Manny Ramirez?? Can it really be true?
First it was Barry Bonds. Then it was Rafael Palmero. Jason Giambi confessed to the same. Next came Roger Clemens. Followed by Alex Rodriguez. It had to stop there. No other Major League baseball superstar would dare use illegal drugs to enhance his performance, right? After all, the league tests every player regularly. So many others have been caught and brought down. No one else would dare try.
And yet, how the mighty have fallen. Manny Ramirez, one of the game's greatest stars, who led the lowly Boston Red Sox to World Series glory and has recently reinvigorated the Los Angeles Dodgers, has tested positive for a banned substance and has been suspended for 50 games. According to espn.com's T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada, two sources told them that "the drug was human chorionic gonadotropin a women's fertility drug typically used by steroid users to restart their body's natural testosterone production as they come off a steroid cycle." In other words, he not only used this banned substance but probably steroids as well.
Why would Manny be taking steroids? His Dodgers are the best team in baseball with a 21-8 record, 13-0 at home. They have a 6 1/2 game lead over the San Francisco Giants and are really on a roll!
But they get tested regularly! What was he thinking?
However, Manny is a 36-year-old, 16-year veteran with a $25 million annual salary to live up to (he will lose $8 million due to his suspension). He has only hit six home runs this season and 20 RBI's. Perhaps in desperation to live up to what is expected of him, he resorted to these enhancements.
But they get tested regularly! What was he thinking? In fact, a former teammate told espn.com's Amy K. Nelson, "I'm very surprised, especially how often [players] get tested." When will they learn?
Truth is, we have to turn the question on ourselves and ask: When will we learn?
Ethics of the Fathers teaches, "Internalize three things and you will not come to sin: Know what is above you. An Eye that sees, an Ear that hears, and all of your deeds are being written in a book" (Avos 2:1). There is a God and He sees everything that we do. Reward and punishment is one of the three primary elements of the 13 principles of faith taught by Maimonides. It is at the very core of Jewish theology.
So many of us know this and yet, just like Manny knowing he was going to be tested, we go off track anyway. Manny did it because he had to improve his performance, earn his contract, and preserve his reputation and honor. We do it because of our own temptations and strong desires.
As I write these words I recall a story I'd prefer to forget. My high school basketball team won a remarkable victory. I asked my father if I, a newly licensed 16-year-old, could drive my friends to celebrate. I described our benign plans to get some pizza and play miniature golf. My father granted my request and reminded me that my provisional license meant I could not drive beyond 12:00 AM.
We basked in our celebrity status at the local pizza shop and then headed to play some miniature golf. As we arrived there at 11:00 PM. one friend reminded me that we had to leave by 11:45 to return home on time. I told him not to worry while conveniently ignoring that my father, as a federal judge, questioned witnesses and uncovered lies professionally. I was having so much fun that I insanely ignored their reminders at 11:20 and my madness continued with an assurance that all would be okay even if we played past 11:45.
When I arrived home at 12:25, my father met me at the door. It was time to implement my brilliant plan.
My father sternly said, "It is 12:25. By law you could not drive past 12."
My response: "At 12, Avi took over the wheel ."
Dad: "Avi took over at 12?"
Dad: "But it only takes 15 minutes to drive home from miniature golf. If Avi first took over for you at 12, that means it took over 25 minutes to get home. Why did the drive take so long?"
Me: "Right, right. Actually, we left after 12 so Avi drove the entire time."
Dad, even more sternly: "You played late and let Avi drive MY car without asking me permission first?"
Me: "Well, um, uh... ok, actually I drove the entire time and, um, well, we left miniature golf at 12:10."
Dad: "Thank you for telling me the truth. Please go to your room and you are grounded for the next three weeks."
I knew that my father would be up waiting. I knew that my father was a federal judge who could smell any lie from the start. I knew that my father was a disciplinarian (translation now that I am older: a good father) and would absolutely punish me for breaking the law and the deal. And yet the enjoyment of the moment enabled me to ignore all of that, and as a result, I had to suffer the consequences and missed out on even greater fun for the next three weeks.
While my transgression and the ensuing consequence were relatively minor, we all do the same for much worse sins when the stakes are much higher. And our interrogator will not be a federal judge or the baseball commissioner, but the Judge of all judges.
So while we discuss Manny's downfall and question how he could do this knowing he was going to be tested, we would do ourselves a big favor to look in the mirror and ask the same question.
When will we learn?