Chris DeMatteo, one of the original Blast launch issue staffers, weighs in on the Manny Ramirez trade.
Friends, readers, websurfers, lend me your eyes. I write to bury Manny, not to praise him. His legacy in Boston will live after him. A legacy that includes two World Series titles and a series MVP.
I have been a Red Sox fan my entire life and a Manny Ramirez fan since before he arrived in Boston. I will continue to be a Manny fan through his tenure with the Dodgers and wherever he goes and finishes his career. I am not saying “good riddance,” but I am not denouncing the trade and I am not condoning his recent behavior.
As a writer and a fan, I believe that Manny Ramirez represents the best and the worst in baseball. He plays like a god but always reminds us that he is human. Although this has become a trade deadline tradition, I spent much of today awaiting the news. If Manny stayed with the Red Sox, I probably would have titled this column “Mo’ Manny, Mo’ Problems” and speculated on what would and should happen for the rest of the season. For better or worse, the Manny Era for the Red Sox is over. For better or worse, the Manny Era for baseball is far from it.
“Manny Being Manny.” We have heard it, read it and quite possibly said it, but have we really thought about it? Manny has been decried as a “man-child” and an “idiot savant of hitting.” He has also-and accurately-been called the greatest hitter of his generation and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
In recent days he has been called “spoiled,” “bratty,” “whiny,” “insulting.” He is portrayed as a clown, a slacker who is able to get by on his natural talent of hitting and not always try his hardest. His teammates however, tell a different story. They have said in the past that no one works harder in the cages than Manny (Julio Lugo recently said that Manny is the first one to the park). They say that he has an aggressive personal workout. They have said, for the most part and that may change now that he is no longer with them, that he is a great teammate in the clubhouse. Manny Ramirez is not a man-child, brat or savant. He is an enigma. He is a baseball player. We mortals cannot comprehend how someone can be so good at anything. We cannot comprehend the money he makes. We cannot understand him.
Major League baseball is not the pure, innocent game that father and son enjoyed so idyllically at the start and end of “The Natural.” There are big bucks and big egos. We have seen drugs, gambling and cheating tarnish our game. We also see tremendous talent and amazing games. Baseball is a game. Major League baseball is a business on both sides-the owners and players-and we have the strikes, disputes and contracts to prove it. Manny’s departure comes in the wake of what has been called his annual “tantrum.”
This is not the first time he has asked out of Boston nor is it the first time Theo Epstein and management tried to trade him. (Before the 2004 season, he was placed on irrevocable waivers and was then tentatively traded for A-Rod). This season was the last of the eight-year contract he signed with the Red Sox but the team had two $20 million options for 2009 and 2010. While Manny did say at the start of the season that he hoped his options were exercised and that he wanted to finish his career with the Red Sox, he apparently changed his mind and decided he wanted to become a free agent. There is nothing wrong with trying the open-market. Now-former teammate J.D. Drew hit payday when he opted out of his contract to sign with the Red Sox for $75 million over five years. His New York counterpart Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract only to re-up with the Yankees for more years. Manny wants to play more than two years and wants a longer contract. I would hardly call it greed. The league and owners make billions-it is only fair that their workers who help them earn their fortunes be paid what they are worth.
While Manny without question dug his own hole, none more than this week, I do feel he was unfairly vilified by the media-both national and local. Maybe it is because he did not talk to them. Maybe not. He is far from the first or the only player to do the things he did and even worse things.
Manny never fell out of shape, went to another team, demanded a trade to a World Series winner so he could win a ring, sign a contract that allows him special travel privileges, play only half a season, then audition his suitor teams like he was on a dating show. If he did, would his team’s radio announcer lose it on the air?
Manny has never been linked to steroids or any other performance enhancer. He did not have any abnormal spikes in homeruns (his 1998 total was actually below what he hit most other years) nor did he suffer a mysterious drop after the league’s new testing policy took effect. If Manny did admit to taking steroids, would growing a mustache make everything better again?
Manny’s trade was not caused by a feud he had with a teammate. If that did happen, which player would go to Miami?
Manny never gambled, corked his bat or ripped his teammates (note the word teammates and not team or management) in the media.
There are different rules for different people. Manny was always given a lot of leeway because of his talent. Whether it was ducking into the Green Monster during a mound conference, not running out groundballs, watching and celebrating homeruns, showing up late to spring training, taking time off, demanding trades or any of his other antics, Manny lived above the law. The elite do. Manny’s incident with the team’s traveling secretary in Houston is reprehensible. Unfortunately, unlike what another Boston writer said at the time, that what Manny did would not earn him an arrest if he were not a baseball player, is not true. Manny is an elite player-he can only be compared to other elites. Elite lawyers, surgeons, politicians, scientists, musicians? It is doubtful one of them would have been punished for pushing one of his or her organization’s employees. If you are that good, you can get away with a lot. It is the same in every sport. Who is to blame? Everyone.
Because we cannot comprehend the immense talent or the money that it deserves, we fall in love with the so-called “lunchpail” players like Trot Nixon, Kevin Youkilis and Jason Varitek. While they are still far better at baseball and far richer than we are, we still think they are like us and love that they had to work hard. The truth is that they are also blessed with amazing talent as much as superstars like Manny do in fact work hard. In life as in baseball, getting one’s uniform dirty only goes so far. Talent and performance ultimately win out.
While Manny at his worst represents the worst in baseball, when he is at his best, there is nothing better in or about the game. As much as we have seen his business side, we have seen him at his playful side. We saw him having fun and making the game fun. Although it was only in 2007, one of my favorite Manny moments was his homerun off K-Rod in the Division Series against the Angels. As soon as he hit the ball, Manny raised his arms and the ball soared into the sky to win the game for the Red Sox. In the ALCS against the Indians, Manny did the same thing when he hit a homerun even though his team was still down three runs and lost the game. That was Manny being Manny: he went up there doing what he always did-hit. He hit and he hit it far and that was what he celebrated. For that moment in time, it wasn’t about the money, management or even winning. It was about hitting. When the Red Sox fell down 3-1 in that series, Manny drew ire when he said that it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the Red Sox lost. He was right. As much as it pains the players and fans, there are far worse things in the world than losing a baseball game or a play-off series. If only more people knew that. Then the Red Sox came out playing loose, came back and won the series four games to three. All because Manny was what he was, a baseball player, doing what he did best, hit. There is nothing better than watching Manny hit. It is the other things he does that cause issue.
Manny will be remembered for a lot in his career, especially in his almost-eight years in Boston. He will be remembered for his great moments, his funny moments and unfortunately, his departure. The Red Sox won two titles in his eight years and those will go a long way in healing wounds. Only time will tell how they do without him. I wish he could have stayed and more importantly, I wish he wanted to stay. He will return to Fenway. If not as a Dodger in the World Series or interleague play or with another team during the season, then as a Hall of Famer when 24 is hoisted over right field near the worthy company of 1,4,9,8,27,42 and, by then, hopefully 14. Until then, I’m surely going to miss him.