“My time with Manny was very special,” said Charlie Manuel, who was Ramirez’s hitting coach with the Cleveland Indians from 1994 to 1999 and his manager in Cleveland in 2000 and with Class AAA Charlotte for part of 1993. “He was a kid then. He’s grown up a lot. … Well, he’s gotten older.”
My favorite book growing up was Baseball’s Zaniest Stars by Howard Liss. It profiled the dizzier stars of a previous era, Rabbit Maranville, Lefty Gomez, Rube Waddell, and of course Dizzy Dean.
Recently Bill “Spaceman” Lee wrote Baseball Eccentrics, in which he bemoaned the dearth of characters in modern baseball’s corporate world of today.
Part of it is due to a natural growth of maturity that has come with the rapid exchange of information spurred along by airplanes and the Internet. Bill James once wrote that people loved Dizzy Dean so much, because those kinds of strange rubes were a dying species that America missed, longed for, and mourned for.
The rest is Major League Baseball’s fault. Owners and general managers are so worried about efficiency that they have little interest in goofy characters unless they are stars of the first order. Even people in baseball, while saying that they miss the humor in the old days, decry it once they actually see it.
Look at what insane accomplishments Rickey Henderson achieved. He was the greatest leadoff hitter of all time; he led his team to tons of playoffs and World Series; he set stolen base records that may never be broken. Now go back and look at Rickey’s press.
Invariably the article will not be about his greatness, but about whether he had a bad attitude, whether he was jaking it, or whether he was demanding too much money. Nearly ignored were wonderful things like his home run trot and all the funny stories he generated.
Here was a guy who once said he’d rather stay in the minor leagues than play with Oakland in the majors. He may or may not have had this exchange as a Toronto Blue Jay:
Rickey to John Olerud, his former teammate with the Mets: "I used to play with a guy who wore a batting helmet in the outfield like you do."
Olerud: "That was me."
He definitely left two tickets to every game for a young girl fan of his every time his team came to her town. People claim to want characters, but in reality when they see one they work to snuff it out.
Which brings me to Manny Ramirez, my favorite modern player – What’s not to love? The long dreadlocks; the beautiful swing; the amount of time he works on his brilliant hitting; that baggy uniform that he sports! I’m just basing this on raw talent and entertainment value. I’d say that I admire Jackie Robinson more or whatever, but for sheer joy and insane entertainment value, there is nothing like Manny.
Here’s an incredibly entertaining article about him from the New Yorker. That article alone provides me with joy, but I love all the Manny. I love hearing Jim Rome talk Manny, “Man Ram is a hitting savant!” I love reading Bill Simmons talk Manny. You could take the most boring writer in the history of the world and if he wrote something about Manny, I bet you I’d enjoy it.
Now this year I was bothered by news that Manny pushed the Red Sox traveling secretary down after he balked on a last minute ticket request. That’s almost unforgivable. And of course now the Red Sox have potentially given away a World Series because they felt that Manny had quit on them, and finally become the cancer all these haters of fun had always said he would become.
I heard Peter Gammons say that Manny and even the club’s veterans were appalled and done with Manny’s behavior. Gammons made Manny sound like the worst thing since the 1919 White Sox threw the World Series.
There’s no doubt that Manny quit on the Sox. It’s not very professional, and of course I’d prefer that my “characters” always hustled like Pete Rose, no matter how unhappy they were with their treatment by the team.
But go back to Roberto Clemente’s press. Now he’s lionized as a holy martyr and baseball god. Back then he wasn’t taken seriously and was labeled, like Henderson, a hypochondriac.
The Red Sox finally said that they had reached the final straw with Manny. What final straw? The team record for homers; the two World Series titles; taking the pressure off last year’s team and putting it on himself when they were down 3-1 to the Indians and eventually winning the Series’ MVP award?
I’m so sick of hearing people complain about special treatment that stars get and how they create divided locker rooms. People are different, both in talent and temperament. Shouldn’t these managers and general managers be trying to MANAGE the different personalities on their roster?
The truth is that if you are different and actually have a personality, they will tolerate you until your skills start to slip and then they will toss you aside like a used condom.
What made the Sox’ first championship in almost a century so special was the knucklehead personality of that team. With Manny, Johnny Damon, and Pedro Martinez, that was the craziest team to go to the World Series since John Kruk's Phillies, and God bless them. Now a championship later all three are gone.
The way Manny Ramirez should have been treated was how Phil Jackson treated Dennis Rodman. It was right after Gregg Popovich had let Rodman destroy his team’s championship run by trying to tame the nut ball.
Jackson essentially told Rodman, "Dye your hair whenever you want. Take your shoes off and sit on the floor during games, come out late for introductions – as long as you play your ass off for me, I’ll abide with the nonsense and stand up for you. Jackson and Rodman won three rings together."
Of course, Popovich’s Spurs have also now won three rings. His Spurs team has coldly maintained a dynasty while providing basketball fans with teams that generate almost zero entertainment value. Bill Belichick has done it with the New England Patriots. Theo Epstein seems intent on doing the same with the Boston Red Sox. Sadly, we are now in an age of the “boring grind it out winner.”
Am I the only one admiring Manny’s hilarious highlight reel? – the high five catch and double up at first, the mammoth swings, the handwritten signs, the unnecessary diving cut off of a relay throw in left field (possibly baseballs funniest highlight of all time)? Am I the only one with a tear in my eye and a copy of 1984 on my bookstand? Am I the only one who found Men at Work boring?
Whatever – goose step on Popovich, Belichick and Epstein, my money’s on you, but that will be the only reason I ever root for your teams. “Play” on, Manny!Powered by Sidelines