"I don’t want to talk to them about contracts right now. So what? Enough is enough. I’m tired of them. They’re tired of me, and after 2008, just send me a letter, whatever.
— Manny Ramirez, Sunday.
It’s a general rule in presidential politics that voters develop fatigue — a deep-seated apathy, even a desire for change — after eight years of one president. It happened with Bill Clinton, who is generally considered a good president, and it’s happened with George W. Bush, who is generally considered a bad one, though history will render more final verdicts on both men in the decades to come. Only two presidents have ever survived this axiom: George Washington, the only president to voluntarily step aside after two terms, and Franklin Roosevelt, who died shortly after beginning his fourth — both considered among the greatest presidents to serve this country.
Manny Ramirez is no president, but Red Sox Nation is in its eighth year of the Ramirez administration, so to speak. Only Tim Wakefield has been here longer, and Wakefield is not the on-field leader Ramirez is. For eight years, Manny Ramirez has been the future-Hall-of-Fame cog in the Red Sox’ lineup. Although nothing is certain, it appears that is likely to end once this season is over.
I admit I have Manny fatigue. Eight years of drama, controversy, media-fueled overparsing of his every word and action … Ramirez has been treated by the Boston sportswriters much like Washington political reporters treat a sitting president (Was he where he should have been? Is he giving 100 percent? Is he corrupt — i.e., did he intentionally shirk his duty in important situations?). Through it all, I’ve grown a bit tired.
Tired of defending him, yes. I’ve been a big Manny defender. In some
ways, he’s the modern day Ted. Ripped by the press because he doesn’t
pay obeisance to the things the Boston sportswiters think he should.
His intelligence is generally underappreciated, even while his work
ethic and hitting prowess are legendary. He played an integral role in
doing twice what even Ted, Yaz, Jim Ed and Wade could not do even once.
I named my cat after Manny Ramirez. Named my female dog after David Ortiz (we got around the gender issue by naming her "Poppy"). Without Manny first in front of him then behind him, there is no Big Papi. There is no greatest 3-4 lineup combination in our lifetimes playing for the Red Sox. There’s no Yankee killer tattooing Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte. There’s no arms-raised, walk-off home run off Frankie Rodriguez, forever the Hall of Famer’s definitive moment in baseball, never mind just his time with the Red Sox. There’s no celebration of Home Run No. 300, or 400, or 500.
Then there’s the other stuff you must be heartless not to like: Visits into the Green Monster, high-fiving a fan in the middle of a catch-and-throw double play, dancing and fist-bumping with Orlando Cabrera, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz. The crazy hair, a new ‘do every spring. The incredible comments when he does speak to the media: "I’m a bad man."
Yes, there’s a lot to love about Manny Ramirez — not least of which is the fact that he is third in RBI, fourth in home runs and second in OPS and OPS+ to Albert Pujols among all ballplayers with at least 5,000 plate appearances between 2001 and the present. No one will be calling Dan Duquett’e signing that December of 2000 a failure. Not now, not ever.
But there’s the rest. And what makes my feeling of Manny fatigue frustrating is that much of it is based on news reports or rumors I’ve found to have little credibility.
There’s the Gordon Edes hatchet job that essentially created and has since fueled the legend that Ramirez quit down the stretch in 2006 — a piece that ever since has tarnished that writer’s otherwise sterling image in my eyes. It was entirely unsourced, filled with innuendo and accusation, yet without any piece of evidence — or even logical deductions based on observation — to support it. The piece legitimized a rumor that, considering the dearth of evidence, should have remained exactly that.
There’s the Bob Lobel rumor-mongering on WEEI — in which he claimed the front office believed Ramirez took three straight strikes in a key at-bat from Mariano Rivera to retaliate for a "six-figure" fine levied for his shoving of the Red Sox’ traveling secretary. Lobel never even claimed to have a front-office source for his statements, was wildly off-base on the amount of the fine, and never explained why Ramirez would choose to protest a full week after the fine was levied and paid to charity — a week in which he hit well over .400.
Despite the lack of evidence, the utter inability of these reporters to ever verify the rumors they chose to report, the accusations linger, unfairly. They sit there, easily dismissed when all is smooth, not so easily brushed away when times are rocky. This is one of the rocky times.
Because there are things that we know are true, as well.
We know he called John Henry a "white devil" when the owner wouldn’t immediately accede to one of Ramirez’s many trade requests. We know about those, too. 2003, 2005, 2006. In between, he was placed on irrevocable waivers (no takers, as we well know). We know he slapped at Kevin Youkilis in the dugout. We know he is accused of shoving traveling secretary Jack McCormick. And while we’re not buying the anguished cries of those who seem to believe 64 years of life qualifies McCormick for a nursing home, it was an amazingly infantile act, quickly reinforcing the stereotype that Ramirez is nothing more than a very talented, very rich child playing a child’s game. It’s a stereotype I hate, yet one that is now harder to refute.
Which brings us back to fatigue. 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.
I’m tired of that Manny. Sometimes I want him to go away. Time for a new administration. Jason Bay. Mark Teixeira. Shake his hand, thank him for all his work here, and let him get No. 600 elsewhere. Or "send (him) a letter," as Ramirez would apparently prefer.
But that’s only one side, isn’t it? As true as all that may be — and it’s as factual as I can surmise — it’s not the full picture.
Because "Manny" also entails terrific production — the man is fifth in on-base percentage, seventh in OPS, eighth in home runs and eighth in RBI this season; good luck finding that on the trade market without gutting the farm system. He’s given us 2004. He’s given us 2007. The odds are good he’ll have a "B" on his cap when his placque is engraved for Cooperstown. Anyone who thinks the Red Sox can survive without Manny Ramirez or an equal bat is sadly deluded, and the chances of getting an equal bat before the offseason are unlikely.
I may be tired of him. I may not love him anymore. I don’t think I even particularly like him after the events of this weekend. But he’s still our Manny. For better or worse, he’s wearing the laundry, and that means we root for him. Just like we’d root for Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez if they wound up in red and white.
No matter how tired Ramirez is of the Red Sox, or the Sox of him, they need each other if they want to play baseball this October. And that means we need him, too.