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Major League Baseball must ask why players still think steroids are worth the risk

Somewhere, Manny Ramirez's cousin is having champagne.

Which is appropriate, considering it could have been him tossed under a Dodgers bus on Thursday. It could have been him with the TV cameras camped out on his lawn. It could have been him playing the role of Manny's designated patsy.

Alas, when it came time for Ramirez to shift blame for a 50-game drug suspension Thursday, the Mystery-Cousin-From-Somewhere-Else excuse had already been taken by Alex Rodriguez. Yeah, some drug cheats have all the luck.

Which left poor Manny grasping for something original. Something plausible. Something between the sixth floor and the grassy knoll. Unfortunately for him, there has been a rush on entertaining steroid defenses.

Roger Clemens had used the Doesn't-Everyone-Get-Vitamin-Shots-In-The-Butt ploy a few months back. Andy Pettitte had gone all victim on us with It-Was-Only-Because-I-Was-Hurt act. And Gary Sheffield and Rafael Palmeiro both tried the Blame-It-On-Another-Player routine.

And so Ramirez was left scraping the bottom of the alibi box.

So, tell me, do you buy his My-Doctor-Did-It excuse?

Because, I have to admit, sometime between Palmeiro pointing a finger at congressional committee members and A-Rod telling fibs to Katie Couric on national television, I've lost my trust on this issue. Call me cynical, but I always think the dreck is in the male.

At this point, I would prefer silence. I would feel a lot more sympathy if a player just said, "Hey, I was stupid." Actually, coming from Manny, that's a defense I would buy.

Because these days, anything else sounds like an agent's spin. (And by the way, few agents have had as much practice as Scott Boras, who seems to have a disproportionate number of these type of issues.)

But here's what's amusing about all these excuses:

We really don't need to know why a player might have taken performance enhancing drugs.

Heck, just look at MVP winners from the past 15 years. Barry Bonds, Miguel Tejada, Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Ken Caminiti, Jason Giambi, Mo Vaughn and Ivan Rodriguez have been linked to steroids one way or another. Look at the recent additions to the 500-homer club who have been linked (Bonds, Sosa, Palmeiro, Sheffield, Rodriguez, Ramirez, Mark McGwire).

We don't need to ask why someone took steroids because the answer seems fairly obvious.

The real question for the folks who run Major League Baseball is why players think it is still worth the risk.

A-Rod was the best player in the game in 2003. And yet he acknowledged taking steroids. Palmeiro had already reached 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in 2005. And yet he was suspended for testing positive. And now comes Ramirez. Just a few days ago, you would have called him a certain Hall of Famer. And yet today he is in a steroid scandal.

The inference is these players believe performance enhancing drugs are so beneficial, it is worth the risk of a suspension. The risk of scandal. The risk of staining a Hall of Fame candidacy.

And based on the way owners reward contracts, I'm not sure I disagree.

Ramirez is nearly 37 years old, a terrible defensive player and a bit of a malingerer. Yet the Dodgers gave him a two-year contract for $45 million this year. Why? Because he remains one of the game's best hitters. And now we have to wonder if steroids played a role in Ramirez putting up MVP-like numbers at age 36 last season.

Think about it. If you're a young Triple-A player and you see the Yankees rewriting A-Rod's contract to the tune of 10 years and $275 million, wouldn't you at least consider whether steroids might not help you cash in, too?

And if you're an older player hanging on and you see Clemens making $18 million as a part-time player at age 43, wouldn't it be tempting to see if a summer of HGH could get you one last paycheck?

Major League Baseball has come a long way when it comes to drug testing. And you have to be impressed that players such as Palmeiro, Ramirez and Tejada have been popped in recent seasons.

But instead of listening to laughable excuses from players when their use is discovered, MLB officials might want to figure out why so many high-profile players are willing to take the risk.

Either they're not that worried about being caught, or the penalties are not scary enough to be a deterrent. And that's what MLB should be concerned about today.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com

Major League Baseball must ask why players still think steroids are worth the risk 05/07/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 8, 2009 8:05am]
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