NEW YORK — Tampa Bay slugger Manny Ramirez tested positive for a banned substance for the second time and informed Major League Baseball on Friday that he is retiring rather than face a 100-game suspension.
A person familiar with the events that led to the announcement confirmed to The Associated Press that Ramirez tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the nature of Ramirez’ issue with MLB’s drug policy was not publicly disclosed.
The commissioner’s office announced Ramirez’s decision in a statement, but provided few details. Ramirez previously served a 50-game suspension for violating the drug policy while he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers and second-time offenders get double that penalty.
“Major League Baseball recently notified Manny Ramirez of an issue under Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program,” the statement said.
“Rather than continue with the process under the Program, Ramirez has informed MLB that he is retiring as an active player. If Ramirez seeks reinstatement in the future, the process under the Drug Program will be completed.”
MLB said it would have no further comment.
“The Tampa Bay Rays were informed today by the Commissioner’s Office that Manny Ramirez has decided to retire after being informed of an issue under the Drug Program,” the Rays said in a statement. “We are obviously surprised and disappointed by this news. We will have no further comment on this matter, and our fans and organization will carry on.”
The 38-year-old outfielder-designated hitter left the team earlier this week to attend to what the Rays called a family matter. Manager Joe Maddon said Thursday that he expected Ramirez to be available for Friday night’s game at the Chicago White Sox, but he never showed up.
Ramirez played in only five games for the Rays, with one hit in 17 at-bats.
Rays outfielder Johnny Damon said he began hearing late Thursday that Ramirez wouldn’t be returning to the team, but he didn’t know the reason.
“I am surprised,” Damon said. “This spring he played well.”
The 12-time All-Star agreed to a $2 million, one-year contract with the defending AL East champions in the offseason, hoping to re-establish himself as one of the game’s feared hitters.
Ramirez struggled with injuries but still hit .298 with nine homers and 42 RBIs in 90 games for the Dodgers and White Sox last season. He’s a career .312 hitter with 555 home runs in 18-plus seasons, including some of his best with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox.
It was after signing with the Dodgers, though, that his reputation was sullied.
The erratic Ramirez performed well on the field and became a fan favorite, with “Mannywood” signs popping up around town, and wound up signing a $45 million, two-year contract to remain with the Dodgers. But in May 2009, he was suspended for testing positive for human chorionic gonadotropin, a banned female fertility drug that is often used to help mask steroid use.
According to a report in the New York Times later that summer, Ramirez also tested positive for performance-enhancing substances during Major League Baseball’s anonymous survey testing in 2003. Ramirez was a member of the Red Sox during that time.
“I’m shocked,” said Colorado’s Jason Giambi, who has acknowledged taking steroids during his own career. “He always kind of portrayed that he was out there but he knew how to hit, man. He was unbelievable when it came to hitting.”
His retirement comes as baseball, which has been working hard to put its so-called Steroids Era in the past, has another of its great hitters, Barry Bonds, on trial in San Francisco. Bonds is facing federal charges that he lied to a grand jury in 2003 by denying that he willfully used performance-enhancing drugs.
The Rays, winless through their first six games, hoped the Manny they signed this season would be the same Manny who was MVP of the 2004 World Series when he was with the Red Sox.
“Might have been running out of bullets,” said Phillies manger Charlie Manuel, who worked with Ramirez in Cleveland. “Father Time was catching up to him.”
At his best, Ramirez was one of the game’s great hitters, finishing in the top five in MVP voting four times. He led the American League with a .349 batting average in 2002, finished second the following year, and had an AL-best 43 home runs in 2004.
At his worst, Ramirez was criticized for his lackadaisical nature, particularly in the outfield. More than once, managers and teammates complained that Ramirez didn’t seem to care about playing defense or wouldn’t hustle down the line after a hit.
Still, Giambi said his approach to hitting was never in question.
“It was just impressive to watch,” he said. “He always played that he was aloof, but he really knew how to play the game. You could talk hitting with him and his work ethic was pretty unbelievable. He would be in the cage, hitting off breaking-ball machines and I think that’s a part of him that people didn’t see, that he put his time and effort into hitting.”
Damon refused to discuss whether Ramirez’s reputation has been tainted by drug use, instead choosing to focus on his performance on the field. They were teammates on the Red Sox from 2002-05, and together helped the franchise win the 2004 World Series, its first since 1918.
“It’s unfortunate,” Damon said. “I don’t know everything that’s been brought up. All I know is he’s a great teammate and a great player.”
Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington was more somber in his assessment of Ramirez’s career.
“Until the past couple of years, I thought he was on his way to the Hall of Fame,” Washington said. “I don’t think many guys got as many big hits in their careers as he has. There weren’t many guys who had as big an effect on a game as he had.”
“You hate to see greatness all of a sudden just fade.”
AP Sports Writers Andrew Seligman in Chicago, David Ginsburg in Baltimore and Tom Withers in Pittsburgh, and AP freelance writer Amy Jinker-Lloyd in Atlanta contributed to this report.