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Positively baffling end to a career

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 9, 2011

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Manny Ramirez’s career has crashed and burned, disintegrated before our eyes.

What a way to go.

He apparently just couldn’t live without his performance-enhancing drug of choice.

To think he could get away with taking it again and not get caught? What a fool. What arrogance. This just completely confirms what we all thought about Ramirez. If there was one player capable of getting caught twice, it would be Manny.

Although Major League Baseball did not announce a positive test, it said in a statement it “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.’’

In other words, I’m quitting so you can’t punish me. As a repeat offender, Ramirez would have faced a 100-game suspension — double the one he served for his positive test in 2009.

The Tampa Bay Rays said in a statement, “We are obviously surprised and disappointed by this news. We will have no further comment on this matter, and our fans and organization will carry on.’’

In spring training, Ramirez had quite a different physique compared with last season, when he looked overweight. He talked about what great shape he was in and how he was taking his career seriously again.

The Rays bought it hook, line, and sinker, and why wouldn’t they with only a $2 million outlay? Manager Joe Maddon tweeted, “A great player retiring, but I believe it is a galvanizing moment for us.’’

It was written many times by this author that any PED user would never get my Hall of Fame vote because their positive tests came after the steroid policy was in place, and if you’re dumb enough to get caught, you deserve what comes to you. But for it to happen twice?

And, actually three times if you consider that Ramirez’s name was revealed in the 2003 tests, which triggered the current testing policies.

What a shame. His career numbers — 555 home runs and a .312 batting average — are extraordinary.

Every Red Sox fan should be upset by this story because we know Ramirez was on something when he played in Boston. Was he off it in 2004? He didn’t test positive, so he was, or he used a masking agent. But he was likely using even before 2003. He tested positive while with the Dodgers, just a few months after they picked up his $25 million option. The Los Angeles media wondered why the Boston media had been so tough on this funny, harmless, and talented player. But they would soon find out.

Ramirez petitioned Major League Baseball for an exemption to use a banned substance for reasons that were never divulged. We’ll likely never know why. Not sure we want to know.

David Ortiz deflected criticism away from Ramirez when they were teammates. Ortiz himself was on that 2003 list with Ramirez, but Ortiz’s reputation compared with that of his former friend were like night and day. Ortiz was friendly and affable, Ramirez aloof and perceived to be in his own little world.

Asked about Ramirez’s retirement following the Red Sox’ 9-6 win over the Yankees, Ortiz said, “It’s crazy, man. I really don’t know the details of what came down. It’s sad.’’

He said he saw Ramirez during a spring training game and marveled at what great shape he was in. Ramirez had been accommodating to the Tampa Bay media, almost engaging. Maddon pumped him up and defended his 1-for-17 start to the season. The manager also gave Ramirez Thursday’s game off so he could tend to a family matter. He didn’t return to the team.

Johnny Damon was a Ramirez defender when they were Red Sox, and remained so as Rays teammates this season.

“I am surprised . . . Manny meant a lot to me,’’ Damon told reporters in Chicago, where the Rays were playing the White Sox. “It’s going to be sad not seeing Manny around a baseball field.

“It’s unfortunate. I don’t know everything that’s been brought up. All I know is he’s a great teammate and a great player.’’

A lot of Ramirez supporters, including former teammate Omar Vizquel, brought up his great work ethic. We witnessed that in Boston, but we also witnessed some of the craziest things a player has ever done. His antics were unparalleled.

People who know him best say he is smarter than he gets credit for. Really? Sorry, testing positive twice for a banned substance isn’t smart. He was smart enough to earn $200 million in his career. He will go off into the sunset a wealthy man, but with a sullied reputation.

There’s no question Ramirez was one of the greatest righthanded hitters of his generation. He was unbelievable in his prime and so fun to watch with a batting eye and stroke that was so good, players would stop what they were doing just to see him hit.

You felt the same way about Barry Bonds. He was such a great hitter it defied logic what he could do.

Red Sox reliever Bobby Jenks, who was Ramirez’s teammate on the White Sox, said, “It’s a little stupid. When you make a mistake like that, that’s something you have to live with for the rest of your life. It’s hard to understand.’’

In fact, it’s incomprehensible.

We always said Ramirez was oblivious to the world around him. But you just wonder if one day he’ll stop and think, what on earth have I done?

He had it all.

For a shy kid who grew up in New York City after coming to this country from the Dominican Republic, he made people say “Wow.’’

He did that when scouts first laid eyes on him and he did it again yesterday, but for the wrong reason.

So long, Manny. You could have been the greatest.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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