I was playing left field for the Dodgers; number 99. Chad Billingsley was on the mound. Carlos Delgado walked off the on-deck circle and approached the plate. He took a few practice swings, then stepped into the batter's box. Billingsley turned toward the outfield, wiped his forehead, then scratched his crotch. Then he faced the batter, and looked for the sign from catcher Russell Martin. He shook off the first sign. He then gave a quick nod and delivered a 96mph fastball right down the middle of the plate. Delgado swung and hit a fly ball to left center. I sprinted toward the ball, not worrying about the hamstring I pulled in the first homestand of the season. At full speed I ran. Then, all of a sudden I was running in slow motion, as if in a dream. I ran and ran and ran. The ball hung in the air, and I felt myself gaining ground on it. I was now running at full speed. I was heading toward the wall in left-center. The wall was getting closer, but I knew the ball was within reach. I didn't make the major leagues by giving up. Suddenly the ball flew out of my reach, into the stands, and I crashed violently into the wall. Then I woke up.
It was all a dream. It's a recurring dream - one that I've had since Manny Ramirez got kicked out of baseball for 50 games for using a banned substance, a woman's fertility drug. Ramirez, number 99, just came back to the Dodgers yesterday, and here I am again, in my dream, with his number. The drug in question is reportedly human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), according to an ESPN report that came out at the time. It's a woman's fertility drug and it is typically used by steroid users after they come off a steroid cycle, to restart their body's natural testosterone production. A woman's fertility drug? That's one drug I'm sure most men would prefer to stay away from; it doesn't sound too healthy to me. Of course, most baseball fans are so used to hearing about drug use by their favorite players, they really don't seem to care anymore.
Ramirez, retained his popularity, almost being voted by the fans into the All-Star game. During his suspension, he continued to be featured on billboards around Los Angeles. Ramirez made a half-hearted apology, but neither he nor the Dodgers made any statement or public service announcement denouncing performance-enhancing drugs, other than a back-handed announcement by Dodgers general manager Nick Colletti. "It's a dark day for baseball and certainly for this organization," he told reporters shortly after the suspension. Colletti alluded to illegal substances, but never actually said them by name. "This organization will never condone anything that isn't clean." Did he mean that he didn't want the baseballs to get scuffed?
In a news conference on Friday, Ramirez said how much he appreciated the enormous outpouring of support of the fans since his suspension. "I'm not surprised," he said, "because I'm one of the best players to ever put the uniform on". Ramirez refused to comment on his use of drugs. His agent, Scott Boras, said that because he apologized, he didn't have to explain himself further.
Today, in the first at-bat of his second game back from the suspension, Ramirez got his first hit, a home run. He's back in fine form and the Dodgers are still in first place. Nothing's really changed.
Maybe my recurring Manny Ramirez dream will end. Maybe it won't. But there's one thing I do know. Major League Baseball is not done hearing about the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Baseball is just a game, but the message being sent out by some of the multi-millionaires who get caught taking illegal substances, and then come back to cheering fans, is unfortunate.
Kids are influenced by their heroes, and Ramirez had the opportunity to use his 50-game suspension for good. He could have spoken out to kids involved in school sports, warning them about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. Instead, he preferred to hang out at his mansion and play video games.
As the news is coming out about Michael Jackson's prescription painkiller use being the cause of his death, it should be remembered that there have been deaths attributed to steroids. Baseball player Ken Caminiti died in 2004 of a heart attack attributed to years of steroid abuse. Pro wrestler Chris Benoit, who was a long term steroid user, in 2007 strangled his wife and suffocated his 7-year-old son before placing a bible next their bodies. He then hanged himself on the pulley of a weight machine.
The issue of steroid-related deaths heated up in 1992 when former NFL defensive lineman Lyle Alzado died of brain cancer. Before his death, he blamed his cancer on the steroids which he took during most of his career.
Alzado tried to get his message out about the dangers of steroid abuse, telling Sports Illustrated, "I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I'm sick, and I'm scared. Ninety percent of the athletes I know are on the stuff. We're not born to be 300 pounds or jump 30 feet. But all the time I was taking steroids, I knew they were making me play better. I became very violent on the field and off it. I did things only crazy people do. Once a guy sideswiped my car and I beat the hell out of him. Now look at me. My hair's gone, I wobble when I walk and have to hold on to someone for support, and I have trouble remembering things. My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way."
Manny Ramirez only suffered the loss of 50 games' pay. The long-term damage to his health is not yet known. I'm surprised I'm not having nightmares.