Astros stars react to Ramirez suspension
Berkman forthcoming, Oswalt reserved with opinions
HOUSTON -- Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were brutally honest when news broke this spring about Alex Rodriguez being one of the 104 players who failed a performance-enhancing drug survey test in 2003.
Fast forward several months to Thursday afternoon, and again, the two star Astros were asked for their opinions on the news that Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Berkman was just as forthcoming as he was in February, whereas Oswalt, who has grown weary of the constant line of questioning, declined to delve too deep into the topic this time.
But Oswalt's body language spoke volumes. Standing with two reporters, Oswalt's official comment was, "No matter what I say, it's not going to make a difference." As he said the words, however, he was clearly agitated. Perhaps to stop himself from saying anything else, he threw a baseball into the glove on his left hand, over and over, with increasing force.
Reminded about the moon shot Ramirez hit off of him just two weeks ago -- the ball sailed to the left of the Citgo sign in left-center and flew out of the ballpark -- Oswalt, who in February stated firmly he believed all of A-Rod's numbers should be erased from the record books, opted to stay silent. He simply continued passing the ball from his right hand into his glove, with enough force to make the same popping sound one hears after one of his 97-mph fastballs hits the catcher's glove.
Berkman, who also spoke out against A-Rod in February, was ready for the barrage of questions that awaited him when he arrived to the clubhouse on Thursday. Asked if he was surprised that Ramirez was suspended, Berkman answered, "No, I wasn't."
To Berkman, there are a handful of players who make the game look easy. And it's those players who have always raised suspicions from his perch at first base.
"I don't want to sound like I'm coming from some place that I'm not," Berkman began. "But when people make the game look as easy as some guys do, it doesn't surprise me to learn that they're having a little bit of help. It's not an easy game. It's tough. When you're basically that dominant, I always sit there and go, 'My goodness. Either this guy's got head and shoulders more athletic and God-given talent than the rest of us, or there's some help there.'
"I'm not saying it's not possible that guys are just that talented, because I think some guys are. But it definitely raises a question in my mind."
Ramirez issued a statement through the Players Association on Thursday that stated he had "taken and passed about 15 drug tests" over the past five seasons. Berkman looked somewhat amused as he gave his opinion on that part of Ramirez's explanation.
"I don't know exactly what he tested positive for, but I heard from a reliable source that it was not for a steroid, but for a masking agent for a steroid," Berkman said. "If you're taking masking agents, it's not shocking that you would not test positive 15 times in a row. I don't know. I'm no chemist. Actually, I think Rice has some Nobel Prize winners in chemistry. But I didn't hang out with them while I was there."
Berkman has long stated that he wants blood testing, and he wants it now. He burns for the day when someone will come up with a reliable, affordable test for human growth hormone and would gladly give blood any time if it meant cleaning up the game for good.
"Whatever they've got to do to make sure the game -- as much as they can -- is clean, then they should do it," Berkman said. "It's a pain in the rear. I don't want to get tested every other time I turn around. But I'll give blood at any moment during the season, or during the offseason, or whatever they want me to do. As much of an irritation as it is, I'll do whatever they want in order to bring some integrity back to the sport."
Berkman is used to being lumped in with the rest of today's players who are under the proverbial "cloud of suspicion" that suggests if one player is doing it, they all must be. But that doesn't mean it doesn't bother him. He recalled one particular incident while he was standing in the on-deck circle during the team's recent trip to Cincinnati. Hitting all of .165, a heckler from the stands yelled, "Hey Berkman! That's what happens when you get off the juice!"
Berkman's initial reaction wasn't an angry one. After all, he argued, how can you blame fans for thinking that?
Leaning back in his locker, Berkman managed a small smile and said, "Maybe I should have been on [PEDs]. Obviously, those things work pretty good."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.