“Manny being Manny.” That was the bemused phrase people employed to explain the always weird, sometimes amusing, often maddening behavior of Manny Ramirez, the slugger who retired last week. It was a phrase that eventually became as tired as his antics. Ramirez, once viewed as one of the great right-handed hitters of all time, was a living sitcom parody. Oh, there goes Manny, loafing after a ball in left field. Look, there goes Manny running slowly to first base again. Shucks, there goes Manny wearing out his welcome in Boston. Yup, just Manny being Manny.
The act was never funny. Now, we’re pretty sure it was a fraud. On April 8, MLB announced that it had “notified Manny Ramirez of an issue under Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Ramirez informed MLB that he is retiring as an active player.” According to reports, Ramirez, 38, tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. The drugs certainly didn’t help him hit — witness his hearty .059 average as a designated hitter for the Tampa Bay Rays. (See photos of memorable World Series moments.)
In 2009, Ramirez received a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a female fertility drug frequently used by drug cheats to restore testosterone levels. The substance was banned by Major League Baseball; Ramirez said he used the drug for “personal health reasons.” That same year, the New York Times reported that Ramirez was among the 100 or so players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this latest slip.
So another career goes down the performance enhancing drugs drain. What a shame. No hitter was more compelling to watch than Ramirez. His bat was a machete, ripping through the strike zone as if it were cutting sugar cane. He’d raise a forearm after making contact, and offer his signature hop: there it goes, another Manny home run. Born in the Dominican Republic and reared in Washington Heights — New York City’s Dominican enclave — he was the shy kid who struggled with English. He started his career in Cleveland, serving as the young power source for an upstart club that won American League pennants in 1995 and 1997. Two years later, he hit .333, with 44 home runs and a stunning 165 RBI, the highest single-season RBI total since Jimmie Foxx drove in 175 runs in 1938.(Watch TIME’s video of baseball on the upswing in France.)
Such prodigious production enabled Ramirez to sign an eight-year, $160 million free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox in 2000. The Fenway faithful loved him, especially when Ramirez hit a league-leading 43 home runs in 2004, leading Boston to its first World Series titles in 86 years and ending all friggin’ curses. Though the Sox won another title in ’07, Boston was soon fed up with him. In July 2008, during a series against the hated New York Yankees, Ramirez asked out of a game with an injury. Later, he reportedly couldn’t remember which knee hurt. Boston traded him to Los Angeles a few days later.
Ramirez had one more stretch of greatness in him. While playing for former Yankee manager Joe Torre in Los Angeles, Ramirez hit nearly .400 during the 2008 stretch run. His OPS — on base percentage, plus slugging percentage — was 1.232, which would have been one of the highest single-season totals in baseball history. Though the Dodgers lost to Philadelphia in the National League Championship Series, Ramirez seemed headed for more greatness in Hollywood. But next year came the drug suspension. Ramirez started to break down. In 2010, L.A. shipped Manny to Chicago, where he played 24 non-descript games for the White Sox. In 17 at-bats for the Rays this season, he recorded a single hit. He was a one-hit blunder.
Though he was flaky, Ramirez cared about the craft of hitting, and worked hard at it. True, some of those Manny being Manny moments — like the time he disappeared into the Fenway Park scoreboard during a game, reportedly to take a potty break, or when he high-fived an Orioles fan after making a running catch, and still managed to fire the ball back to the infield in time for a double play — were pretty endearing. But he never truly engaged fans, or reporters, who at the end of the day connect players to the public. When it comes to judging his legacy, and wondering whether Ramirez used steroids throughout his career — if he got busted during the days of tougher testing, it stands to reason that he used drugs when testing was a joke — why give him the benefit of the doubt? Manny clearly never had any love for those who paid his $20 million per-year salaries. There’s no reason to love Manny back.