Imagine you’re married to a smoking hot chick. (I say chick only because, judging from the comments and names of people who’ve registered on the site, it seems as if most of the blog’s readers are men. But for the ladies in the house, imagine you’re married to a smoking hot hunk, and substitute in as you wish.) She’s a hellcat in the sack. I mean mind-bendingly, jaw-droppingly good, the kind of sex that leaves you weak-kneed for a day or two afterwards. She also likes football, baseball, and the Three Stooges. She’s funny. She’s smart. She’s interesting. She’s exciting. In the history of wifedom, it’s hard to imagine more than a handful of women who’d ever be able to compete. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her drawbacks: she refuses — flat out refuses — to visit your parents. She hates your friends. And she stubbornly chews with her mouth open. But you can deal with all of this. You happily deal with all of this.
The one thing that’s harder to deal with is those times, once or twice a year, when she up and disappears. Literally just checks out. Oftentimes, these moments come when you need her most: your boss just tore you a new one, or your dog just died, or you’re going in to get that weird lump checked out…and suddenly, she’s gone. Usually she’s back in a couple of days, but sometimes it’s a week. Or longer. The weird thing is, these moments often come immediately after she’s once again blown you away with how amazing she is. She’ll insist on staying at the game in the middle of a thunderstorm, or will surprise you with a pre-paid trip to Vegas…and then, bam, she’s gone. No matter how amazing things were a couple of days (or hours) earlier, that hurts. It hurts bad. And it’s almost impossible to understand.
Ladies and gentlemen, you’re the Boston Red Sox. And that smoking hot wife is Manny Ramirez.
Buried amidst all the carnage of the Boston Massacre, 2006 edition, is how freakishly good Manny has been as of late. During the five games against the Yankees, Manny had 20 plate appearances. He reached base 19 times. Think about that: in five games over four days, Manny made exactly one out. (It’s likely true that, as ESPN’s David Schoenfield argued last week, Manny is among the most unsung superstars in the game, although that’s due more to his silence than anything else.) He had two four-baggers. He had seven RBIs. The pitching might have come up short. The bullpen might have leaked runs like a flimsy piâˆšÂ±ata. David Ortiz might have had a frustratingly human series. But Manny? Manny really was (as the Fenway PA system reminded us on July 31, 2005) like Superman.
Except all was not right in Manny-world. Friday night, a couple of hours after the first gut punch of a loss and a couple of hours before the second one, Manny hit a sharp ball into the hole. It glanced off Derek Jeter’s glove, and he was given an error. Manny certainly didn’t need the single to improve his average (.329, 4th in the AL), his OBP (.445, 1st in the AL), his SLG (.625, 2nd in the AL), or his OPS (1.080, second (by .008) in the AL). Lord knows he wasn’t looking for that elusive base hit that’d help him snap out of a slump.
But to repeat what’s already become a hackneyed phrase, Manny, being Manny, threw a hissy fit. According to teammates (or according to people in the clubhouse who attributed this to teammates) and club officials, Manny had to be talked into suiting up on Saturday. On Sunday, according to several people privy to the situation, Manny tried to convince an MLB official to give him a hit on the play. And on Monday, according to everyone who was watching the game, Manny, because of his suddenly tightening hamstrings, didn’t play after the fourth inning. He also didn’t start last night’s game (although he did pinch-hit for Dustin Pedroia to lead off the top of ninth with the Sox down a run).
For years, Manny has had tight hamstrings. Manny’s also incredibly limber; the next time you go to a game, watch him warm up. And for years, Manny’s hammies have been the excuse cited by the team whenever Manny’s needed to take a couple of personal days. This is infuriating, regardless of what Manny did in the previous four innings or the previous four days or the previous four days or the previous 12 years. Yesterday, Terry Francona told the media, “He’s just sore. So rather than turn this into a week, try to let him get worked on and get him back as quick as possible.” Was he talking about Manny’s hamstrings? Or his head? Or a bit of both?
Sportswriting is a unique beast. It’s the only type of journalism in which someone’s called on to be a critic, an investigative reporter, and a gossip columnist…all at the same time. (Can you imagine if movie critics were also asked to report on the business side of Hollywood? How do you a pan a movie when the next day you need the exec who greenlighted the project to tell you about an upcoming merger?) It’s also the last place reporters and columnists regular elide from one role to the other (you’re not about to see Maureen Dowd writing news stories from Crawford), and just about the last place omniscient sourcing is permitted. If you can’t think of the last time you read a sentence that began, “According to teammates who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of clubhouse interactions,” that’s because you’ve never read a sentence that began that way.
I’ve never covered football, basketball, or hockey, but I have covered politics, business, and crime, and baseball is the only arena I know of in which everyone — from the players to the agents to the coaches to the managers to the front offices — is fully expected to lie. After he signed with the Yankees, Alan Embree never copped to telling the Red Sox he was going to sign with a team on the West Coast before ending up playing for the Yankees, the Red Sox never called him out, and Embree’s agent kept saying how disappointed Embree was about the whole thing. A lot of the time, reporters aren’t privy to these types of prevarications. Sometimes, however, they are, and sometimes people — the front office, players, etc — tells reporters something but tells them they can’t attribute it to anyone, even anonymously. And since there’s the absence of those “requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature” clauses, viola: omniscient sourcing.
This, I assume, was the case with Sean McAdam’s column in yesterday’s Providence Journal. “Think about that,” McAdam wrote. In the middle of the Sox’ three most dispiriting losses of the season, suffered at the hands of the team’s archrival, Ramirez sulked about losing credit for a meaningless single that didn’t even involve an RBI. …
[W]ith his team’s season in the balance, Ramirez intended to sit out to protest a scorer’s call? Would Jeter do that? Would David Ortiz? Would, in fact, any other player in the game?”
For anyone who saw Ortiz making a mad dash for second, sausage-link legs akimbo and arms furiously pumping, in the botttom of the ninth on Sunday knows the answer to that question. (Ortiz’s hit, a sharp shot down the first base line, was flubbed by Jason Giambi. Unlike Jeter’s play with Manny, Giambi wasn’t charged with an error, and Ortiz was given credit for a double.) McAdam, one of the most respected (and one of the best) Red Sox writers, doesn’t cite his sources. That’s not, I’m sure, because he doesn’t have them; I was able to independently confirm the basic facts with a couple of phone calls from my apartment in Manhattan. But sportswriters aren’t supposed to use the pedantic sourcing found on the front page. And because of that, sources expect they won’t be linked to a story…even as a generic “teammate” or “club official.” Still, in many quarters, fans were outraged at McAdam for writing his column instead of at Manny for up and disappearing at another crucial moment.
Thirty-eight years ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren told Sports Illustrated the order in which he read the newspaper: “I always turn to the sports section first. The sports section records people’s accomplishments; the front page nothing but man’s failures.” New Englanders, with their near-religious devotion to the Sox, expect the sports section to record people’s accomplishments more than most places. New Yorker’s don’t explode in outrage when players are caught acting like morons (or horny teenagers). Bostonians do…but this outrage is directed at the messengers, not the message. I understand that, and I’m sure McAdam does, too. But it doesn’t change the reality of the situation.