Manny can kiss Hall chance goodbye

It’s a moral dilemma. It’s an ethical dilemma. It’s a factual dilemma. And it isn’t going away.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America will agonize for the next two decades — at least — about how to handle Hall of Fame candidates from the Steroid Era.

But not as it relates to the case of Manny Ramirez. He just saved voters a lot of homework and headaches.

No need to make the red, white and blue yard signs. The campaign is over.

It’s rare that a player goes from “Hall lock” to “Hall lockout,” so definitively, in less than two years. But you know what we used to say: That’s Manny being Manny. (And yes, it’s time to retire the expression, too.)

While I’m not a Hall voter yet, I have sympathy qualms for my colleagues who struggle to feel satisfied after completing their ballots. As journalists, we crave a full complement of facts before writing stories or developing opinions. On the steroid issue, we don’t have that. We never will. And it stings.

We can’t say, “I know him. He’s a good guy. He’d never take steroids.” The hard truth: Some of the good guys were juicing, too.

We are left to sift through the hearsay, measure the head sizes and offer educated guesses about who is telling the truth. But that only gives us a Hall of Speculation, which doesn’t look so great on travel brochures.

Fortunately, Major League Baseball did us a favor in 2005. They started suspending players after positive steroid tests. This was very good, on a number of levels. MLB and the players’ union began seizing control of an issue they had ignored for a generation. Fans knew they would see a more authentic competition on the field, despite the specter of HGH. And Hall voters were presented with something that had become very scarce.

Facts.

If you took steroids in the 1990s or early 2000s, when MLB didn’t have penalty-enforced testing, when use was rampant, when the competitive/peer pressure to take steroids was so intense? I’m not sure we should bar you from the Hall. In many instances, the playing field was level: juiced hitter vs. juiced pitcher. It wasn’t right. But it happened.

If, however, you took steroids after the start of the 2005 season, when the baseball fathers decided it was time to get clean? That is different. You were either arrogant, ignorant, or both. The cops broke up the house party, and you stumbled out to the squad car, a 40 in hand.

In the baseball context, Manny Ramirez is that guy.

His 50-game steroid suspension, announced in May 2009, was the end of Mannywood as we knew it. The positive test put a sad spin on the fervor he created in LA the year before – and a smudge on his Hall application.

Manny wasn’t the same Manny after the suspension, discrediting (though not necessarily disproving) the notion that he was squeaky clean during the years he slugged for the Indians and Red Sox.

Think about the chronology: a positive steroids test, a slugging percentage decline in 2009, and another slugging percentage decline in 2010 — including a poor September showing with the White Sox (two RBI in 24 games).

Then came Friday, and the news that Ramirez decided to retire rather than serve a 100-game suspension for his second positive test. Maybe he purposely took steroids, not caring about the consequences. Maybe he didn’t bother to learn the rules, figuring they applied to everyone but him. Whatever the rationale, it doesn’t fit a Hall of Famer.

Ramirez has lost respect among his peers, which is an awful way to leave the game. Of all the players in the Testing Era, Rafael Palmeiro is the only other big leaguer of comparable talent to retire with such a bruised reputation.

And his story doesn’t bode well for Ramirez.

Palmeiro’s demise came even more quickly than Ramirez’s. On July 15, 2005, while with the Baltimore Orioles, he collected his 3,000th career hit. He was toasted throughout the game. But two weeks later, he was suspended after testing positive for a banned substance. He returned in mid-August, wore earplugs on the road, batted .077 in seven games, and then walked away.

Based on numbers alone, Palmeiro’s Cooperstown credentials might be even more impressive than Ramirez’s. He is one of only four players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. The other three — Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Eddie Murray — are in the Hall.

Palmeiro has maintained his innocence in the years since, saying he believes the positive test resulted from a vitamin B-12 shot that was accidentally contaminated by a steroid.

“It’s not a story I made up,” he told Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun earlier this year. “It is exactly what happened to me. I took B-12 I got from a teammate, I took it to my house and my wife gave me an injection … A week after the positive test, I took another test and it came back negative. … I played the rest of the season clean or whatever you want to call it. But I am sure that doesn’t matter. A positive test is a positive test.”

Palmeiro was right. He received just 11 percent of the vote during his first year of eligibility. That was barely enough to remain on the ballot for 2012 — and well short of the 75 percent needed for election. And frankly, Palmeiro’s alibi is more believable than just about any explanation Ramirez could offer at this stage.

Palmeiro can say it only happened once. Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds, who have more compelling Hall cases, can declare that they’ve never been suspended for failing an MLB drug test.

Ramirez is different. He’s the most decorated repeat offender in the history of MLB’s steroid policy. Congratulations.

If a positive test is a positive test, as Palmeiro told the Sun, a second positive test is so much more. Ramirez’s deniability is gone. So, too, is any chance he had left at Cooperstown.

Every Monday morning this season, we will examine a pressing baseball issue in our FOXSports.com baseball column, Behind the Seams.