PHOENIX — Call it another curious chapter in the often puzzling career of Manny Ramirez.
While Ramirez concedes he made a mistake when he abruptly retired last April, his mistake looks even bigger in hindsight.
Ramirez, it turns out, was not certain to be suspended 100 games after he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs with the Tampa Bay Rays in spring training. Baseball officials were prepared to move forward with a 100-game suspension, the penalty for a second violation of the joint drug agreement. But the players’ union, for reasons that are unclear, maintained that Ramirez’s suspension should have been 50 games, according to major league sources.
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The facts associated with the outfielder’s two suspensions were not in dispute, sources said. The difference of opinion might have been over whether Ramirez violated the same portion of the drug agreement twice. Officials from the players’ union and baseball declined comment, citing the confidentiality clause in the joint drug agreement.
Still, the disagreement between the sides was so pronounced that the matter likely would have gone to arbitration if Ramirez had pressed the issue, according to one source.
Ramirez retired instead.
“At that time, I was frustrated,” Ramirez told FOXSports.com. “I made a bad decision that I regretted. Thank God that’s in the past. I’m moving on.”
Ramirez, 39, signed a one-year, $500,000 minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics after the commissioner’s office approved his application for reinstatement in December. He must serve a 50-game suspension before he is eligible to play.
Baseball declined to push for 100 games, knowing that the union disputed that length and that the case against Ramirez would have been weaker after he sat out virtually all of last season.
In other words, there was no deal to reduce his suspension, as previously reported. If Ramirez tests positive again, it is unclear whether he would face a 100-game suspension or the penalty for a third offense, a lifetime ban.
Ramirez said he did not know why the union believed his suspension should be only 50 games. He acknowledged testing positive for the female fertility drug human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in 2009 while with the Los Angeles Dodgers and for artificial testosterone last spring with the Rays.
Both substances are prohibited in the joint drug agreement. The disagreement over the length of Ramirez’s second suspension stems from circumstances surrounding the first, sources said.
At the time, ESPN quoted sources as saying Ramirez tested positive for both artificial testosterone and hCG and that he was suspended for hCG because baseball had documentation he had used the drug.
ESPN, citing a source from baseball, also reported that Ramirez’s representatives had indicated they would fight the suspension for artificial testosterone. Baseball chose to suspend Ramirez only for hCG because he would have penalized 50 games either way.
The second suspension, if it also had been 50 games, would have cost Ramirez about $550,000 of his $2 million salary. Instead, he forfeited virtually the entire sum after appearing in only five games for the Rays.
Ramirez said his decision to retire was a mistake not because his suspension could have been shorter but because he failed to accept his penalty, effectively running away.
“It was a mistake because I made the decision to leave,” Ramirez said. “When you make a mistake, just face it. Nobody’s perfect in life. Face it.”
Ramirez said in an interview with ESPN.com last December he received “bad advice,” but in his interview with FOXSports.com, he refused to blame anyone but himself, saying that he was “so mad.”
Nearly one year later, his frame of mind seems notably improved. Ramirez said he is grateful the Athletics gave him an opportunity when other teams would not.
“I almost signed with Toronto,” Ramirez said.
Why didn’t he?
“There were doubts,” he continued. “At first they said yes. Then they said, ‘We’re going to have to think about it.’
“I said to my wife, ‘In God’s path, there are no doubts.’ These people (the A’s) came in, I felt good with my heart. I said, ‘Baby, this is the team.’ ”
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos declined comment when informed of Ramirez’s remarks.
Ramirez, 0-for-5 thus far in the Cactus League, is expected to return Saturday from a stiff back. He likely will remain in extended spring training once the season starts but also can work out with the A’s before games during his suspension as long as he is off the field before fans enter the gates.
“I feel great,” Ramirez said. “But you miss a year, you’ve got to back baby steps. Rome wasn’t built in one day. If you’re patient, it will come.”
He was impatient last April, retiring on impulse. Ramirez would have missed no more than 100 games and perhaps only 50, then resumed his career.
Instead, he was Manny being Manny, making another curious decision in a career full of puzzling steps.