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Manny retires after notification of drug issue

Manny retires after notification of drug issue

Manny retires after notification of drug issue
CHICAGO -- Now that Manny Ramirez has retired, his baseball card will tell a big part of his story.

After playing parts of 19 seasons in the Major Leagues, Ramirez accrued 555 home runs and 1,831 RBIs while hitting .312.

Solid Hall of Fame-type numbers that will be scrutinized in years to come to determine if in fact he does get inducted into the baseball shrine. Those numbers will be factored with the circumstances of his retirement on Friday, when Major League Baseball announced in a statement that Ramirez chose to end his career rather than face an "issue" under MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

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The statement, in full, reads as follows: "Major League Baseball recently notified Manny Ramirez of an issue under Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program. Rather than continue with the process under the program, Ramirez has informed MLB that he is retiring as an active player. If Ramirez seeks reinstatement in the future, the process under the drug program will be completed. MLB will not have any further comment on this matter."

The New York Times, citing two sources, reported Ramirez tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug during Spring Training.

The Rays moved on without him, winning their first game of the season on Friday night. Dan Johnson's three-run homer in the ninth inning capped a 9-7 comeback victory over the White Sox.

But the numbers and the circumstances surrounding his retirement won't capture Ramirez in full. He truly was one of the great characters Major League Baseball has known.

From his famed dreadlocks and baggy pants to the manner in which he engaged the fans or played the game -- which often came to be known as "Manny being Manny." Joy seemed to follow his greatness.

"It's going to be hard to find characters that are that great anymore," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

Omar Vizquel, a teammate of Ramirez's when he broke into the Major Leagues in 1993 at the age of 21, said "one story would not be justice" when looking back on Ramirez's career.

"Manny can take a book and put it out there and you'll probably put it under the comic section because it won't be under the athlete thing that you're expecting," Vizquel said. "He's really a funny guy. There are thousands of stories about Manny, but I'll really miss his personality."

Johnny Damon and Ramirez helped lead the Red Sox to a long-awaited World Series championship in 2004, allowing each of their personalities to fuel the Fenway faithful with enthusiasm, seemingly willing the team to break through for the title that had dodged it for so long.

Damon chose to remember Ramirez in those terms on Friday, noting that he wanted to focus on "what a great career Ramirez had and what a great teammate he was."

"Now he gets to go home and concentrate on life," Damon said. "Enjoy his family. He's definitely meant a lot to me, helping me win that great championship [with the Red Sox]. It's something I'll always remember.

"Manny's always going to be a great teammate of mine and a great friend. It's too bad it's ending. I remember hearing about him in high school. When they talked about this kid coming out of New York and what a great talent he was and what a great career he was going to have. And that's exactly what he did."

After Ramirez missed Thursday's game in Chicago due to a "family matter" -- which was the explanation Ramirez gave Rays manager Joe Maddon, Ramirez was expected to re-join the Rays for Friday night's game. Instead, the Rays, along with the rest of the baseball world, got the news of Ramirez's fate via an announcement by Major League Baseball.

If the issue involving Ramirez was a drug violation, he would be facing a suspension of 100 games.

"We are obviously surprised and disappointed by the news," the Rays said in a follow-up statement. "We will have no further comment on this matter, and our fans and organization will carry on."

Andrew Friedman briefly addressed the media prior to Friday night's Rays-White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field. The Rays executive vice president of baseball operations noted there was "not a lot per the drug program" that the team was able to say.

"For the most part, our statement stands," Friedman said. "We were obviously surprised when we found out about it today. And hurt by what's transpired here, but as a group we have to collect ourselves and move forward."

Friedman said he had not talked to Ramirez and wasn't exactly sure about the series of events that transpired leading up to Friday afternoon's news. He did compliment Ramirez for having a positive influence on the team during Spring Training.

"The way he prepared, I think it rubbed off on a lot of our young players," Friedman said. "And we were very bullish on what he'd be able to do this year based on what he was doing in Spring Training. ... We were extremely optimistic that he would be a significant part of our offense."

While the Rays were surprised by Friday's news, they went into the season with their eyes wide open in regard to expecting the unexpected with the enigmatic slugger.

"I think it's well-documented what's happened in the past," Friedman said. "But for us it was important for us to sit down with him before we signed him and we understood that it was a risk. In terms of what exactly was the level of risk, difficult to say, but we were cautiously optimistic that he would be a force for us in our lineup."

The Rays selected the contract of Casey Kotchman from Triple-A Durham to fill Ramirez's roster spot. Off to a bad start, the Rays are minus their biggest offensive threat, Evan Longoria, for at least three weeks due to a strained left oblique. Now they will be without their cleanup hitter, permanently.

Maddon expressed how much he had looked forward to working with Ramirez this season and that he had enjoyed their relationship to date. However, he felt the team needed to move on.

"I still expect to win the American League East title this year," Maddon said. "I have not backed off on that at all."

Friedman even suggested that Friday's news could serve as a "galvanizing moment" for the team. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen looked at Ramirez's retirement as a cautionary tale.

"The circumstances, I don't know why, I don't know how, I just read that he got caught again, so if people think MLB is playing around and they have a pass, they're wrong," Guillen said. "That's the first thing I told the players in the meetings: They're not playing around. If you get caught, you should be punished, because now we know for last five or six years they're after this, and any players that do that, they're taking a risk."

Guillen added that Ramirez has done a lot of great things for baseball.

"He was one of the best hitters to play the game," Guillen said. "He played good for us last year. I wish he could have played better. He was great in the clubhouse. I don't have any complaints or regrets to have him with the ballclub. Everything was great for us."

Texas manager Ron Washington figured Ramirez was on his way to the Hall of Fame "up until the past couple of years."

"I can't think of a guy who got as many big hits as he did in his career," Washington said. "There are not many guys who could make a difference in a ballgame like him. You hate to see greatness all of a sudden fade. I thought he was a great player."

Jonathan Papelbon, a teammate of Ramirez on the Red Sox, called it sad that one of the best hitters in the game would see his career end in the fashion it did.

"He's worked so hard to put himself in the situation he is as one of the great hitters," Papelbon said. "And now he's going to kind of throw it all out the window. I don't really know what's going on with that, but I'm not worried or thinking at all about that right now.

"I think that he's going to go down as one of the greatest right-handed hitters to ever play the game but he's always going to have the issues of substance abuse, once or twice or however many times, but that's always going to be lingering over his head."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who was in the Indians organization when Ramirez first came to the Major Leagues, looked past the reason for why Ramirez retired on Friday, to a more logical reason that eventually stares down all athletes.

"It might have been about time," Manuel said. "I think he was running out of bullets. Manny started hitting everything to right field. How old is he, 37 or 38? Thirty-five to 40 you usually run out of bullets. I think Father Time was catching up to him."

Ramirez's legacy now remains up for grabs. Vizquel offered that different people will have different thoughts about Ramirez.

"It just depends on how you see it," Vizquel said. "A lot of people don't take it really seriously when they talk about Manny Ramirez. But the guys who have been in the lineup with him and know how he works, his work ethic, he shows up at 2 o'clock every day, he takes extra batting practice every day and it doesn't matter if he went 5-for-5 the day before. He was constantly in the gym lifting weights.

"His work ethic was very, very good. And some people look at him on the field like, 'Who the hell is this guy? What is he doing?' There are actions that he does on the field that really don't reflect what type of player he was. But he was just an amazing guy."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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