I was at Manny Ramirez’s first game at Fenway, when he drilled his first pitch for a home run over the Monster. I was there last year, in Game 2 of the ALDS, when he hit an absolute bomb over the left-field light towers to deliver the electrifying, walk-off win. And I was there for countless at-bats in between, aware that I was witnessing a Future Hall of Famer at work, aware that greatness was possible whenever he stepped up to the plate.
That’s over now. Now, the Red Sox have moved one of the smartest and most dangerous hitters in the game, a hardball god who, no matter what his other faults, always worked his ass off at hitting, for a hitter who, though younger and skilled, is of course a mere mortal.
This is looking more and more like a trade Boston’s front office wanted to make for personal reasons and less and less like a good move for baseball reasons. In addition to Ramirez, they also had to give up two good prospects who, even if they didn’t fit with Boston, could have been used to help get us something we actually needed, such as a quality lefty reliever, a young catcher, or a third base prospect. Instead, they chose to respond to a crisis that they themselves helped manufacture, with a deal that shipped their most productive hitter out of town. It may yet work out—but on balance, it’s not a good way to run a business.
So far I don’t see anyone in Boston interested in hearing the other side of this catfight—namely, Manny’s side. Nope, his complaints are dismissed as half-crazed whining. The airwaves and newspapers are filled with “Manny’s a bum, Manny’s a selfish child, Manny’s had to go.” I’m not saying those things aren’t true—I’m just saying there are two sides to every story. And so far, we’ve really only heard one. After all, unflattering anecdotes about Manny have been leaking out of Yawkey Way offices for a month now at about the rate that oil leaked out of the Exxon Valdez.
The Red Sox seemed oddly interested in escalating the controversy, creating a sense of crisis, and publicly humiliating their player—an attitude that may have decreased his trade value. As someone who lives in this city, I’m getting mighty tired of us/the FO/the media/large swaths of fans having to trash every good player who leaves town. Whatever happened to the bland-but-inoffensive, “The organization’s decided to make a change”? Although Manny, oddly enough, also did plenty to drive his own value down, once it became clear the Red Sox were not interested in giving him the four-year deal he wanted; this may have actually been a strategy to force a trade and wiggle his way out of the two option years on his contract, which had become an albatross. That, of course, brings you to Scott Boras—the man who announced A-Rod’s opt-out during the World Series last year. He’s got to be happy that Manny will be a free agent at the end of this season. After all, a four-year deal will be much more lucrative for Boras than the big fat goose egg he would have gotten had the Sox picked up Manny’s option.
There’s generally a Manny firestorm every year, so at first, I wasn’t particularly interested in this one. However, when it didn’t blow over, the writing on the wall quickly came into focus. Management was not playing the same game this time around—someone on Yawkey way had to call Bob Lobel with that intentional-strikeout story. As Lobel himself said, it’s not like it came to him in a dream.
And frankly, I know Manny makes about eleventy quadrillion dollars more than I do, but if some reporter came along and looked at all my sick days, I have to admit they’d notice that a few came on the Fridays before long weekends, or on 80-degrees-and-sunny June Mondays. So I would feel hypocritical calling out Manny for skipping work over the All-Star break. (Key AL East games? Different story.) As for the idea that he has faked knee injuries, the experience of having a boyfriend who recently underwent what was supposed to be “minor, noninvasive” knee surgery and ended up on crutches for almost two months has made me a little sympathetic to mysterious, lingering knee problems (and it’s worth noting that my honey’s issue never showed up on MRIs, either).
Plus, I’m getting a feeling from what I’ve read today in the Globe and the Herald, and what I’ve heard on WEEI, that there’s a sense among the commentariat that the city of Boston enabled Manny. In fact, certain pundits are practically foaming at the mouth at the opportunity to slam fans for the way we indulged and spoiled the slugger. Excuse me? Was Manny Ramirez not a grown man when he came here? And did he ever show the slightest inclination to let anyone—manager, teammate, fan, Dan Shaughnessy—affect his behavior on or off the field? Then there’s the ever-popular idea that Manny is some sort of idiot savant, a talented athlete who succeeded despite his work ethic, not because of it, and who has been “babied and pampered his whole life,” to quote the WEEI caller I heard this afternoon. I guess that caller also spent high school waking up at 5:30 in the morning to go running in the Bronx, a tire tied to his waist dragging behind him.
But I suppose, when a hitter of Manny’s caliber is forced out of town—forced by the front office, forced by his own disruptive behavior, and encouraged by his agent—we have to find a way to talk ourselves into his replacement. And Jason Bay, helpfully, walked into the Fenway circus and delivered a key diving catch and the go-ahead run in Friday night’s game. (Manny, I know, could never have made that catch, or stretched the extra-inning double into a triple. But the cynic in me says that with Manny in the lineup, the Red Sox wouldn’t have needed extra innings to score their second run.)
So I wish Manny well with his new team. I wish that now, the Red Sox could go back to winning and the city could just sheeeeuuuuuuut up. And I really, really wish I could overhear that first conversation between Manny Ramirez and Jeff Kent.
Let’s go to the links.
Via Extra Bases, which has a transcript of sorts from yesterday morning’s WEEI interview with Curt Schilling, the injured pitcher echoed my own thoughts: “The hard part for me was this derailed into a train wreck so quick, so fast, and so oddly. You had the Buddah Zen Master guy in spring training…maybe there’s some feeling on his part that if he did what he did last winter and he came out and had a monster first couple of months that they’d sit down and say ‘OK we want to keep you here the next four years, let’s get something done,’ and it felt like to me that the second he realized that that was not an option, this just went straight downhill.”
Beyond the Box Score breaks the deal down and hands out prizes: Red Sox and Pirates = winners, Dodgers = losers.
Over the Monster takes a close look and says it’s the best the Sox could’ve hoped for.
Charlie Pierce wants to know who’s crazier: Manny, or the Sox fans who hate him, and this paragraph is so good I just have to quote the whole thing:
Is the poisonous presence of Manny Ramirez the reason catcher Jason Varitek is petrifying almost by the hour, or why Josh Beckett hasn’t thrown a changeup in six weeks, or why most of The Kids have been playing like people who got lost on the way to the AAA park? (Jacoby Ellsbury, the speedy young center fielder who was such a sensation in last year’s World Series, is hitting an abysmal .186 since the All-Star break and has stolen one base since June 17.) And has Epstein himself been so distracted by Ramirez’s performance that he’s failed to notice that his middle relief corps is a landfill? As near as anyone can tell, as the Rays and the Yankees both strengthened themselves for the final weeks of the season, the only thing the Red Sox front office worked on in the days prior to the trading deadline was finding a way to ship Manny Ramirez and his 20 home runs out of town.
While Bugs and Cranks asks: who is the bigger jackass? Manny…or Favre? (Can you even imagine this question being asked six months ago?)
And The Big Lead sees an ugly trend in Beantown.
Center Field has sensible words, reminding us that you have to take the good with the bad; it’s all just part of the Manny package.
ShysterBall picked up on an unintentionally hilarious quote from Frank McCourt, calling it “Great Moments in Buck Passing.” I wonder if Joe Torre’s laid-back Cali lifestyle has just come to an abrupt and screeching halt.
YFSF has a concise and all-too accurate rundown of the next few weeks in Boston Medialand.
Joy of Sox remembers Manny as a teenager.
Soxlosophy finds it hard to be mad at Ramirez, pointing out that Manny won’t be Manny for very much longer.
And Sox & Dawgs has, via Gordon Edes, Manny’s final, and very odd, Manny Moment in a Red Sox uniform.
And finally, my favorite-ever Manny Ramirez story, from a 2007 issue of the New Yorker.