By The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Manny Ramirez walked away from baseball on Friday after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, abruptly ending the mercurial career of one of the most talented — and tainted — hitters to ever play the game.
The slumping Tampa Bay slugger informed Major League Baseball that he would retire rather than face a 100-game suspension. Ramirez served a 50-game ban for violating the drug policy in 2009, and second-time offenders get double that penalty.
“We were obviously surprised when we found out about it today, and hurt by what transpired,” said Rays vice president Andrew Friedman, who signed Ramirez to a $2 million, one-year contract in the offseason. “We were cautiously optimistic that he would be able to be a force for us.”
A person familiar with the situation confirmed to The Associated Press that the 12-time All-Star tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the nature of Ramirez’s issue with MLB’s drug policy was not publicly disclosed.
The commissioner’s office announced Ramirez’s decision in a statement, but provided few details.
“Major League Baseball recently notified Manny Ramirez of an issue under Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program,” the statement said. “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 said it would have no further comment.
The 38-year-old outfielder-designated hitter with 555 career home runs left the Rays earlier this week to attend to what the team called a family matter. Manager Joe Maddon said Thursday that he expected Ramirez to be available for Friday night’s game at Chicago, but he never showed up.
“Of course you’re disappointed,” Maddon said at U.S. Cellular Field. “But at the end of the day, he has to make up his own mind. It’s a choice he has to make.”
Ramirez played in only five games for the Rays, with one hit in 17 at-bats, and flied out as a pinch-hitter Wednesday. He had a strong spring training, then was excused from the last exhibition game for personal reasons.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Tampa Bay outfielder Johnny Damon, who helped the Boston Red Sox end an 86-year title drought by winning the 2004 World Series, in which Ramirez was the Most Valuable Player.
“I don’t know everything that’s been brought up. All I know is he’s a great teammate and a great player,” Damon said, when asked specifically about the steroid allegations. “It’s going to be sad not seeing Manny Ramirez ever around a baseball field.”
A schoolboy legend on the streets of New York, Ramirez was selected 13th overall by the Cleveland Indians in the 1991 amateur draft and rose quickly through the minor leagues, with a youthful exuberance and natural charisma that endeared him to just about everyone he met.
He broke into the majors in 1993 and played his first full season the following year, when he finished second to the Royals’ Bob Hamlin in voting for Rookie of the Year. He went on to establish himself as one of the game’s most feared hitters, adopting a dreadlock hairdo that seemed to mirror his happy-go-lucky demeanor — both on the field and off.
Ramirez signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in December 2000. He helped the long-suffering franchise win the World Series and again in 2007.
“It’s sad, man, to see a player with that much talent and with an unbelievable career get him out of the game,” Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said. “He got his issues like a lot of people know, but, as a player, I think he did what he was supposed to.”
The Red Sox wearied of those issues, though — Ramirez’s erratic behavior, his enigmatic personality — and traded him to the Dodgers in July 2008.
Ramirez instantly became a fan favorite, with “Mannywood” signs popped up around town, as he led Los Angeles to the NL West title and a sweep of the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the playoffs. The performance earned Ramirez a $45 million, two-year contract.
All that good will fizzled the following May, when Ramirez tested positive for human chorionic gonadotropin, a banned female fertility drug often used to help mask steroid use.
According to a report in the New York Times later that summer, Ramirez also tested positive for performance-enhancing substances during MLB’s anonymous survey testing in 2003.
On Friday came strike three — unofficially — and Ramirez decided he was out.
“I’m shocked,” said Colorado’s Jason Giambi, who has acknowledged taking steroids during his own career. “He always kind of portrayed that he was out there, but he knew how to hit, man. He was unbelievable when it came to hitting.”
Ramirez’s positive test for a banned substance comes as baseball, which has been working hard to put its so-called Steroids Era in the past, has another of its great hitters, Barry Bonds, on trial in San Francisco. Bonds is facing federal charges that he lied to a grand jury in 2003 by denying that he willfully used performance-enhancing drugs.
It also left players and managers across the game with a mix of emotions: baffled that Ramirez would get caught again, angry that baseball is still dealing with the specter of steroid use, and disappointed that another of the game’s great players has walked away.
“Once you get caught once, I mean, you’re already banged 50 games, why try again?” said White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, a teammate of Ramirez for a short time last season. “I mean, it’s a little stupid, but I guess he made his own choices. Now he’s got to live with them.”
“Might have been running out of bullets,” added Phillies manger Charlie Manuel, who worked with Ramirez in Cleveland. “Father Time was catching up to him.”
The Rays, who were winless through their first six games, had hoped that Ramirez could add some pop to a lineup that lost several key pieces off last year’s AL East champions. After all, he’ll finish as a .312 hitter with 13 seasons of 100-plus RBIs and 14th on the career home run list.
And quite possibly an asterisk next to all those numbers.
“Major League Baseball, they’re all after those people. They don’t play around. They let the players know how tough they’re going to be,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “They say, ‘We’ll be checking you guys, we’ll be monitoring all this stuff.’
“People think Major League Baseball plays around because they have a past,” the outspoken Guillen added. “If you get caught, you should be punished, because now we know for the last five or six years they’re after this. Any players who do that are taking a risk, a big one, because they even check me. I’m not even playing. I’m glad they’re after this.”
Still, Guillen acknowledged that Ramirez was one of the game’s great hitters.
He led the American League with a .349 batting average in 2002, finished second the next year, and had an AL-best 43 home runs in 2004. He made more than $200 million during his playing career, a testament both to his hitting prowess and to the fact that fans would fill ballparks just to see him perform.
Then there was the other side of Manny — his lackadaisical nature, particularly on defense and the basepaths, that rubbed some managers and teammates the wrong way.
Ramirez flied out four times in his MLB debut in 1993. In his second game, he hit two homers and nearly had a third — a long drive at Yankee Stadium bounced over the left-field fence for a double. Trouble was, Ramirez had his head down and assumed it was a home run, so he trotted past second base and was nearing third when his cackling teammates finally stopped him.
It was simply Manny being Manny.
“He didn’t take life too seriously,” said Yankees catcher Russell Martin, who was with Ramirez on the Dodgers in 2009 and ’10. “I feel like some fans live and die with the game. He just didn’t take it to that level.”
The question now is whether his drug use will forever shame him.
Damon refused to discuss whether Ramirez’s reputation has been tainted, instead choosing to focus on his performance on the field. They were teammates on the Red Sox from 2002-05.
“It’s unfortunate,” Damon said. “I don’t know everything that’s been brought up. All I know is he’s a great teammate and a great player.”
Texas manager Ron Washington offered a more somber assessment of Ramirez’s career.
“Until the past couple of years, I thought he was on his way to the Hall of Fame,” Washington said. “I don’t think many guys got as many big hits in their careers as he has. There weren’t many guys who had as big an effect on a game as he had.”
“You hate to see greatness all of a sudden just fade.”
AP Sports Writers Andrew Seligman in Chicago, Howard Ulman in Boston, David Ginsburg in Baltimore, Tom Withers in Pittsburgh, and AP freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd in Atlanta contributed to this report.