I love baseball. Two of my proudest moments from my childhood were catching my first fly ball while playing center field, and having my hitting improve enough that the outfielders moved back to the fence when I came up to bat.
We're lucky enough to have an MLB stadium (go Diamondbacks!) a short ride from our home on light rail. For me, there's nothing like cheering for your team on a beautiful Spring day, enjoying a hot dog and a beer at the ball park. So when I read that Manny Ramirez chose to retire rather than face another suspension for testing positive to performance enhancing drugs for the second time, I was angry.
I've always seen baseball as "cleaner" than other sports. It's a romantic notion not grounded in reality, but it's one that I cling to. I wasn't just angry at Ramirez for "dirtying up" my sport, I was angry at him for throwing away a career that most people can only dream of. At the end of his career he was making $20 million a year playing baseball, and playing it well. One example: in 2004, he hit a league leading 43 home runs, and took Boston to its first World Series title in 86 years.
This hits home for another reason. The AFA took the lead in creating MRHA - the male reproductive health alliance - with CDC, Men's Health Network, and the Society for the Study of Male Reproduction. One of the key issues we're working on is helping to raise awareness about the dangers that anabolic steroids and other so-called performance enhancing drugs pose to health in general and reproductive health in specific. Moreover, they can wreck your life as we saw this past week.
Manny Ramirez is a prime example of what can happen when someone uses these drugs. Instead of talking about his 43 home runs in 2004, or hitting nearly .400 in 2008, he'll be remembered as a great player who threw it all away because of drugs.
It's a shame on every level. Whether we like it or not, sports figures are heros to kids, and a lot of kids saw their hero fall. My hope is that they understand that it didn't have to be this way, and that they learn the lesson that Manny Ramirez didn't.