The Cleveland police officer flipped the siren switch and flagged down the car belonging to Manny Ramirez that night in 1997. Manny was driving with illegally tinted windows, his stereo blasting loud enough to be heard all the way to Ashtabula. "I'm going to give you a ticket," the officer told Ramirez, the budding young star of the Cleveland Indians. "I don't need any tickets," Manny replied, thinking this was a conversation about entry to Jacobs Field. "I can give you tickets."
Manny couldn't talk himself out of this one. And after receiving the ticket, he drove off ... and made an illegal U-turn right in front of the officer. He was promptly pulled over and received another ticket. So let the record show that Friday's news is not without precedent. Manny reportedly failed a drug test and was facing a second suspension under Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, and it's not the first time he's been caught breaking the rules twice. Alas, this time around, the second infraction -- and the abrupt retirement it caused -- was more serious than a traffic ticket. This definitively ends any hope, however faint, Ramirez had of reaching the Hall of Fame. In the examples of Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, among others, we've seen quite clearly how the voters feel about those who cheated the system. Barring a major change of heart on this issue in the coming years, Manny will be subjected to similar scrutiny and treatment. Manny will merely have to settle for having posted Hall of Fame numbers and for having given us a truly entertaining experience during his time in the Majors. He was a modern-day folk hero, so difficult to understand as a human, yet so easy to appreciate as a player. In the final analysis -- and we are, of course, boldly assuming that this really is the end for Manny Ramirez and that he has no further surprises up his sleeve -- the numbers are overwhelming. Ramirez hit 555 home runs, good for 14th all-time. He logged 2,574 hits. He ranks 18th all-time with 1,831 RBIs, including 100-plus RBIs in 12 separate seasons. Alex Rodriguez, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig are the only other players with more 100-RBI seasons. Manny led his league in on-base percentage or slugging percentage three times, won a batting title, a home run title and an RBI title. He logged a .937 career postseason OPS with a record 29 homers and won two World Series rings with the Red Sox. He was a member of 11 playoff teams in his 16 seasons. One of those was an astounding 1999 season with the Indians, in which he batted .333 with a .663 slugging percentage and an incredible 165 RBIs, the most since 1938. Ramirez's final line? A .312 average, .411 OBP and .585 SLG. That would be a career year for most. But Manny's career is forever tainted by the ugly and unnecessary stain of PEDs. Testing was in effect for four years -- four years in which Ramirez was still performing at a Hall of Fame pace -- before he was first caught (using fertility drugs, which only added to the lunacy of the situation) and suspended in 2009. It made you wonder why he would tempt fate when his legacy seemed secure. And yes, it made you wonder if Manny had been juicing all along. We'll likely never really know. But that's nothing new. Manny Ramirez has been a complicated soul for so long that to know his inner workings would diffuse the aura about him. So in that sense, Manny's sudden, surprising retirement -- announced via press release from the Major League offices -- was a fitting finale to a circus-like career. Ramirez was reportedly facing a 100-game suspension and, rather than appeal or endure it, chose to walk away. And thus ended all that Spring Training hyperbole about his motivation to prove himself again with the Rays, for whom he was batting .059 through five games. Perhaps it had to end this way. A bizarre capper to a career that, even in its low points, never lacked for intrigue. The Green Monster bathroom break, the faux pharyngitis, the uncashed checks stashed in his locker, the time he confused O.J. Simpson for Chad Ogea, the greatest catch of his career coming on an unwanted cutoff, the press conference in Espanol when everybody knows he speaks English ... these are the "Manny Being Manny" moments that combine with the numbers to make Ramirez one of baseball's most captivating figures. But Ramirez likely won't be a Hall of Famer. Because as he proved time and again, he played the game of baseball and the game of life by his own rules. And Manny's rules didn't always mesh with reality.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.