With a long history rich with tradition and ceremony, baseball is, more than any other sport, conducive to story-telling and folklore. Baseball has also, more than any other sport, been a subject of the Hollywood movie landscape, with plenty of classics like The Natural, Bull Durham, and Field of Dreams.

Ironic, then, that Hollywood (or should I say “Mannywood”) should be the setting for baseball’s latest, and perhaps most relevant, made-for-the-silver-screen storyline.

The Steroid Era.

It’s no secret now that Manny Ramirez was among the perhaps hundreds of major league baseball players who, throughout the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st century, used performance-enhancing drugs like steroids to gain an on-field advantage over their opponents and hasten recovery from injury. 

Just last season, Manny became the first big-name player to be suspended 50 games for the use of a banned substance which, in Man-Ram’s case, was a hormone therapy supplement intended to restore his body’s chemistry to normal levels following steroid use.

While Manny is far from alone in his status as a superstar whose accomplishments have been tainted by the use of PEDs (Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds come to mind), what makes his case particularly noteworthy is the short time-frame in which Manny has managed to play out the typical three-act script of a steroid star falling from grace, in just two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Act I: A Star Is Born

Once upon a time, at the start of August 2008, Manny Ramirez arrived in Chavez Ravine to an outpouring of fanfare. Acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline from Boston in a three-way deal for Andy LaRoche, Manny was greeted with open arms by a team struggling in its first year under legendary manager Joe Torre and by a rabid fan base of Angelenos tired of watching their punchless Dodgers whittle away yet another summer amidst the misery of triple-digit heat.

Lo and behold, Manny took Southern California by storm, hitting .396 with 17 home runs and 63 runs batted in over the final 53 games of the season to lift the Dodgers to the NL West Division title in a notably down year for National League baseball in the West.

The Dodgers would continue into the postseason, where the boys in blue swept the 100-win Chicago Cubs in the first round, only to lose to the eventual-World-Series-champion Philadelphia Phillies in the league championship series.

Nonetheless, Manny had done his job exceedingly well and earned a devoted following in the process.  Before the season was out, Dodger fans were donning dreadlock wigs and snapping up seats in a left-field section dubbed “Mannywood” by Dodger management.  It seemed as though Manny could do no wrong, until…

Act II: A Fall From Grace

As was the case with his precocious PED-pushing colleagues, Manny couldn’t keep his “secret for success” a secret for very long.  Barely a month into the 2009 season, Manny was suspended by MLB for 50 games after testing positive for hCG, a women’s fertility drug banned for its use by ballplayers to restart testosterone production after a cycle of steroid use.

While the likes of A-Rod and David Ortiz, Manny’s sidekick with the Red Sox, were being outed by anonymous sources and “insiders” for allegedly testing positive for PEDs during a preliminary round of confidential tests administered by Major League Baseball in 2003, Manny was caught in the act, once the rules had already long been in place to punish those who jeopardized the integrity of the game by using banned substances. 

The same hubris that had Manny holding out until spring training to sign a two-year, $45 million deal—when the Dodgers were the essentially bidding against themselves—also led him to continue his use of PEDs, despite the presence of random drug testing and severe penalties for those who tested positive.

Like that of his crest-fallen compatriots, the integrity of Manny’s accomplishments came under intense scrutiny by the national sports media. 

However, unlike others in his position, Manny made little, if any, attempt to apologize for his actions or proclaim innocence, choosing rather to neglect his teammates and, perhaps more importantly, his fans, who had elevated him to the status of SoCal sports icon in less than half-a-season’s-worth of games played.

While Manny remained idle in placating the organization, the fans, and the media, his lengthy suspension prevented him from regaining his place amongst the good graces of the baseball gods through positive on-field contributions.  Rather, Manny was forced to bide his time before he could begin his arduous climb back to respectability on the diamond.

Act III: A Shot At Redemption…

While some ‘roid ragers, like Rafael Palmeiro, fled for early retirement, others, like Manny, have kept on playin’ ball, for money as well as pride, though one can never underestimate the power of the dollar in anyone’s decision-making process, particularly that of a professional athlete.

Like clockwork, Manny returned to his place in the Dodgers lineup after the suspension, with the team having held remarkably steady during his absence.

Manny performed admirably, though not nearly as torridly as he had in his first two months in Dodger blue, finishing the season with a .290 batting average and 17 home runs in just over 100 games while battling through a variety of nagging injuries—quite possibly the kinds of injuries that steroids may have helped to heal—once again helping the Dodgers reach the NL Championship series, where they fell victim to the Phillies for a second consecutive year.

To almost no one’s surprise, the Mannywood faithful welcomed their hero back to left field with open arms, seemingly choosing to ignore his transgressions as just another case of “Manny being Manny,” with the Dodgers’ success serving as a convenient blindfold.

Fast-forward to this season, and Manny’s campaign to rebuild his image on the field has taken a considerable step backward. 

While A-Rod has spent the summer chasing (and reaching) the 600 home run milestone and Big Papi has worked his way out of an early-season slump, Manny has spent a significant portion of the schedule nursing his wounds (and his ego) on the disabled list while his teammates have struggled to play consistently solid baseball while maintaining a tenuous position of relevance in a division race chock-full of capable competitors. 

The recently-passed trade deadline saw fans and journalists alike calling on Dodgers GM Ned Colletti to dump Ramirez as a late-season rental to another contender in exchange for some valuable pieces, to help now and/or in the future. Not exactly the universal approval Manny might’ve hoped for.

Where Manny’s career goes from here is anybody’s guess.  There is little doubt that, whether by trade or contract expiration, Manny’s time as a Dodger will soon come to a somewhat tragic close. Once that time comes, the baseball community will have plenty of opportunity to cast judgment on Manny’s brief tenure in Los Angeles. 

Of all the many noteworthy observations to stem from the Mannywood experiment, perhaps most intriguing is how Manny and the Dodgers managed to write the perfect, if sullen, screenplay to match baseball’s 20-or-so years of steroids abuse–from the home run frenzy of the late ’90s and early 2000s, to the exposure of the specter of cheating in the mid-2000s, to the subdued return to normalcy of the present day.

In essence, Manny’s story is, for better or worse, a rather tidy encapsulation of the trials and tribulations of baseball’s latest generation of superstars and future legends, though, while set in “Tinseltown,” it concludes with anything but a Hollywood ending.

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