On the ‘roids again

On the one hand, we have fresh evidence that there is no restraining the sleazy lawyers out there who roam the dark edges of the Republic and have the ethics of a goat and the conscience of a lamppost.

On the other, the fundamental axiom that it’s impossible to underestimate the judgment of baseball players or their aversion to common sense has never been sounder.

Such, in simplest terms, may be the bottom line on the Ortiz-Ramirez fiasco; the latest thunderclap in the still gathering torrent that threatens to engulf baseball to the greater amusement of those who hate the game and mounting indifference of those who love it.

But then there are so many ironies and contradictions in this sorry business that has now branded the gold-dust twins of the much-acclaimed Red Sox revival as the latest tinhorn drug-cheats to be outed. There are more -- maybe many more -- yet to come. It is an outrageous excess of legalistic ragtime and dime store moralizing that clutters the key issues. Hypocrisy has rarely been in fuller flower. With so many agendas remaining in conflict the chances of arriving at any sort of consensus are nil.

If you reveled in the shame and degradation of Alex Rodriguez last February -- and most of Red Sox Nation did so quite gleefully -- then you have de facto condemned the juiced-up bash brothers, Messrs. Ramirez and Ortiz. If you minimized the Yankees’ achievements during the years that spanned the thoroughly bogus Mitchell Report get ready for the asterisk that’s about to be attached to your glorious triumphs in ’04 and ’07. Consider yourself as having been ensnared in a trap of your own making framed by a profound righteousness mixed with mindless devotions and flavored with a heavy dose of schadenfreude, which is all about the perverse delighting in the misery of others.

It was such fun heaping scorn on A-Rod who is so easy to scorn being something of a twit and not at all like the Big Papi who, as we all know, is a hail fellow well met and a prince among men. But in the end Papi’s sunny disposition tends only to suggest that laced among his abundant charms is the no longer subtle hint of the con-man. That’s going to be awfully hard for the Nation to swallow, even if there is no choice. After all, the need of the Nation’s citizens to identify with their heroes borders on the frightful.

You can only marvel over whatever possessed Ortiz to issue such a scathing rebuke to his fellow performance enhancing offenders only last February. “Ban them for a whole year,” was his unforgiving remedy then. It was extraordinarily foolish because he knew he was on “The List.” Everyone who is on the infernal thing knows dang well they are on it and there is no longer any doubt about that. It was supremely unwise yet fairly typical of the breed. Down deep baseball players, especially the successful ones, always believe they are immune.

It’s interesting that the denunciations uttered by Ortiz in February came in the wake of A-Rod’s much more exaggerated fall from grace. It was not specifically a swipe at the heavily flawed Yankee star and we have to assume a nice guy like Big Papi would never do such a nasty thing to a lodge brother. Doubtless it was just a coincidence.

But it is further interesting that when Rodriguez was pressed to comment on the problems of Ortiz, he would only say, “David is my good friend and I will have no more comment on that.” Is it possible that we have A-Rod -- the much despised -- taking a higher road than the beloved Papi chose when the shoe was on the other foot? If so, that’s more tough stuff for the disconcerted Nation to have to swallow.

Manny Ramirez presents no such dilemmas. Hereabout he’s already been written off as an ingrate and cur for so cleverly engineering his messy departure last summer, a disloyalty to the colors being the ultimate offense. Thus the worst about Manny is only too eagerly believed, even relished.

He couldn’t care less. One’s respect for Manny’s shrewdness grows in step with disdain. It needs to be admitted that he is one sly cat. Stunning was his reaction to the latest thunderbolt when he declared, “There will be no impact on either of us.” What remarkable arrogance! Moreover, he is right, however painfully. He knows they can’t touch him. He has nothing but contempt for the process. The fact that he is now, arguably, the game’s number one cheat having been twice nailed for major indiscretions seems mainly to amuse him. Mr. Ramirez hasn’t gotten near enough credit for the depths of his cynicism.

And if he was cheating in ’03 and was still cheating this year why should we assume he wasn’t cheating in between when he was leading the Town Team to those two championships? Without Ramirez they would have won nothing and the region would still be wailing about some dumb curse. Manny may be long gone. But he remains Boston’s problem. They are polishing that asterisk, even as we speak.

So much about this endless tale of woe is alternately perplexing and infuriating and its most important elements have less to do with baseball than far more important matters. The battle in the courts is serious and has the potential for historical impact as it moves quite probably in the direction of the Supreme Court.

At the heart of the on-going legal struggle are huge questions. Does federal law enforcement have the right to seize important data, including protected drug tests, without lawful authorization? Do lawyers who are officers of the court have the right to secretly leak information that has been sealed by court order? Should not the Justice Department be required to investigate such leaks as the baseball Players Union has demanded? Why should major newspapers be allowed to print information that’s been suppressed by the courts simply on the grounds it’s been leaked to them? Have over-zealous investigators (some would term them “rogues”) vastly over-step legal bounds in their determination to nail mere athletes guilty of using performance enhancements?

An important ruling by California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which has been sitting on the issue nine months is due momentarily. In the meantime, certain lawyers -- some suspect with the aid and encouragement of certain federal investigators -- seem to be taking the law into their own hands by systematically “outing” players who failed the 2003 trial test that was supposed to be ‘‘a private survey’’ and pledged to be “confidential.”

Given the sad consequences for a player who has been “outed,” this amounts to trial and conviction by “leak.” It is heavy stuff that makes the embarrassments of a portly designated hitter seem incidental, even if he is at heart a swell guy.

Some say the entire list, which has 98 more unrevealed names on it, should be released thus ending the excruciating process of unveiling culprits drip by drip for the savage amusement of misguided cops and barristers. But what kind of an answer is that? Nor would it end anything. It’s estimated that at least 500 players have used PED’s over the last 20 years and some insist the number’s well over a thousand. There’s no way of tracking them all and if you can’t reveal all it’s unjust to reveal only some.

There’s the potential for graver problems in Boston. Inquiries are just beginning. There’s the whiff of more scandal and who knows where it leads. It should take some of the starch out of what has been a very cocky and self-righteous front office over at the olde ball yard.

Yet seemingly, the faithful could care less. Ortiz may have been shamed and his pedestal chipped. He got bloodied in the press and sneered upon around the game. Clearly his sainthood has eroded. But when on the day he was outed he went out and smacked a game-winning homer to beat the A’s, the delirious legions at the lyric little bandbox cheered him madly and demanded a curtain call.

And when he responded gallantly they were simply overjoyed.

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