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Thursday, May 7, 2009
Manny reaction: Surprise, dismay

ESPN.com news services

Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal was one of the first baseball players from the Dominican Republic to become a star in the major leagues. His reaction Thursday to the news that fellow Dominican Manny Ramirez had tested positive for a banned substance and been suspended for 50 games was one of surprise and dismay.

"I was wrong thinking he was a pure, natural hitter and that he would never use anything that would help a player do better," Marichal told ESPN. "When I read Jose Canseco's comments [saying Ramirez almost surely used banned drugs], I thought Canseco was wrong. Now that Manny was suspended 50 games, I was wrong in thinking he was clean." "I'm very sad to hear a player of his caliber could be involved in such a thing. I consider it cheating the game to have a positive test," Marichal added. "They should not be in the Hall of Fame, anybody who tested positive. Testing positive today is crazy."

Marichal was not the only person in baseball caught by off-guard by the news.

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was talking to reporters before Thursday's game against Pittsburgh when a clubhouse attendant stuck his head in and said: "Manny Ramirez, 50 games."

La Russa's first reaction: "You're kidding me."

Then he checked the schedule to see whether the Cardinals would be playing the Los Angeles Dodgers while Ramirez is out.

Reaction ranged from shock to self-interest across baseball and other sports after Major League Baseball suspended Ramirez for 50 games for failing a drug test. The commissioner's office did not say what the Dodgers slugger tested positive for; Ramirez said it was not steroids but a prescription medication that contained a banned substance.

"Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility," he said in a statement that was released by the players association. "I have been advised not to say anything more for now."

Ramirez said he has taken and passed about 15 drug tests during the past five seasons, but the one failed test announced Thursday adds him to a list of stars who have been tainted by suspicion or proof of drug use. Barry Bonds is under indictment and Roger Clemens is wondering if he will be next; Alex Rodriguez is fighting allegations in a book released this week that his steroid use was more widespread than he has admitted publicly.

"You can't have arguably the greatest pitcher of our era, arguably the two greatest players of our era and now another very, very good player be under this cloud of suspicion and not feel like it has ruined it for everybody," Atlanta star Chipper Jones said.

"But what are you going to do? You can't be born in a different era. It is the Steroid Era," he said.

At Fenway Park, where Ramirez played through his prime and became Boston's first World Series MVP, the writer of his authorized biography said her first suspicion was that the drug was marijuana. "Innocent until proven guilty, and I don't have all the facts," said Jean Rhodes, the author of "Becoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball's Most Enigmatic Slugger."

Rhodes painted Ramirez as a quirky craftsman who gave off an air of apathy but was diligent in his preparations. That's the assessment of Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who played with Ramirez on the 2004 team that ended Boston's 86-year World Series drought.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if anybody in the game turned up on anything prior to '04, but since '04, I feel like the game's been pretty clean," Arroyo said. "It's kind of shocking that he got caught up in anything, honestly. Manny likes to play stupid, but he's a pretty bright guy. And he's definitely aware of a lot of things that he tries to act like he's completely oblivious to."

The Red Sox declined to comment on the specifics of Ramirez's suspension but added: "We staunchly support Major League Baseball's drug policy and commend the efforts associated with that program."

In his pregame meeting with the media, manager Terry Francona deflected three attempts for comment on Ramirez.

"No comment about Manny," slugger David Ortiz said, walking past reporters at his locker. "I play for Boston. Manny plays for L.A. Go and ask him."

Ramirez's quirky side made him a fan favorite during his early years in Boston, and it may have helped him become the Hall of Fame-caliber player who seemed unaffected by strikeouts, home runs and paychecks alike. But his uncaring attitude eventually wore thin on his teammates, and he was shipped to Los Angeles last summer.

He batted .396 with the Dodgers with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 games and helped propel them to the playoffs.

"It's a sad day for baseball," Seattle Mariners first baseman Mike Sweeney said.

Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena, a former teammate of Ramirez's for a brief time, said he was "extremely surprised" by the news.

"It devastates me," Pena said. "It's just not good for the game. I'm a baseball players but I'm also a huge fan of [Ramirez's] not only as a baseball player but he's always been so gracious to us. It makes me sad."

"I've learned not to be shocked by anything," New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira told ESPN.com's Amy K. Nelson. "It's just unfortunate because we've done everything we possibly can to try and move on, but some things are still happening."

"Obviously, he's a main cog, and he's not going to be in play for a while," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "We'll see how that ball club handles that adversity. Can they win without him? I'm sure they feel confident that they can. But I know they're a different team without him in the lineup."

Braves manager Bobby Cox was among those who said he was no longer stunned by any of the revelations. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said his biggest surprise was that players continue to push the limits of the game's drug-testing system.

"These players know they're getting tested and they're still getting caught. I don't understand it," Bochy said. "I'm not surprised. ... It's disappointing these major league players are getting caught. It's not good for the game, it's not good for the kids who look up to players."

Former Ramirez teammate Tony Clark, now with the Diamondbacks, agreed.

"Any time you have the superstars in your game find themselves in difficult situations, it can't help but cast a general cloud over the group as a whole," he said. "And that's why someone as respected and appreciated for his ability as Manny is makes it really difficult. As a fan, as a former teammate and obviously now as a competitor, it makes it difficult."

Reaction spilled into other sports.

Shaquille O'Neal said on Twitter, where Ramirez was the No. 1 search topic: "Dam manny ramirez, come on man Agggggggggh, agggggggh,agggggh."

Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he thought players should be more concerned about the health effects of steroids.

"But it doesn't tarnish my image of them. They're still great players," Rivers said. "I just hope it all goes away. I just hate anything that deflects from the game."

ESPN producer Willie Weinbaum and information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.