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Manny, Being Manny Until the End


We haven't commented all that much here about the sudden, perplexing retirement of Manny Ramirez, which is pretty remarkable given how much time we've spent discussing the enigmatic slugger over the years. Starting in 2005, Manny has been the source of near-constant conversation. We've defended him, and we've criticized him. And we grew tired of doing both.

Manny Ramirez in a Boston Red Sox uniform entailed incredible highs and stupefying lows. Aside from the two World Championships, one of those highs was the play described in the beautiful chart above from Beyond the Box Score's Justin Bopp, his catch-and-high-five-and-throw double play just two months before the Sox severed their relationship with him. It was the exclamation point near the end of a Boston career that ultimately ended with ellipses.

In the end, however, the relationship with Manny was too strained, too broken to survive, as I described three days before the deadline-day trade that sent him to Los Angeles and brought aboard Jason Bay:

Yes, I'm tired of defending Manny Ramirez, but I'd be more than willing to do it — if it were worth doing. Now, I'm not sure. Now, I feel not so much fatigue at the idea of defending Manny. I feel fatigue at the idea of Manny himself, and all that entails.

It entails more rounds of bizarre and maddening comments — allegations that the Sox' front office lies to its players, expressions that he's "tired" of Boston, failing to communicate about injuries right before a key series with the Yankees. It entails more rounds of self-righteous columns from sports writers inexplicably angry about various slights, real and imagined, Ramirez has perpetrated against the game of baseball. And, worst of all, it entails inexcusable actions — as relatively unimportant as staring at a home run that winds up hitting the wall and being held to a single or failing to run out a ground ball that gets booted, or as serious as shoving a team employee or hitting a teammate.

After he left, Ramirez drifted from Los Angeles to Chicago to Tampa. His name was reported to have appeared on a list of players who failed at least one drug test in 2003, though the exact nature and relevance of the list remain sketchy at best. He then was suspended for 50 games after he failed a drug test, and now he's retired rather than be suspended for 100 more.

It's a sad end to a great career, yet it makes perfect sense: Manny going out on his own rules, flouting the conventions, making head-scratching decisions. Manny doing whatever it takes to compete, to succeed, to be the best at his job. As it's usually been with Manny Ramirez, those two formulations are uneasily married, different sides of the same coin.

Now come the debates about his inclusion in the Hall of Fame. The sportswriters obviously will keep him out. If their sanctimony can extend to the likes of Jeff Bagwell, whose only known tie to PEDs is hitting home runs before (and after) the implementation of testing, it will certainly cover the twice-failed Ramirez, despite the ratings, single-copy sales and Web hits he provided with his antics on and off the field. 

Sanctimony, however, has yet to cover the huge numbers of amphetamine users, sign stealers, bat corkers and ball scuffers from the 1900s-1970s, many of whom hold (or held) some of baseball's most cherished records and were inducted with nary a peep into the Hall. As with many other facets of the sportswriters' conflicted relationship with Ramirez, this one also will be drenched in hypocrisy.

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