Saturday, July 4, 2009

Celebrating the wrong kind of role model

There is one thing that I don't understand in regards to Manny Ramirez. He gets a 50-game ban from baseball for testing positive for banned substances, and yet, Major League Baseball allows the Los Angeles Dodgers to send Ramirez off on a rehab assignment about a week and a half before he was eligible to return to the Dodgers on July 3. Oh, of course, MLB knew what they were doing. Manny wasn't going alone. MLB Network and ESPNews did live cutaways to every Manny at-bat in every game he played. MLB wanted America to follow this story because of its insatiable appetite for scandal.

And therein lies the problem. Manny lost all claim to being a role model when he was busted. And, yet, MLB insists on marketing him because he already has a reputation as a feared slugger, a former American League batting champion, and, as evidenced in Boston at the end of his run there, a bit of a goof. "Manny being Manny" didn't just become a marketing tool by accident.

In contrast, Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez didn't go on a rehab assignment before being activated in May. I don't think the Steinbrenner family would've allowed it, no matter how much money MLB was willing to throw their way. Rodriguez hit a home run in his first at-bat of the season in Baltimore, and all is right in the world of the Yankees. They've stopped talking about the inordinately large amount of home runs flying out of Yankee Stadium II, and the Yankees are chasing ancient enemy Boston for first place in the AL East. However, in the cases of both "A-Rod" & Manny, the questions will persist over their use of performance enhancers for the rest of their careers. America wants to know. Not entirely true. Not everyone is actually that interested.

Here's another contrast. Philadelphia pitcher J. C. Romero began the season suspended for 50 games, also for using performance enhancers, but you didn't get a media blitz out of Philadelphia heralding his return. Romero is a relief pitcher, a lunch pail kind of guy, if you will. He's done his time, he's back at work as if nothing happened. His suspension is behind him.

So why all the fuss over Manny Ramirez & Alex Rodriguez? Here's the reasons:

1) They play in major media markets.
2) They're paid to hit home runs.
3) They're marketed as role models to kids, even after they've been busted, which means that
4) MLB still wants to make money off them.

Today, Fox joined in the love-fest for Manny by cutting to the Padres-Dodgers game during coverage of other regional action (i.e. Mets-Phillies). They only did it 4 times, 3 of them being Manny's at-bats. After recording a putout to end the home 5th, Ramirez was removed from the game. You can bet that tomorrow, it'll be more of the same.

Meanwhile, Manny's chances of making the National League All-Star team for the first time dimmed while he was away. The only chance he has now is if he's selected by either Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel, who managed Manny when both were in Cleveland several years back, or by a vote among managers, coaches, and, most importantly, fellow players. In all probability, that's how he makes the team. He won't be a starter, though 2 of the 3 outfield leaders, Philadelphia's Raul Ibanez and the Mets' Carlos Beltran, are on the DL and doubtful to play in the July 14 All-Star Game, making it remotely possible that Manny will be in the starting lineup. And that would be the wrong decision, because it sends the wrong message to the kids. It means that MLB is telling children that it doesn't matter if Manny got busted. He's still a role model in our eyes. In truth, Ramirez forfeited any claim to being a role model the minute he was placed on suspension.

But try telling that to Commissioner Allan Selig and the money-comes-first suits running Major League Baseball. To them, people like Manny Ramirez are like the used cars Selig sells in his Milwaukee dealership, and every so often, one of them comes up a lemon.

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