After seven years of incessant bitching and whining on both sides, the Red Sox finally traded Manny Ramirez – who won the World Series MVP during the year The Curse was broken and has been maybe the best slugging right-handed hitter in a generation – and two minor leaguers for Jason Bay in the middle of a pennant race. Apparently, Theo the Boy Genius and his bosses had just gotten exasperated with a guy who speaks broken Spanish, rolls around in the outfield after tripping over blades of grass chasing fly balls, and demands trades more often than George Steinbrenner used to piss and whine for a new stadium.
However, the Red Sox just cut loose a guy who hit 25 home runs in 95 career post-season games partially because, in part, he cold-cocked a deserving Kevin Youkalis, shoved a sixty-something-year-old traveling secretary, wouldnít kneel before Peter Gammons, refused to do publicity shots with retarded kids during Spring Training, and every year made it clear that if the Red Sox didnít trade him he would make them the sorriest mother fuckers who ever lived. All of this provides ample justification to the legion of sportswriters who have alternately called Ramirez one of the best players to ever don a uniform and one of the biggest embarrassments the game has ever seen.
Itís also a bunch of bullshit.
Itís not that I feel that Manny Ramirez is some innocent or that he does not deserve his share of scorn Ė he did sign an eight year contract and cashed all the checks – but when so-called experts like Peter Gammons start pretentiously bleating hyperbole about how Manny Ramirez has defiled the Great Game of Baseball, we can officially call bullshit on the charade. Ramirez is a ballplayer, an entertainer, and a diva. He is borderline retarded, impulsive, and a grade-A flake, but he is seemingly concerned with just two things in life: hitting a baseball really, really well and making as much money from that esoteric skill as humanly possible. Which is not unique, but right now he is the It-Boy for all of baseballís problems.
Coming from the Red Sox, this all seems a bit dubious considering the teamís history. In his day Ted Williams spit on fans when he wasnít practicing his swing in the outfield while fly balls whizzed by his head. Jim Rice was one of the surliest bullies to ever roam a locker room. Long-dead out-and-out racist owner Tom Yawkey yelled ďGet that nigger off the field!Ē when Jackie Robinson tried out for the Red Sox shortly after World War II. Carl Yazstremski repeatedly dogged the last two months of any season the Red Sox were out of a pennant race Ė Carl being Carl if you will. The holy Theo Epstein started a tasteless power struggle with Larry Lucchino and when he didnít get his way immediately, he left Fenway in a gorilla costume to avoid the press after his hissy fit. Yet, none of them ever won a World Series without Manny hitting in the three-hole, but they are all revered by the sporting press as the epitome of all thatís right with the world of baseball in Boston in spite of their huge character flaws.
From a baseball standpoint, the trade is somewhat flawed. The Red Sox just traded their best hitter and justified it by saying heís a disruptive force in the locker room and a petulant child who takes bathroom breaks in the Green Monster during the middle of an inning, doesnít follow team rules, and acts like a jackass, not because of declining production or even because he is maybe the worst defensive left-fielder in the history of the game. Then, to bolster their case, reports came out of Boston that Ramirez and his agent, Scott Boras, engineered this trade by burning all bridges and actively threatening to sabotage Bostonís season sparking a debate about whether Bud Selig of all people should get involved. If the Red Sox are trying to save face or make Manny look bad, it wonít work because neither Boras nor Ramirez cares what you think.
The player they got in return, Jason Bay, is a solid enough player and is a Boy Scout by comparison in regards to demeanor and hairstyle, but in the heat of a three-way pennant race in the American League East against the incredibly talented Tamp Bay Rays, and the hurt, but still dangerous Yankees, the Red Sox are at a decided disadvantage since their lineup has been depleted by the decline of Jason Veritek, nagging wrist injuries to David Ortiz, inconsistency from Mike Lowell, spotty performances from the starting rotation, and a near implosion in middle relief. In one stroke the Red Sox significantly reduced their chances for the pennant and turned the Dodgers into the odds-on-favorites to be the only team in the National League West to finish over .500 and gave Joe Torre a big gun to seriously challenge the Cubs and Phillies for the pennant.
Itís plausible to say this was inevitable and probably should have happened years ago. Ramirez never really fit in Boston even though the fans worshiped him. After coming up with Cleveland, Ramirez and his agent Scott Boras cashed in on the free agent frenzy of 2001 when owners handed out lavish contracts like the nouveau riche picking up trophy brides, cocaine, and gaudy art. It was a big move for a franchise desperate to win a title, and it paid off handsomely but cost the team its sanity.
After signing a $160 million contract over eight years, Ramirez began to grate on ownership, and vice versa, almost from the get-go in spite of the tremendous numbers he posted. For years the two sides played chicken with each other. Manny would get fed up with the weather, would miss some decent Latin food, or just plain want out, and throw a silly temper tantrum like a five-year-old screaming for a popsicle and the Red Sox would try with all their might to either accommodate his eccentricities or try to trade him. It got so bad that Ramirez was placed in irrevocable waivers, but because of his ridiculous contract, not one team claimed him. However, in the end, Ramirez would generally deliver big and all would be forgiven, especially when he helped eradicate The Curse bringing Boston to orgasmic joy after the Red Sox overcame a three game deficit to beat the Yankees and sweep the Cardinals in the World Series. In the cosmic baseball ledger book, that alone is worth the headaches.
But in the end, player movement is not about loyalty to a city or a team or even common decency; itís about leverage, unfortunately. In this case, Ramirez used the only leverage he had: threatening not to play Ė which is among the gravest sins in sports Ė to force the Red Sox hand and ship him out of town before they could exercise their $20 million option on him so he could get one more big free agent contract before his skills and numbers sharply decline. Itís really no different from a team extorting a city by threatening to move if the municipality does not construct a new stadium. Owners and GMís have held players out of games to prevent them from triggering performance clauses in their contracts, but you donít see too many heartfelt columns being written about them messing with the integrity of competition or being money-grubbing bastards who get public subsidies to conduct business.
Manny Ramirez may be a complete cock smoker of the highest order, but heís far from the scourge on humanity that Gammons and his ilk make him out to be. Itís just that they are jealous. Ramirez carries the same bastard-gene many of the owners do in that heís willing to do whatever he has to maximize his wealth. He was also smart enough to hire Scott Boras. Heís a Baby Huey man-child who would be a flunky garbage collector or construction site gopher living in Washington Heights picking up underage girls at low-end Salsa clubs if it werenít for baseball, but since he can hit a baseball better than 99-percent of the guys in MLB, he can do something that a lot of people wish they could: Dictate his own terms.