then.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he was on steroids,” Houston Astros slugger Lance Berkman said of Ramirez. “It’s sad to say, but that’s the way I feel about it.”
But Bronson Arroyo, a former teammate of Ramirez in Boston, was surprised.
“It’s kind of shocking that he got caught up in anything, honestly,” he said. “Manny likes to play stupid, but he’s a pretty bright guy.”
San Diego Padres pitcher Jake Peavy said he hoped the latest tainted player wouldn’t prevent fans from realizing baseball is trying to clean up its act.
“It’s unfortunate for the game when you have big names being suspended or being punished, but I hope people realize we’re doing all we can as players and as a sport in general to make sure we’re clean.”
But Atlanta’s Chipper Jones acknowledged that the current crop of Major Leaguers couldn’t escape the cloud of suspicion.