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Manny's suspension a lesson

Manny's suspension a lesson

Major League Baseball sustained a huge blow to its integrity on Thursday when superstar Manny Ramirez, face of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was suspended for 50 games for use of a performance-enhancing drug.

There was sadness and alarm throughout baseball, which seemingly cannot get out from under this huge, devastating black cloud. There also might have been a measure of satisfaction.

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Manny Ramirez

Kansas City Royals player rep Mark Teahen put it best: "It's tough to keep hearing that the best players in the game are not following the rules of the game ... and it's definitely not fun to see the game go through something like this."

Ramirez -- by far -- is the biggest name to be suspended.

If Manny, who propelled the Dodgers to their record 13-0 start at home and a comfortable lead in National League West, is an admitted cheater, what about all the others we don't know about?

Now, the two highest-paid players in the Major Leagues -- Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, who was outed in February -- have been nailed for using performance-enhancing substances.

The only difference is Rodriguez admitted to using steroids for three seasons (2001-03) before there were penalties for performance-enhancing drugs. After recovering from hip surgery in March, he's expected to rejoin the New York Yankees on Friday night in Baltimore.

Regardless, as far as I'm concerned none of these players -- Ramirez, A-Rod, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, et al, will ever get my Hall of Fame vote.

In Milwaukee, Commissioner Bud Selig went to work Thursday morning bracing himself because he knew this bombshell would be dropped at noon. More bad publicity for baseball, which is also fighting these tough economic times.

Yet as sad as he might have been, deep down Selig had to have a feeling of satisfaction. His drug plan is working.

Yes, it's sad some of the greatest players have been and are implicated during this steroids era, but the Ramirez suspension, as shocking as it is, proves the latest program Selig pushed so hard for is ridding the game of cheaters.

It calls for a first offender (positive test) to be suspended without pay for 50 games. A second positive test calls for 100 games and a third a lifetime ban.

This falls short of the no-tolerance drug policy used by the U.S. Olympic Committee, but is the strongest in professional sports.

Consider this: In 2005, when the Orioles' Palmeiro tested positive, he was suspended for just 10 days.

If I had my way, players who test positive would be kicked out of baseball forever. Fifty games seems too little.

The sanctity of baseball is much too important to make room for cheaters.

Barring postponements, Ramirez, who's hitting .348 with six homers and 20 RBIs, will return July 3.

But the fact that one of the baseball's greatest hitters, a player who makes millions for the Dodgers, gives them hope to return to the World Series and is the biggest drawing card since Fernando Valenzuela in the 1980s, is suspended for 50 games should send a strong message: MLB will not hide any player, even its superstars, if they violate the rules.

So, yes, MLB did suffer a huge blow on Thursday, but skeptical fans have to believe today most of the feats they're paying to see are legitimate.

Any player who might have a notion to try something to get an extra edge need look only at Ramirez. He's losing $7.7 million of his $25 million salary and his reputation will be forever tainted.

In his statement he made excuses, but the bottom line is, he's a cheater.

Ramirez, 36, in accepting his penalty, said in a statement he "saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was OK to give me. Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy."

That's nothing more than a cop out during this era of heightened drug testing.

The Phillies' J.C. Romero, suspended for 50 games after using a banned substance purchased at a GNC outlet last year, also claimed innocence -- or ignorance.

These players were irresponsible. Period.

The Players Association and Major League Baseball have gone to great lengths to publish a list of banned substances for players. There's even a video which goes into great detail about such substances.

A source told MLB.com that the substance Ramirez used was not an anabolic steroid, but it was very much a performance-enhancing drug. If there was a legitimate medical need for this drug, Ramirez and his doctor should have consulted the players union before it was taken.

No matter how much Romero -- he's suing the drug manufacturer and GNC -- pleads his case, he took the substance because he was looking for a "boost."

It will be interesting to see how the often moody Ramirez, now a fan favorite in Los Angeles, handles this tremendous blow to his career.

For manager Joe Torre, whose Dodgers have the best record in the Major Leagues, he should use this as a positive for his players.

First, there's the obvious lesson to be learned. Second, he must convince them that they can continue their journey to October by picking up the slack without Ramirez.

Regardless, this sad story has damaged baseball, the Dodgers and Manny Ramirez.

Years from now, though, I'm convinced historians will say everyone involved learned from it. And baseball prospered.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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