Manny Suspended For 50 Games

Major League Baseball has suspended Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez for 50 games for use of performance enhancing drugs. The official announcement was made by the Commissioner's Office shortly before noon Easter Daylight Time. The suspension will begin with tonight's Dodgers-Nationals game. He would be eligible to return around July 3.

Ramirez made a statement shortly after the announcement:

"Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was OK to give me," Ramirez said. "Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now.

"I do want to say one other thing; I've taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons. I want to apologize to [Dodgers owner Frank] McCourt, Mrs. McCourt, [manager Joe] Torre, my teammates, the Dodger organization, and to the Dodger fans. LA is a special place to me and I know everybody is disappointed. So am I. I'm sorry about this whole situation."

Juan Pierre would be the immediate replacement for Ramirez in left field, while the Dodgers have not made an official statement, they informed Albuquerque outfielder Xavier Paul earlier in the day that he was being promoted to Los Angeles.

Unconfirmed reports circulated around Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night, however, Ramirez's agent Scott Boras, declined to comment. Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney said he could not comment, citing the limitations stipulated in baseball's drug policy.

Ramirez -- who immediately became the driving force of the Dodgers surge into post-season play -- would become the biggest star suspended under a criticized major league testing program that started in 2003. He had been a model citizen since arriving in Los Angeles last August, following a stormy tenure with the Boston Red Sox.

The suspension will cost Ramirez or roughly 31% of his $25-million salary or about $7.7 million. Players in violation of baseball's drug policy are not paid during suspensions.

According to the policy, a player receives a 50-game suspension for a first positive drug test, a 100-game suspension for a second positive test and a lifetime ban for a third positive test. The suspensions are without pay.

Ramirez re-signed with the Dodgers as a free agent this spring to a two-year contract that was to pay him $25 million and an option for 2010 for $20 million.

Ramirez has led the Dodgers to the best record in baseball this year. In 27 games, he is batting .348 with six home runs and 20 RBIs. He is among league leaders in slugging and on-base percentage and has become the biggest drawing card the Dodgers have had since Fernando Valenzuela, even recently having a portion of the left-field box seats rechristened "Mannywood."

This is the second drug scandal to rock baseball within four months. Alex Rodriguez, the game's highest-paid player, acknowledged during a February news conference that he used steroids from 2001 to 2003. The admission followed a Sports Illustrated report that he failed a drug test in 2003, when players were not subject to suspension.

The loss of Ramirez leaves a giant hole in the Dodgers' lineup. Juan Pierre, who will be the replacement in left field, has batted ninth in two of his five starts this season.

Ramirez doubled and drove in two runs on Wednesday, as the Dodgers set a major league record with their 13th consecutive home victory at the start of the season. But he was not in the clubhouse following the game.

Ramirez leads the Dodgers in batting average (.348), on-base percentage (.492) and slugging percentage (.641), and he is tied for the team lead in home runs with six.

He signed a two-year, $45-million contract with the Dodgers in March, with the first year guaranteed at $25 million and the second year at his option at $20 million.

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