For the third time, Manny Ramirez will not play in the All-Star game after being elected to the team. During today’s Fox Game of the Week, the announcers were slamming on Ramirez and decrying the habitual “Manny being Manny” excuse—accusing him of not being a spokesman for the game, castigating him for disrespecting the fans, and even intimating that he was faking a knee injury to get out of going. Even Manny’s hometown paper is getting on his case: not just for missing the game, but for missing it while playing so well. (Only in Boston, folks.) Maybe if he sat out a few games and made a couple of errors they’d feel better about it. Yikes.
But fellas, I have to stand up for the guy. Perhaps it’s because I’ve become accustomed to hearing the “Manny being Manny” excuse over the years—in other words, Fox, welcome to my world. Or perhaps I’m biased—as a Red Sox fan, I’d rather Manny take some time off, recoup a bit, and be able to play the second half of the season. Some may see Manny taking a mid-July break as laziness, but in Boston it just seems like he’s putting the the games that count ahead of an exhibition game. I think this may be the year that Manny finally gets the respect he deserves in Boston. After years of ups and downs, playoff games and trade demands, this year we’ve gotten to know another side of Manny.
He showed up to Spring Training in the best physical condition of his career. He arrives early at the park every morning to take extra BP—those gaudy numbers are no accident. And even his oft-maligned defense has improved in recent years. He accurately barehands wall-balls in a notoriously tough outfield and can make the glove-to-hand transition as quickly as an infielder (he had 17 assists last year; this year his fielding percentage is .992).
Not to mention, which is often overlooked, that he plays almost every single day. Jason Varitek gets every 5th game off (when knuckleballer Wakefield and his specialty catcher Mirabelli take the field) but is universally adored in Beantown and elsewhere (including, of course, Chez Sarah). Trot Nixon is similarly respected for his hardscrabble style, even though he’s a bottom-of-the-order type hitter who usually sits against lefties. And David Ortiz is everbody’s hero—show me someone who dislikes Big Papi and I’ll show you a New Yorker. He too plays almost every game, but he’s a DH—if his knees were bothering him, it wouldn’t be a problem, since he rarely has to do more than a home-run trot anyways.
Yeah, Manny has the crazy dreds and the pajama-baggy uniform and the pine tar-smeared helmet and okay, so he may have an occasional mental lapse. But he plays hard and he plays hurt. He doesn’t get much credit for it, of course, since he rarely complains about any injuries, but any player who plays almost every game (more than 150 for each of the last three seaons) has to be hurt some of the time. So he’s not going to the All-Yawn Game. His average at the moment is a mediocre .307, but his slugging percentage is .621. He’s second in the AL in walks and third in OBP. And since 1995, he’s driven in more runs than anyone else in the Majors.
Now that’s Manny being Manny.