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Jeff Blair

A tale of two dopers Add to ...

Manny Ramirez's guilt is established. Lance Armstrong's is suggested. But in both cases the people who matter - the paying customers - are bound to deliver more comeuppance to the dewy-eyed few who still think sports is some kind of morality play.

Ramirez returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup last night in San Diego after being suspended for 50 games when elevated levels of testosterone in a drug test led investigators to a paper trail that showed Ramirez was using artificial testosterone and gonadotropin or hCG, a female fertility drug commonly used to restart the body's natural testosterone production after a cycle of steroid use.

Meanwhile, Armstrong is scheduled to ride in the Tour de France for the first time in three years. Unlike Ramirez, he has been only rumoured to be part of the doping scandal that has turned the Tour into the sport's version of professional wrestling, being implicated largely by the French magazine L'Equipe and by a skeptical public. France's sports minister, Roselyne Bachelot, told reporters yesterday that "the doping controls will be multiplied, and I tell Lance Armstrong that he will be particularly, particularly, particularly monitored."

Yet Armstrong's presence will make the tour meaningful and prove once again the adage that sports really is like sausage: it tastes too good to worry about what it's made of. So, pardon us if we just shut up and chew, OK?

In Ramirez's absence, Joe Torre's Dodgers played to the third-highest winning percentage in the Majors and went into last night's game with the Majors' best record. Jackrabbit veteran Juan Pierre replaced Ramirez by hitting .317 and scoring 31 runs while stealing 21 bases, and the Dodgers continued to play the game air-tight. They like it close, going 17-8 in one-run games and 7-2 in extra innings.

If there is any immediate pressure on Ramirez, it is precisely because the Dodgers didn't skip a beat in his absence. That will multiply if he has a power drought. But don't expect any of it to be self-generated because Ramirez is a hitting savant. My guess is he might not even know that he was suspended, that Ramirez might think the Dodgers just felt like giving him a holiday or something.

Ramirez will be booed and subjected to catcalls on the road. But he played for the Boston Red Sox, so that's nothing new, and his erratic nature and other-worldly hitting has made him a target throughout his career, anyhow. And beyond that? Don't be surprised if the public is more than forgiving of Ramirez.

He has been caught. He has served his time. You can debate the lack of public contrition, but my sense is his agent, Scott Boras, has told him that doing so through the filter of the mainstream media is a lost cause. Which is true, because Boras knows the media isn't much liked by fans to begin with (thank god for lawyers and politicians) and he also knows that there will come a time when Ramirez will "cleanse his soul," (paging Peter Gammons.)

The Dodgers have already said they will re-open the "Mannywood" section of left field at Dodger Stadium and how's that for cynicism: marketing forgiveness.

They're on safe ground, because unlike Barry Bonds (out and out blind hatred of a not very nice person), Alex Rodriguez (stream-of-consciousness confession with muddled details that only served to whet reportorial appetites), Mark McGwire (suspicion-arousing silence/blubbering in front of Congress) or Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro (various degrees of fibbing), Ramirez has simply chosen the "I took a prescription" route and said not much else, beyond commenting that he didn't rape or kill anybody.

The fact is that in baseball's steroid scandal it is often those who have said the least that have come out the best. Remember Jason Giambi's eye-rolling non-apology apology? Oh, how we laughed.

But Giambi still has a career because he did what you'd kind of expect him to do. It was a little ham-handed. A little dim, even. Very Giambi-like.

Manny has a huge advantage over everybody else: we know he did it. We know he cheated. In fact, if that list of "103 names" ever becomes public, he'll be able to say he had a head start on most of his peers.

All Manny has to do is be Manny and this, too, shall pass.

If only Lance Armstrong were that lucky.

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