Manny Ramirez seems to have become a kind of Rorschach ink blot; what you say about him reveals more about you than it does about the enigmatic Red Sox leftfielder. Must be time for a big, sprawling profile as only the New Yorker can do a big, sprawling profile. Of course, who has time to read big, sprawling anythings these days? Without further ado, the good parts:
HIS TEAMMATES: When I asked his teammate David Ortiz, himself a borderline folk hero, how he would describe Ramirez, he replied, “As a crazy motherfucker.” Then he pointed at my notebook and said, “You can write it down just like that: ‘David Ortiz says Manny is a crazy motherfucker.’
IN HIGH SCHOOL: Onelcida Ramirez worked as a seamstress in a dress factory; Aristides drove a livery cab and fixed electronics. Manny and his three older sisters, Rosa, Evelyn, and Clara, lived in a sixth-floor walkup on 168th Street. They had no telephone. The neighborhood at the time was one of the city’s worst—only East New York, in Brooklyn, had more homicides in 1990. Every morning at five-thirty, Manny left the apartment to run up Snake Hill, behind the high school, with a rope tied around his waist attached to a spare tire that dragged on the pavement behind him. “He was the hardest worker I ever had,” Mandl [his coach] said.
AS A MINOR LEAGUER: Ramirez raided his teammates’ lockers, borrowing their bats and clothes—even their underwear—for luck. The baggy-uniform look, now popular across the league, can be traced to his swiping the pants of Dan Williams, a bullpen catcher in Cleveland, who outweighed him by at least fifty pounds.
IN THE BATTER’S BOX: “When Manny first came to the Red Sox, he would stand in the batter’s box, and the umpire would call ball four, and he would get back in the batter’s box,” [said Dan] Duquette, [who signed Manny to the Sox]. “He did this in his first series at Fenway Park and again on his first road trip.” After the third such incident, Duquette ventured down into the locker room. “I said, ‘Manny, let me ask you something. I was just wondering why you get back in the batter’s box after ball four.’ He said, ‘I don’t keep track of the balls.’ He said, ‘I don’t keep track of the strikes, either, until I got two.’ Then he said, ‘Duke, I’m up there looking for a pitch I can hit. If I don’t get it, I wait for the umpire to tell me to go to first. Isn’t that what you’re paying me to do?’ ”
IN THE FIELD: In 2003, [Bill] James identified fifty-three instances in which Red Sox players had demonstrated a game-altering failure to hustle; twenty-nine of them involved Ramirez. He also concluded that Ramirez was the team’s second-sloppiest fielder. [The New Yorker, tantalizingly, fails to tell us who the first-sloppiest fielder is.]
ON THE PERENNIAL TRADE REQUESTS: Since his arrival in town, Ramirez has expressed interest, at one time or another, in playing for more than a dozen different teams… According to a Sox official, he even once requested a trade to Pawtucket, the team’s AAA affiliate in Rhode Island.
ON MANNYISMS: [H]e remains a man of few words. Those words, however, have a way of sounding aphoristic: “All I need to see is the ball,” or “Do what makes you happy.” In 1999, after he’d established himself as a superstar with the Cleveland Indians, written messages began appearing on the backs of his cleats, like admonitions from a prophet: “There will be hell to pay”; “Justice will be served”; “Can’t we all get along?”; “Live and let die.” Greg Brown, a journeyman minor-league catcher who worked out with Ramirez last winter, said, “Sometimes I think it’s Manny’s world, and we all just exist in it.”
When Johnny Damon played for Boston, we had “WWJJDD (What Would Johnny Damon Do)?” tee-shirts, playing off of Damon’s then-Christlike coiffure. Maybe what we need now is a sort of Buddhist, New Agey alternative sporting Manny’s visage and a tagline of just “Being.” I’m thinking earth tones, I’m thinking orange accents, I’m thinking fake Sanskrit. Whaddyathink? I’d totally buy one.