Monday, December 05, 2011

Manny Ramirez wants back in baseball (and that may be good for business)

On the day Ron Santo one of the greatest Chicago Cubs ever was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Manny Ramirez twice guilty of having tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs announced he wanted to play Major League Baseball again.

Ramirez second positive test was announced early in the 2011 MLB season. A second positive test should have resulted in Ramirez receiving a 100 game suspension.
Ramirez a member of the Tampa Bay Rays when his second positive test was announced decided instead to retire days before the results of the positive test were revealed.

Sunday evening with the Baseball Winter Meetings the industry’s marquee off-season event set to begin in Dallas, MLB released a somewhat surprising statement concerning Ramirez’s and his interest in returning to the Major Leagues.

"The Office of the Commissioner and the Players Association have agreed that Ramirez will receive a 50-game suspension under the Joint Drug Program upon his reinstatement from the voluntary retired list. Such suspension shall begin with the first game that Ramirez is eligible to play after a Club signs him to a contract."

According to who first broke the news that Manny wanted back in the game Ramriez hired Barry Praver and Scott Shapiro as his agents (replacing Scott Boras) and applied for reinstatement from MLB’s voluntary retired list.

Ramirez appeared in five games for the Rays at the start of the 2011, and then retired. ‘Technically’ Ramirez never served what should have been a 100 game suspension for his second positive test. The Major League Baseball Players Association successfully appealed the 100 game suspension believing Manny had served the 100 games as part of his retirement. Call it an ‘apple and oranges’ successful appeal by the MLBPA.

At 40 will a team be interested in signing Manny? After his so-called retirement Ramirez was arrested in Broward County, Florida, in September and charged with domestic battery.

Manny and positive drug test goes well beyond when MLB began drug testing at the start of the 2004 MLB season.

The New York Times reported Ramirez was among a group of 104 major league players who allegedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during 2003.
In 2009 he was suspended 50 games for violating baseball's drug policy by taking human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a women's fertility drug, while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. According to steroid dealer Victor Conte, hCG is often used to restart natural testosterone production after a steroid cycle.

Manny’s major league career began in 1993 when he joined the Cleveland Indians. In December 2000, Ramirez signed an eight-year, $160 million deal with the Boston Red Sox, with $20 million options for 2009 and 2010, pushing the total value of the contract to $200 million for 10 years. Ramirez was a key member of the Red Sox 2004 World Series team and was selected as the MVP of the Fall Classic.

The Red Sox traded Ramirez to the Dodgers on July 31, 2008. One official drug suspension later (the 2009 positive test), the Dodgers placed Ramirez on waivers in August 2009. The Chicago White Sox claimed the enigmatic slugger on August 30, 2009. The White Sox paid Manny $3.8 million for the remainder of the 2009 season.

The Rays signed Ramirez (who had been paid $200 million over the previous ten-seasons by the Red Sox, Dodgers and White Sox) $2 million for what was a one-year contract.

In his 19 Major League Baseball seasons the always colorful and somewhat controversial Ramirez hit 555 home runs and has a career batting average of .312. Throughout most of his career Manny was one of the games dominate players. He has 9 straight seasons of at least 30 HRs and 100 RBIs (1998–2006, tied for 3rd-longest in history). Manny has appeared in 12 MLB All-Star Games.

The colorful parts – two examples that took place near the end of his years with the Red Sox.

In 2007, Ramirez requested and received permission from the Red Sox to arrive late to spring training for family reasons. It was later reported that during his absence Ramirez was scheduled to appear at the Atlantic City Classic car auction. It is unclear whether the appearance was scheduled before or after the “family situation”. Ramirez chose not to attend the auction, but was late for spring training.

Ramirez missed the White House reception honoring the Red Sox 2007 World Series championship. President George W. Bush quipped during the festivities: "I'm sorry [Ortiz'] running mate, Manny Ramirez, isn't here. I guess his grandmother died again. Just kidding. Tell Manny I didn't mean it.”

Soon after Manny joined the Dodgers at the 2008 MLB trade deadline, the Dodgers announced the creation of “Mannywood”. For the Dodgers, Ramirez (and Mannywood) represented a marketing dream come true.

Mannywood became the focus of a major 2009 Dodgers marketing campaign, a campaign that included two Mannywood T-shirts and two tickets in Dodger Stadium’s left field pavilion for $99. Manny’s Dodgers uniform number was 99. Manny was the Dodgers leftfielder. The team created a merchandise line that included replica Ramirez dreadlocks.

Days after MLB announced Ramirez’s first official MLB positive drug test in May 2009 the team announced the end of Mannywood.

"For a short period of time, we were definitely hitching our wagon to Manny," Dodgers President Dennis Mannion said in a Los Angeles Times report at the time.
Said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute: "You can't put all your eggs in one basket and let a guy like Ramirez hold the basket."

Two positive drug tests, an arrest for a domestic dispute, at times a questionable attitude – will anyone really be interested in a 40-year old Ramirez with what at times has proven to be a troubling attitude?

"It does not surprise me that he would like to come back and do this," Joe Maddon told the USA Today. "I got to know him a little bit this past year and he really does have a passion for the game. I think that gets overlooked sometimes. There's all the Manny-being-Manny items, but we did well together."

Maddon was the American League Manager of the Year in 2011with Tampa Bay and more importantly was Manny’s last Major League manager (for all of the five games in appeared in for the Rays in 2011).

"I'm OK with this as long as it's in parameters of the rules," said Maddon. "If he's 'served his time,' that's cool. I would wish him well. I don't know how it's all going to shake out, but I think he's misinterpreted sometimes. This guy loves to play baseball."

If Manny does return he’ll be a 40-year old baseball player who missed most of the 2011 season.When all is said and done baseball is a business and Manny Ramirez remains one of the few players who people want to see play baseball. They may not see the Manny Ramirez who has hit 555 home runs in his career but they’ll have an opportunity to see one of the games more colorful characters. You may be rolling the dice did with promoting Manny Ramirez if he’s playing for your team as the Dodgers did, but Manny Ramriez is good for the business of baseball.

There are those who might believe Manny may sign a contract with the Miami Marlins. Manny was never a great left fielder, more of a liability than a good defensive player. The Marlins play in the National League where there is no designated hitter.
If Manny is going to contribute to a team’s on-field success it will be as a D.
The Marlins are moving into a new stadium, are on a spending spree that might make sense to only the Marlins. Manny in South Florida might make perfect sense for the Marlins 2012 business plans. And it’s worth noting that Manny Ramirez domestic abuse arrest not withstanding lives in the Miami area.

Will Manny play baseball in 2012 after serving his 50-game suspension. Yes, but not because he’s earned that right as a player (at least the Manny Ramirez of the last few years). Manny has a few more home runs in his bat, but what Manny Ramirez offers a MLB is marketing opportunity, a chance to sell their brand and their tickets. That’s why Manny Ramirez will appear in a major league uniform in 2012.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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