No-tolerance policy must be put in place

Start with this: The players connected to performance-enhancing drugs through positive drug tests or hard information have lost the benefit of the doubt. Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for violating baseball's drug policy. He says he took a substance prescribed to him by a doctor for a personal medication situation. Our response is this: Whatever.

No, somewhere between Rafael Palmeiro wagging his finger at congressmen and Mark McGwire saying that he didn't want to talk about the past and Jason Giambi saying he was sorry without saying what for and Alex Rodriguez telling Katie Couric that he didn't use steroids at all, our obligation to believe any my-dog-ate-my-homework story ended, and now we can assume the worst. Manny made a statement, and in it he stated that a physician gave him a medication, "not a steroid," that "was banned under our drug policy." At some point in the future, Manny may also say that he never touched steroids before, and that his production into his late 30s was a complete coincidence. Our response will be this: Whatever.

But the sad part is that, inarguably, this crime within baseball pays in a big way, as Ramirez has demonstrated, and A-Rod and others demonstrated before him. Manny is a certified user of a banned substance, but he's going to giggle his way all the way to the bank, and he and others can continue to do so unless Major League Baseball takes what should be viewed as the last necessary step in its battle against PEDs and institute a zero-tolerance policy.

After forcing his way out of the eight-year, $160 million deal he signed with the Red Sox -- and now, of course, all that he has accomplished will be cast into question, in the same way that the feats of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are in question -- Ramirez agreed to a two-year, $45 million deal with the Dodgers this past offseason.

It's up to Manny whether he wants to walk away from the contract after this season, but let's just hazard an early guess on this point: There is no way he will walk away, because starting today he is an outfielder who will turn 37 later this month and now is connected with the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and no team with any sanity is going to match the money that Ramirez stands to make in the second year of his deal. If you thought Ramirez was a pariah after the way he dogged his way out of Boston, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.

But now the Dodgers are left having to hold the very pricey bag. Ramirez has a deal that is loaded with deferred payments, but let's just say, for argument's sake, that in being suspended for 50 days, Ramirez will lose about $7 million in salary for this year. Well, he'll be back on the field in early July, he won't opt out of his contract after this year, and in the end, he will walk away from this two-year deal with $38 million.

Was it worth it for Ramirez to take a banned substance? What, are you kidding?

It's possible that he will return and continue to hit well and produce, but it's also quite possible that at age 37 this year and 38 next year, he will suffer without the benefit of whatever drugs were in his system. It's possible that he will be like a lot of other players in their late 30s. It's possible that he won't be anything close to what the Dodgers thought he would be when they signed him a couple of months ago.

The Dodgers also paid for his image and his legacy, and of course, those are now tarnished forever.

What can the Dodgers do about it?

Nothing. Owner Frank McCourt is going to keep writing the checks, despite the fact that what he's paying for is not anything close to what he thought he was paying for. The Yankees have the same problem with A-Rod, who has a little less than nine years and about $270 million left on his contract. The Dodgers and Yankees have been duped, and yet, under current baseball rules, there is absolutely nothing the two teams can do about it.

Major League Baseball and the Players Association have taken a long, slow journey in their fight against performance-enhancing drugs and other banned substances, as they came out of an era when a whole lot of players were using the stuff. But now, it seems like they have made great progress. It seems like drug use is down dramatically, although there is no way to really prove that so long as there is no test for human growth hormone.

But there are still loopholes for cheaters, still opportunities for players to take advantage of the system, to essentially steal money from teams and from other players who would greatly prefer to stay clean. If Major League Baseball wants to serve its members, and if the union wants to serve its members, they need to shut down those loopholes in the next drug-testing agreement.

One positive test and you are out of the game. One positive test and you are gone. No second chances. And if you test positive for drug use -- if you have cheated your employer and your union brethren -- you shouldn't get paid and there shouldn't be any rewards.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He updates his blog each morning on ESPN.com.