Manny Ramirez will be watched closely

Farewell, Manny Ramirez, the fastball-crushing, Cooperstown-heading, steroid-using superstar we knew and (sort of) loved so well. You were the decade's best theater -- half-man, half-clown, pure terror for pitchers who dared to challenge you.

Do you have a final monster year left in your PED-less bones? You're creeping up to your 38th birthday. You batted just .218 after Sept. 1 last year, and admit you're no longer the face of the Dodgers. That honor now belongs to Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.

You've told your bosses at Chavez Ravine to make other plans for 2011, as if they weren't already thinking of better ways to spend that $45 million.

Besides the two last months of the '08 season and a hot start in '09, did the Dodgers get a reasonable return on their investment from Ramirez? He took Joe Torre to the playoffs two years in a row, but now we have to ask how great Manny would've been without the steroids.

Actually, we got a glimpse of Ramirez minus the syringe: after his 50-game suspension in 2009, his OPS slipped from 1.133 to .881. No doubt, Ramirez's numbers were skewed, in part, by the Homer Bailey fastball that plunked him on the wrist on July 22. But once a steroid user gets caught, he loses the benefit of the doubt.

That's why Ramirez's trend line is so suspicious. He went from a first-ballot Hall of Famer to the Dodgers' third-best hitter in the span of two months. Was the entire body of work a con? It's hard to believe, the great ones aren't supposed to crash that quickly -- at least not Ramirez, who, in spurts, was better than Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez.

Now Manny has an eye on the door, officially announcing 2010 will be his last season in L.A. No one knows if that's a run-up to retirement; it probably depends on how well he hits this summer. We'll all be watching, waiting to see if September was an aberration or the fingerprint of a player who's had enough.

Torre is wisely planning to rest Ramirez at least once a week, as Manny reported to camp saying "from the waist down I feel 15." He added, "from the neck up, I feel 43. I feel good."

Good luck translating that. Part of Manny's charm was that impenetrable wall that kept us all guessing. He was either oblivious or a genius. Hitting without a care or one of the most dedicated, prepared offensive threats of this generation.

If only Manny hadn't succumbed to steroids, history would've eventually glossed over his other transgressions, including his abandonment of the Red Sox in 2008. The faked knee injury could've been written off to the desperate act of a player who could no longer co-exist with his teammates.

But the positive test changed everything -- it was part of a broader scam that's cost Manny his good name. The Sox said they were better off without Ramirez, seamlessly replacing him with Jason Bay. Now the Dodgers are on the doorstep of a similar, post-Manny era.

We'll see what the next 500 or so at-bats will bring, whether Ramirez will continue to tank or perhaps re-discover that super-human stroke. But if he does, we'll have every right to ask where the hits are coming from.

At the 11th hour of his career, with nothing left to lose, Ramirez is susceptible to any and every temptation. Only the most naive fan would discount HGH as an option for Manny. It's just another reason why baseball needs aggressive testing in the continuing war against PEDs.

Jose Reyes' sad saga

While we're on the topic of PEDs and, specifically, HGH, wouldn't Mets fans like to know if Jose Reyes is on the DL because of simple bad luck?

Granted, an over-active thyroid is a serious medical issue, but if that's all it is, Reyes can convalesce with a clear conscience.

However, his association with Canadian doctor Tony Galea, who's been charged with illegally smuggling HGH into this country, raises all kinds of questions. If Reyes' illness is tied to HGH, he deserves to be punished.

Unfortunately, there's no way to be certain. The current blood test for HGH is years away from being approved by the players association, even though officials at the World Anti-Doping Agency say there's no reason for baseball to wait.

Unfortunately, the reputation of star players like Reyes is at stake: if he's clean, Mets (and their fans) would welcome the news with relief. If he's not ... well, the shortstop has already raised eyebrows by claiming he sought out Galea for a blood spinning treatment for his hamstring.

Reyes didn't really have to see a foreign doctor for the PRP therapy; it's legal in this country and practiced by thousands of physicians. That's one of the questions federal agents asked of Reyes, who have also interviewed Carlos Beltran. The FBI will soon speak to Alex Rodriguez.

The truth, however, is that government's enforcement is limited to the honor system. If Reyes says he didn't use HGH, the feds have to take his word for it. So do we. Someday we'll have a more trustworthy mechanism in place, but in the meantime, here's to Reyes' speedy recovery.