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BOB RYAN

It's all part of Manny's being

When play resumes tonight, Manny Ramírez will be batting fourth and playing left field. What did or didn't happen two nights ago in Pittsburgh no longer matters.

The amount of wasted newsprint and verbiage on Manny's All-Star No-Show amazes me. It was nothing more than a fresh chapter in the engaging 24/7/365 reality show we all know as ``Manny Being Manny." I was under the impression that everyone who cared knew the basics of the show, but I must have been wrong. If you're onto the concept of MBM, then you had no reason to be upset. It was perfectly in keeping with the show's ongoing story line.

Manny does what Manny wants to do. Manny doesn't do what Manny doesn't want to do. Things couldn't be any simpler than that.

This is not a novel concept. We never went so far as to identify the seven-year experience with a certain righthanded pitcher as ``Pedro Being Pedro," but we could have. PBP was every bit as viable as MBM, as everyone associated with the Red Sox knows. But Pedro Martínez was allowed to get away with his own 24/7/365 act for the same reason Manny does. Each is a Hall of Fame talent, and in the world of pro sports, talent rules.

Professional sports teams have no choice but to live with the whims and eccentricities of the ultratalented players. It's very nice when the best players also happen to be consummate professionals. The men who coached Michael Jordan and Larry Bird appreciated the fact that each of these superior players thrived on practice. Allen Iverson's coaches can barely conceive of the idea that the best player also values practice. But you'll note that, while the 76er coaches have come and gone during the last 10 years, Iverson has remained. (Until now, anyway.) The coaches were expendable. Allen Iverson was not.

If the Best Player has some issues off the field, court, or rink, well, they can be overlooked, too. Bill Parcells could not possibly have approved of Lawrence Taylor's life away from the football field, but The Tuna knew exactly how much he owed the high-livin' linebacker, and the coach has publicly acknowledged as much. Talent prevailed. It always does.

In some ways, Manny Ramírez is professional. Do not make the mistake of thinking he is some sort of idiot savant when he walks into the batter's box. No Red Sox batter studies more videotape or gets more out of trips to the batting cage. Manny Ramírez has taken his God-given package of strength, hand-eye coordination, and (perhaps most of all) extraordinary balance and has added to it a very scholarly approach to hitting. He wants to be great, and he puts in the time to get where he wants to go. This is a big part of MBM.

But MBM also includes watching balls hit in the air when he should be running and occasional base-running gaffes and some lackadaisical moments in the field (although his work in left field during the first half of this season has bordered on the commendable). It includes near sit-down strikes when he decides he wants a day off. And it includes blowing off the All-Star Game.

On this subject, I recommend a piece written by the estimable Buster Olney on ESPN.com last week. This being the third time Manny has done this (including the time he actually attempted to sell the sick grandmother routine), Buster decided there was an easy solution to the problem in the future. You simply go to everyone during spring training and say, ``If your name is on the ballot, and you're selected, will you play?" If the man says no, then don't put his name on the ballot.

That would indeed be the end of the story, and we would be spared all those teary-eyed pieces about how ``Manny is dissing the fans who voted for him." In the first place, if they were remotely hip to MBM, they'd already know there was a pretty good chance Manny wouldn't play. And if they didn't, tough. Sometimes fans need to grow up, too.

The All-Star Game obviously doesn't matter to Manny. He's been named 10 times, including the last nine years in succession. He is an Automatic, and he should be. Some people cherish every opportunity to be an All-Star and the opportunity to mingle with fellow All-Stars for two days. Manny obviously doesn't care. He'd rather have the three days off. Someone should tell him there would be no three days off without an All-Star Game, but who's big enough to do that? You'd like to think the sheer honor of being an All-Star would have him desperate to be there, but we all know it is impossible to make someone feel something that isn't there. It's part of MBM.

Is Manny hurt? I don't know. Is he? There are unsubstantiated reports that he has a torn meniscus in his right knee. Until this latest revelation, we only had Terry Francona's word for it, since Manny has designated 2006 as a Non-Talking Year. Let's take it at face value. Is he 98 percent? 85 percent? 63.33 percent? Close to the last rites? Aren't you curious? He was healthy enough to play 19 innings Sunday. Could he not have taken one, two at the most, at-bats Tuesday night?

It's Manny Being Manny, and that covers everything.

Part of the manager's job description is to cover for Manny. It's also part of John Henry's, Larry Lucchino's, and Theo Epstein's, too. MBM is no different than other theatrical productions. It needs supporting actors, too.

The other players are generally amused when outsiders get upset with Manny. Inside the clubhouse and on the buses and airplanes, he is the eternally merry jokester, the perennial Little Brother no one can stay mad at for more than two seconds. Manny is friendly and charming, and, more importantly, always no more than X at-bats away from hitting a three-run homer. Talent always prevails.

The fans that encounter Manny invariably love him. I'm well aware of that. Manny's a fun guy. Ben Mondor has owned the Pawtucket Red Sox for 30 years and he says the most fun he's ever had were the 11 days Manny spent in Pawtucket while on rehab in 2002. His big story is how Manny was down the street getting his hair cut while he was supposed to be taking batting practice, and if that isn't MBM, I don't know what is.

Asking to be traded and then not asking to be traded? MBM. Not running out stuff? MBM. Losing a $15,000 diamond stud in the dirt while executing a headfirst slide into third? MBM. Disappearing into the left-field wall during the game? MBM. Refusing to pinch hit when Grady Little asks him to? MBM. Causing the club embarrassment by bailing from the All-Star Game under dubious circumstances? MBM.

Hitting pitcher's pitches no one else could touch to the far reaches of the universe in clutch situations? Also very much MBM. ``Manny Being Manny" is one production that will never receive a closing notice. It will run longer than ``A Chorus Line" and ``Les Miserables" put together.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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