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Use a banned substance? Mannywould

Use a PED? Mannywould

More news under the sad-but-true heading: The performance-enhancing drug era has still not left the national pastime.

The latest PED culprit is one of baseball's biggest names, Manny Ramirez. The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder was suspended for 50 games on Thursday for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. You have, of course, heard of "Manny being Manny." This is apparently Manny being juiced.

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Manny Ramirez

Ramirez delivered what has become one of the standard alibis in these cases -- he said the banned substance he used was prescribed by a doctor.

Let's give him the complete benefit of the doubt and accept that as truth. In the larger scheme of things, that excuse still doesn't wash. It doesn't matter if you got the substance from your doctor, your personal trainer or your barber. If the substance in question is a banned substance, you are subject to suspension.

Manny at least took some personal responsibility for this "mistake" in a statement issued by the Major League Baseball Players Association. In the same statement he apologized to the Dodgers owners, the Dodgers manager, his Dodgers teammates, the Dodgers organization and the Dodgers fans for "this whole situation."

He failed to apologize to everybody else in the world who cares about the integrity of the game. More than anything else, for friends of the game, this case is sad.

Just a few months ago, there was a tremendous difference in news developments and in tone between Spring Training in Florida and Spring Training in Arizona. In Florida, the largest story for a time focused on the use of PEDs by Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees. There was much gnashing of teeth.

But in Arizona, the largest story for a time was the Dodgers finally signing Manny. It was an upbeat, even joyous story for the Dodgers. Manny had transformed the Dodgers in the second half of the 2008 season, not only with his prodigious run production, but with the plus side of his personality. He had become not only the core of the Dodgers lineup, but a rallying point, a positive presence for the team's younger players.

Looking back on that Spring Training glee now, for all of us who happily reported it, we were used. We were duped. We were had. Again. Here was one more major player, one more transcendent slugger, who, instead of just playing, was also cheating.

This entire episode will obviously damage the Dodgers, who will be without Manny's services for nearly one-third of the season. They didn't do anything to deserve this, other than paying him $45 million over two years.

But well beyond that, this episode is another body blow to the credibility of the game. The list of star players who have used PEDs was already too long, and now one more immense name has been added to that list.

Is there a plus side, a small sliver of consolation anywhere in this episode for baseball fans? It would have to be this: Baseball isn't playing any favorites in its punishment of PED users. Some marginal prospects in A-ball are not the only ones who are being suspended. It's Manny Ramirez, one of the biggest, most visible, most heralded players in the contemporary game.

He used and he's going to sit for 50 games -- the penalty every other first-time Major League offender would receive in this situation. Suspensions in these cases come without pay, so Manny will be losing roughly $7.7 million. It is too bad baseball cannot require him to do some kind of penance, some public service, as a way of apologizing to all the kids who idolized him.

The damage that he has done to the game is beyond the measurement of dollars, even millions of dollars. Every time you believe that the PED era is a closed book, here comes a Roger Clemens or an Alex Rodriguez or a Manny Ramirez, and the whole issue is with us again, front and center, inescapable, providing a lifetime supply of dismay.

What will this do to the legacy of Manny Ramirez, to the historical view of his role in baseball, to his status as someone who appeared to be a lock for the Hall of Fame? That is an intriguing question and a debate that can go on for years. But it is not as large as the central question: By using PEDs, how much damage has Manny done to baseball?

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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