Manny. (Duck!)

September 29th, 2006 → 11:23 am @ // No Comments

Way back in June, I said Manny Ramirez was likely to finish out his contract with the Red Sox. I based that conclusion on a couple of factors: Manny’s $160 million contract, signed in that crazy free-agent winter of 2000, no longer looked so onerous. (This is due to a bunch of reasons which could make up a post of their own, but the gist of them are: Manny hasn’t seen the decline in skills many people feared and revenue sharing has given small-revenue clubs enough money to sign their young superstars before they hit the open market, making it unclear where the Sox could better spend that $20 million a year.) What’s more, Manny seemed to be making good on a promise he made to John Henry when Ramirez visited the Red Sox owner at his Florida house during spring training. For the first four-and-a-half months of the season, he was putting up his usual prodigious numbers and was playing hard, wasn’t complaining, and, for the first time in memory, seemed genuinely happy to be in Boston.

Well, as that gender-neutral named author S.E. Hinton first said back before Manny was born, that was then, this is now. Manny hasn’t been a regular in the Red Sox’s lineup since the mid-August, Yankees-induced Boston massacre; in 35 games since then, he’s put together only 22 at-bats (and 27 plate appearances). That’s about 3/4 of a plate appearance per game…or a full trip to the plate less than the ferocious offensive powerhouse known as Gabe Kapler has gotten over that same stretch.

Manny’s lingering absence — officially ascribed to tendonitis in his knee— has prompted rumors of malingering since the days after that Yankees series, when the Providence Journal‘s Sean McAdam wrote an article in which he described Manny’s being infuriated by an official scorer’s call and said at least one player was worried about an impending “episode.” The Sox — from Manny’s teammates to his manager to the front office — have officially stood behind Ramirez (even after he backed out of a game earlier this week), and, as the New York Mets learned yesterday, there can be harsh consequences to trying to come back early from an injury. But behind the scenes, Manny’s absence has ruffled more than a few feathers, and Manny, once again, has summoned his agent to Boston to request a trade…with the list of teams Manny’s willing to play for apparently growing by the day.

As is often the case, (and as I’ve written about before), any reporting of unrest in Manny world inevitably results in a round of proverbial rotten eggs being thrown at the media doing the reporting. The Globe‘s Gordon Edes learned that in a particularly painful fashion this weekend, when a critical column of his prompted more than just the usual round of hate mail; this time, Edes actually had a disgruntled reader call him at home. (Edes didn’t point out the irony of a member of a fanbase that often complains about the ways in which the Boston media violates the Sox’s privacy violating his privacy in a much more frightening manner…so I will.) But it’s not just Edes and McAdam who’re writing about the ways in which Manny is impacting the Sox.


In the two-and-a-half months since Feeding the Monster was released, the most common reader queries have shifted from questions about Theo and Nomar to questions about Manny. I usually explain him thusly: he’s someone unusually dedicated to his craft. He works incredibly hard, isn’t a clubhouse distraction, and genuinely cares; you don’t put up these numbers coasting by on raw talent. What’s so confusing — and so fascinating — is the way in which that drive is combined with periods of total apathy. There are those players who don’t work very hard and don’t do that well (*cough* Doug Mirabelli *cough*) and players that work their butts off and succeed beyond where their God-given talents would naturally bring them. But I’ve never encountered anyone — in baseball or in the rest of my life — who combines the raw talent, the will to succeed, and the frequent stretches of apparent disinterest exhibited by Ramirez. When fans detect a frustration on the part of the media (or the front office) in regards to Manny, I suspect it doesn’t stem from some sort of latent disregard; that’s why, during those periods in which Manny is absolutely crushing the ball, there are very few complaints about the ways in which he ignores the media or suffers from occasional brain farts in the field. I’d bet this frustration is roughly parallel to the frustration friends, or family, or whomever feels when someone they’re close to is occasionally squanders his or her talent and abilities. Manny will, without a doubt, be voted into the Hall of Fame. He’ll be remembered as a great, great hitter. But an equal part of his legacy will be turmoil that’s trailed him throughout his career; absent that, he could be discussed as among the best players in the history of the game.When Manny said earlier this month that he was the season’s real MVP, the joke wasn’t that he was so off-base, it was that he very well could have been the MVP before he missed the last month-and-a-half of the season.

If you put a gun to my head, I’d still say it’s more likely Manny is back in a Boston uniform next year than not. There have been plenty of times when both the Sox and Ramirez have been focused and dedicated on getting him out of town, and nothing has worked thus far. On the other hand, Manny’s contract becomes less scary with each passing year, and the very fact that there are fewer monster mashers hitting free agency makes it that much more likely someone will desperately want to pick up Manny’s last two years. (Of course, that’s also the very reason the Sox will be unlikely to trade him…but if the front office feels that this fall’s sit-down was more a result of Manny’s unhappiness than his balky knee,* they likely won’t want to risk two more years of periodic strikes. This was very much the fear at the 2005 trade deadline, when Manny came thisclose to going to the Mets.)

A Manny-less Red Sox team also raises the specter of David Ortiz getting approximately 800 walks a season; this is a concern Ortiz himself recently voiced in the Herald. And certainly Manny offers Papi some protection, but Ortiz’s numbers this month seem to indicate the effect might not be as great as we all thought. From April through August, Ortiz averaged 9.4 home runs a month; with two games remaining in September, he’s hit 8. And Ortiz’s OBP (.462 in September versus .409 on the season), slugging percentage (.657 versus .636), and OPS (1.120 versus 1.045) have all been better, while his batting average has stayed exactly the same, at .286.

This offseason is sure to be an interesting and tumultuous one — more on that later — and all we know for sure is that Manny is sure to be part of that tumult. Stay tuned…

* No, I’m not saying Manny is faking his injury, and it’s well known within baseball that Manny has a relatively low pain threshhold. There does seem to be a consensus that he could play without serious risk of further injury, but that’s something that’s impossible to ever truly know.

Post Categories: Manny Ramirez & Sports Reporters

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: