Baseball is sick. Our national pastime is infected by a cancer that may very well be terminal. The sport we all grew up loving and playing is dying, not because of a crippled economy, but because of narcissistic cheats such as Manny Ramirez.
So far, the punishments doled out do not fit the crime. If we want to stop the destruction of our national pastime and save the game for the next generation, only a zero tolerance policy will stop players from using performance enhancing drugs. Get caught once and you're banned for life. Period.
I have played and loved the game of baseball for as long as I can remember. I watched and admired a man of courage, Jackie Robinson, play the game under horrific conditions. I was in awe of Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente and the pitching prowess of Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Juan Marichal. Back then, children could go to baseball games and their parents were comfortable in assuming the game and its players would have a positive impact. That has all changed now.
Sen. George Mitchell's report, after a 20-month investigation, has tainted baseball more than the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The Senator's report was clear and concise, fingering seven MVP's and 80 other players, while calling for an independent and less predictable drug-testing program.
Perennial all-star and former MVP Manny Ramirez is the latest cheat to be caught and exposed. Ramirez is baseball's second highest-paid player, and he has been suspended for 50 games for allegedly using the female fertility drug human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). HCG is popular among steroid users because it can abate the side effects that occur when someone stops taking the drugs. HCG can be used to stimulate testosterone production, which is severely diminished during steroid abuse.
Ramirez's explanation was contained in a statement he issued last week claiming that HCG was prescribed by his physician for a personal health issue. That is simply ludicrous.
I believe he and all the other players implicated in The Mitchell Report are a dead issue. But can baseball be saved? There is only one viable solution -- to expel the cheats from the game for good.
Based on my three decades investigating white collar crimes -- from a stint as an FBI agent examining corruption in professional boxing, to becoming New York State's first ever inspector general -- I am convinced that a "zero tolerance" policy is the only way to proceed and effect permanent change, whether it's in the dugouts of Major League Baseball or in the offices of Wall Street.
One infraction; one violation; you're gone. No second chances, no absurd explanations, and no more black eyes for baseball. Baseball is what is great; the players cannot pass the test of time. Players come and go, but baseball -- and the integrity of the game we love so much -- must always be a priority.
I purchased a Manny Ramirez uniform with the number 99 on its back last year for my seven-year-old son, Arjun. When I explained to him what transpired this week, he immediately said he didn't want to wear it anymore. We discarded it with the other trash.
I was amazed at his decisiveness. He truly loved that Dodgers' jersey, but right after he threw it out, he went outside and began throwing a baseball with his friends. I guess it was his way of reassuring me that the game is what really matters, and we must never forget that. It is our game, and it must be rescued from those who don't belong in it.
Joseph Spinelli is the COO of Daylight Forensic & Advisory LLC and has conducted investigations on behalf of Major League Baseball and other professional and collegiate sports programs.