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Adrian Walker

A walk-off with regrets

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / July 29, 2008

Right-thinking people in this town have finally had enough of Manny Ramírez.

What was once charming and eccentric is now self-centered and selfish. Ramírez suggested last weekend that he's had enough. Everyone, it seems, has had enough.

Yes, we've all seen this movie before. Manny has demanded more than once to be traded by the Red Sox. He even was waived, though there were no takers for baseball's second-highest salary.

Now Boston's romance with the slugger has entered an odd twilight phase. Call it resignation. Not long ago, there were fierce debates about whether trading Manny would make sense. No more.

I belong to the apparently dwindling band that will miss Manny when he's gone, a separation that seems destined to come to pass by Thanksgiving, perhaps much sooner.

I know for sure the Red Sox will miss his bat, but I think the city will also miss this man who manages to be larger and smaller than life, all at once.

The past couple of months have been a train wreck. He shoved Kevin Youkilis in the dugout, apparently for caring too much about his at-bats. He shoved Jack McCormick to the ground, rightly earning universal ire. He bailed on a Yankees game, probably because he didn't want to face a young flamethrower. Through it all, he has played well, but, at 36, he has plainly started the inexorable decline from great to good.

Boston's fascination with Manny was always curious, because he represents none of what Boston fans cherish. He has none of Larry Bird's fire, or Tom Brady's perfectionism, or Carl Yastrzemski's true grit.

But Manny brought something entirely different to the ballpark. He is a rare combination of great athlete and comic relief. He would disappear in left field, high-five a fan in the middle of a play, or congratulate himself endlessly for a routine assist from Fenway's (short) left field. He is a constant reminder that, at heart, baseball is a little kid's game.

Manny would also win games, over and over, with his bat. When Red Sox owner John Henry said the team would not have won two World Series without Manny, he was speaking an indisputable truth.

Before they became a marketing behemoth, the Red Sox gloried in personalities. That all changed after 2004, as the team has projected a more corporate and polished image. Nomar Garciaparra was just plain weird, but it was years before anyone minded. Pedro Martinez was brilliant and eccentric and moody. They don't want players like that anymore.

Of course, there are obvious drawbacks to investing $168 million in someone with the emotional makeup of a 12-year-old. Unlike Brady, Manny is not face-of-the-franchise material. He is not a leader. He is not a great citizen, like his friend David Ortiz. He is just a great hitter, take it or leave it. I would argue that the Red Sox have gotten precisely what they paid for.

I'm just a rabid baseball fan, not an expert. But those who are, like Dan Shaughnessy and Peter Gammons, think it's unlikely that Manny will be traded in the next week, even if the Red Sox are willing to eat some of his salary. The team would probably get substantially less than he's worth. And, even with Ramírez, the 2008 Red Sox are not the most explosive team in baseball.

They need him, assuming he will stop pretending his knee hurts and actually play for them. This team might yet have a pennant in it, and that takes precedence over fits of pique.

But it's all over except the crying. Boston has been good to Manny, and vice versa.

All that's left is the "Dear Manny" letter telling him his services are no longer required. The Sox will still be good, if not as good.

But you can get good anyplace. Without Manny, the Red Sox will be a lot less fun to watch, and to argue about.

As a fan who has paid a sliver of Manny's salary out of my own pocket, I've never wanted a penny of my money back, not even now.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

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