CHICAGO — The Rays knew there were risks when they signed Manny Ramirez, given the controversial reputation that preceded him. But they were stunned and disappointed at the extent of the damage Friday as Ramirez retired rather than face or fight a 100-game suspension after failing a spring urine test for a performance-enhancing drug.
"We're obviously surprised … and hurt by what's transpired here," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "But as a group we have to collect ourselves and move forward."
Ramirez, 38, leaves the game as one of the most accomplished hitters and entertaining players in history, but also the latest to do so with his accomplishments tainted by drug use, having previously been suspended in 2009.
"I'm at ease," Ramirez told ESPNdeportes.com from his South Florida home. "God knows what's best (for me). I'm now an officially retired baseball player. I'll be going away on a trip to Spain with my old man."
Neither Rays officials nor players would address how the latest incident taints Ramirez's legacy or his chances, with 555 career home runs, to make the Hall of Fame, which now seems unlikely.
"I'm not going to get into that," said Rays leftfielder Johnny Damon, a former Red Sox teammate as well. "It's unfortunate. I don't know everything that's been brought up. All I know is he was a great teammate and a great player, and I think the other part is just an unfortunate thing. It's going to be sad not seeing Manny Ramirez around a baseball field."
Ramirez's departure also leaves a massive hole in the cleanup spot of the lineup, the Rays already off to an abysmal start and without injured Evan Longoria. Despite Ramirez's 1-for-17 start that drew boos at Tropicana Field last week, the Rays still expected big things from him.
"Of course we're disappointed; I'd love to have him," manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought he looked really good in spring training. I thought we were forging a pretty good relationship also, so that part is disappointing. But at the end of the day, he's got to make up his own mind. That's a choice that he has to make."
The Rays' immediate reaction was to summon Casey Kotchman, a former Seminole High star, from Triple-A Durham, with plans to use him primarily at first base and move Dan Johnson to Ramirez's designated hitter role.
They also took action to keep the remaining players focused on their primary goal, with Maddon addressing them before Friday's game, which turned out to be their first victory of the season as Johnson hit a three-run homer in the ninth.
"I have a lot of faith in these guys,'' Maddon said. "I told them that before the game. I told them nothing has changed. You lose a couple games, you don't point fingers, you don't start doubting what you've been doing. …
"When you're in position like we were when you lose several games in a row, it normally takes something very difficult, awkward sometimes, to get you righted. It began today by Manny retiring and then it culminates in a three-run home run by Dan Johnson against one of the better left-handed relievers in baseball.''
Said Friedman: "For all of us as an organization, it can be a galvanizing moment, and I think that's what's important for us."
The Rays didn't know anything of the development until around midday Friday, a few hours before a Major League Baseball news release saying Ramirez was "recently notified" of "an issue" under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and that "rather than continue" with the process he had informed MLB he was retiring.
Ramirez had missed Thursday's game in Chicago, as well as the March 30 exhibition finale, for what the Rays said he told them were personal and family related reasons. Maddon said again Friday that they had no reason to think otherwise. In fact, Maddon was plotting lineups with Ramirez in the No. 4 spot when he got the news.
But under MLB protocol, Ramirez would have been notified several days ago, possibly up to a week, of the positive test. And while Maddon didn't notice any difference in him during the first week of the season, Damon said he could tell something was wrong.
"I had a feeling something was bothering him," Damon said, "but I didn't think it was this; I thought it was something else. But once again, I'll use the word 'unfortunate.' He had a great career and now he gets to enjoy the rest of his life."
What made the news even worse for the Rays was how promising Ramirez looked throughout spring training, impressive with his early arrivals, hard work and positive attitude.
"He was great for us," Friedman said. "In spring training it was very, very refreshing in terms of how he went about his business, the way he prepared. I think it rubbed off on a lot of our players, and we were very bullish on what he would be able to do this year based on how he was moving around in spring training and the way he was swinging the bat."
Several Rays said they were shocked and disappointed at the development, but more that Ramirez wouldn't be with them than for the reason why.
"Disappointing to hear, man," centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "He's a good dude, a good teammate. I definitely enjoyed the little bit of time I got to spend with him. … Guys in here are definitely not thrilled about it. We all loved having him around and just watching him."
Because Ramirez retired, the Rays paid only $87,912 of his $2 million salary. If he were to seek reinstatement, he would face the suspension, and would be the first major-leaguer suspended twice under the current drug program. Ramirez was suspended 50 games in 2009 after testing positive for a banned female fertility drug that is used to help mask steroid use.