Rays' Manny Ramirez to retire

NEW YORK -- Manny Ramirez walked away from baseball on Friday, abruptly ending the mercurial career of one of the most talented -- and tainted -- hitters to ever play the game.

The slumping Tampa Bay Rays slugger tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug during spring training, sources told ESPN.com, and informed Major League Baseball that he would retire rather than face a 100-game suspension.

"I'm at ease," Ramirez told ESPNdeportes.com via phone from his home in Miami. "God knows what's best [for me]. I'm now an officially retired baseball player. I'll be going away on a trip to Spain with my old man."

Ramirez served a 50-game suspension for violating the drug policy in 2009 while he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and second-time offenders get double that penalty.

"We were obviously surprised when we found out about it today and hurt by what transpired," said Rays vice president Andrew Friedman, who signed Ramirez to a $2 million, one-year contract in the offseason. "We were cautiously optimistic that he would be able to be a force for us."

Had Ramirez accepted his suspension, he would have become the first player to be suspended twice for a performance-enhancing drug violation since the program went into effect in 2005. The only previous player to be punished twice for any type of drug-related violation was infielder Neifi Perez, who served two suspensions in 2007 for positive amphetamine tests.

In 2009, sources told ESPN.com, after Ramirez was informed of his first violation of the PED act, he initiated an appeal but then dropped it and accepted his suspension. After he was informed of this violation, he notified the commissioner's office that rather than appeal or serve another suspension, he was simply announcing his retirement.

By retiring, he avoided having MLB formally announce that he'd violated the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Instead, MLB issued a release stating only that it had informed Ramirez of "an issue" under that program, and he had chosen to retire.

"Major League Baseball recently notified Manny Ramirez of an issue under Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program," the statement said. "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 38-year-old outfielder-designated hitter with 555 career home runs left the Rays earlier this week to attend to what the team called a family matter. Manager Joe Maddon said Thursday he expected Ramirez to be available for Friday night's game against the White Sox in Chicago, but he never showed up.

"Of course you're disappointed," Maddon said before the Rays rallied to a 9-7 victory over the White Sox, their first win in seven games this season. "But at the end of the day, he has to make up his own mind. It's a choice he has to make."

Ramirez played in five games for the Rays, with one hit in 17 at-bats, and flied out as a pinch hitter Wednesday. He had a strong spring training, then was excused from the last exhibition game for personal reasons.

"It's unfortunate," said Tampa Bay outfielder Johnny Damon, who helped the Boston Red Sox end an 86-year title drought by winning the 2004 World Series, in which Ramirez was the MVP.

"I don't know everything that's been brought up. All I know is he's a great teammate and a great player," Damon said, when asked specifically about the PED allegations. "It's going to be sad not seeing Manny Ramirez ever around a baseball field."

A schoolboy legend on the streets of New York, Ramirez was selected 13th overall by the Cleveland Indians in the 1991 amateur draft and rose quickly through the minor leagues, with a youthful exuberance and natural charisma that endeared him to just about everyone he met.

He broke into the majors in 1993 and played his first full season the following year, when he finished second to the Kansas City Royals' Bob Hamlin in voting for rookie of the year. He went on to establish himself as one of the game's most feared hitters, adopting a dreadlock hairdo that seemed to mirror his happy-go-lucky demeanor -- both on the field and off.

Ramirez signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in December 2000. He helped the long-suffering franchise win the World Series and again in 2007.

"It's sad, man, to see a player with that much talent and with an unbelievable career get him out of the game," Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said. "He got his issues like a lot of people know, but, as a player, I think he did what he was supposed to."

The Red Sox wearied of those issues, though -- Ramirez's erratic behavior, his enigmatic personality -- and traded him to the Dodgers in July 2008.

Ramirez instantly became a fan favorite, with "Mannywood" signs popping up around town, as he led Los Angeles to the NL West title and a sweep of the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the playoffs. The performance earned Ramirez a $45 million, two-year contract.

All of that goodwill fizzled in May 2009, when Ramirez tested positive for human chorionic gonadotropin, a banned female fertility drug 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 MLB's anonymous survey testing in 2003.

On Friday came Strike 3 -- unofficially -- and Ramirez decided he was done.

"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."

Ramirez's positive test for a banned substance 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 when he denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.

It also left players and managers across the game with a mix of emotions: baffled that Ramirez would get caught again, angry that baseball is still dealing with the specter of steroid use, and disappointed that another of the game's great players has walked away.

"Once you get caught once, I mean, you're already banged 50 games, why try again?" said Red Sox closer Bobby Jenks, a teammate of Ramirez for a short time last season. "I mean, it's a little stupid, but I guess he made his own choices. Now he's got to live with them."

"Might have been running out of bullets," added Philadelphia Phillies manger Charlie Manuel, who worked with Ramirez in Cleveland. "Father Time was catching up to him."

The Rays, who were winless through their first six games, had hoped that Ramirez could add some pop to a lineup that lost several key pieces of last year's AL East championship team.

After all, he'll finish as a .312 hitter with 13 seasons of 100-plus RBIs, and 14th on the career home run list.

And quite possibly an asterisk next to all of those numbers.

"Major League Baseball, they're all after those people. They don't play around. They let the players know how tough they're going to be," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "They say, 'We'll be checking you guys, we'll be monitoring all this stuff.'

"People think Major League Baseball plays around because they have a past," the outspoken Guillen added. "If you get caught, you should be punished, because now we know for the last five or six years they're after this. Any players who do that are taking a risk, a big one, because they even check me. I'm not even playing. I'm glad they're after this."

Still, Guillen acknowledged Ramirez was one of the game's great hitters.

He led the American League with a .349 batting average in 2002, finished second the next year and had an AL-best 43 home runs in 2004. He made more than $200 million during his playing career, a testament both to his hitting prowess and to the fact that fans would fill ballparks just to see him perform.

Then there was the other side of Manny -- his lackadaisical nature, particularly on defense and the basepaths, that rubbed some managers and teammates the wrong way.

"A lot of people don't take it really seriously when they talk about Manny Ramirez," White Sox third baseman Omar Vizquel told ESPNChicago.com. "But the guys who have been in the lineup with him and know how he works, his work ethic, he shows up at 2 o'clock every day, he takes extra batting practice every day and it doesn't matter if he went 5-for-5 the day before. He was constantly in the gym lifting weights. His work ethic was very, very good. And some people look at him on the field like, 'Who the hell is this guy? What is he doing?' There are actions that he does on the field that really don't reflect what type of player he was. But he was just an amazing guy."

Ramirez flied out four times in his MLB debut in 1993. In his second game, he hit two homers and nearly had a third -- a long drive at Yankee Stadium bounced over the left-field fence for a double. Trouble was, Ramirez had his head down and assumed it was a home run, so he trotted past second base and was nearing third when his cackling teammates finally stopped him.

It was simply Manny being Manny.

"He didn't take life too seriously," said Yankees catcher Russell Martin, who was with Ramirez on the Dodgers in 2009 and '10. "I feel like some fans live and die with the game. He just didn't take it to that level."

The question now is whether his legacy is forever clouded.

"It's hard not to wonder what's what," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "You just don't know. And that's the hardest part."

Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington offered a more somber 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," he said.

The Rays purchased the contract of Casey Kotchman from Triple-A Durham to replace Ramirez on the roster.

Information from ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, ESPNdeportes.com's Enrique Rojas, ESPNChicago.com's Doug Padilla and The Associated Press was used in this report.