Something that keeps coming up in the mainstream reporting surrounding Manny Ramirez’s return, and something I’ve been asked about in radio spots — it came up in today’s Toledo hit — and in the BP piece’s comment thread, is the idea that his rehab stint is a) unique to his case and b) a violation of the spirit of the suspension which shows what a farce the whole system is. The Plaschkes, Ringolsbys and Justices are having kittens as they work overtime to manufacture outrage over this, and I’m sure there are plenty of talk radio hosts around the country stoking the fires.
As to the first of those two statements, in fact every player who’s been suspended for 50 games under baseball’s drug policy has had the same right to such rehab stint, including Ramirez’s Dodger teammate Guillermo Mota, who did so with the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate back in 200, and the Phillies’ J.C. Romero, who did so in the Phillies’ chain last month.
As to the second statement, people seem to forget that the policy is the product of collective bargaining. MLB and the owners can’t just unilaterally impose their will to punish the players — that’s why there’s a union, for crying out loud, and that’s what the 1994 strike was all about, the prevention of the owners from unilaterally imposing working conditions.
There’s nothing magical about the number 50 in a 50-game suspension other than the fact that it’s a round number. It seems apparent that the Players Association would only accept such a length of time for a first-violation suspension if a minor league rehab stint were exempted from that count. Had they not agreed to such a stint, it’s quite possible the players wouldn’t have accepted a suspension longer than, say, 40 games, and Ramirez would be coming back cold, or forced to spend a week at the team’s extended spring training complex or something. The overall timeline for his return to the majors might not have changed at all.