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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Sox should make move on Manny

Rats. I was pretty sure Manny Ramírez was going to win the MVP award. Too bad he was topped by winner Justin Morneau, runner-up Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, and an ensemble cast of American League worthies.

Here in Red Sox Nation, there is some lugubrious pleasure in the knowledge that Jeter finished second to a Minnesota Twin. For some Sox fans, it's titillating to see that one voter placed Jeter sixth on his/her ballot. That's reminiscent of a New York writer ignoring Pedro Martínez on the 1999 ballot because said scribe allegedly didn't believe in voting for a pitcher for MVP. Of course, it turned out that the New York writer had voted for other pitchers in previous years.

Now we have the locally loathed Jeter finishing second to a Canadian-born player who was largely unknown to the majority of sports fans before the 2006 season. There no doubt will be some gloating in Red Sox Nation. After all, even the most diehard Sox fan knew Ortiz was out of the mix once the Sox slumped to third at the end of September. A designated hitter on a third-place team has no chance to win MVP.

Which brings us back to Manny and the trade winds of this baseball winter. Truly, Manny was MVP material when the Sox played the Yankees at Fenway in late August. On Aug. 20, Ramírez knocked in his 100th run of the season with a double in an 8-5 loss. He'd hit a three-run homer a day earlier and had gone 5 for 8 in the day-night doubleheader that kicked off the fateful five-game series.

But that was it. Something went off in Manny's head (not his knee, people) at the end of that series and he knocked in only two runs the rest of the season. He spent the final six weeks of the season goofing around with his teammates, making no effort to get back on the field, and telling his agent he wanted out of Boston. He drove his manager and his teammates crazy, but nobody would say anything. When Manny's MRIs came back clean, the Sox called it patellar tendinitis, the same condition that allowed Manny to take his annual All-Star vacation.

Manny is one of the great sluggers of all time. He is a modern Jimmie Foxx. He is going to the Hall of Fame and it's just about impossible to replace him with anyone who will offer equal protection to Ortiz in the lineup. Manny is fan friendly and quick to embrace. He has manners. In the presence of nuns, he'll remove his ballcap and do-rag. There's nothing evil about Manny Ramírez. He makes no conscious effort to disrupt his clubhouse. In good times or bad, you hardly know he's there. He was MVP of the 2004 World Series -- won by the Red Sox, in case you forgot.

Most citizens of Red Sox Nation hope he plays here forever. They see the staggering numbers and cute double-points and they love Manny. What's not to love? He can hit, and he's never head-butted an umpire. All alleged transgressions are forgiven in the name of numbers. There is nothing Manny can do to insult or turn off the diehards.

Sorry, folks. It's time for Manny to go. Time and again, he's made it clear that he doesn't want to play in Boston. He quit at the end of last season, and everyone in the Sox clubhouse knows this. The manager knows Manny quit. David Ortiz knows Manny quit. Curt Schilling knows Manny quit.

Someday, some of them might even talk about it. Not now. They're afraid they might "lose" Manny. It's the same mentality some boomer parents have with their wayward teenagers: They forgo discipline because the kid might revolt altogether. So they enable. Just as the Red Sox enable Manny Ramírez.

Manny's enormous talent has allowed him to go through life without rules. That's the way it will be as long as he can hit. But the Sox have reaped enough benefit and done enough babysitting. It would be great to have Manny's bat behind Ortiz for another couple of years, but they simply don't know when Manny might decide to quit again. And now that Manny has only two years left on his contract -- now that an Alfonso Soriano is commanding Manny-type money -- it's time to make a deal.

Since taking over as general manager, Theo Epstein has wanted to trade Manny. Now he gets to do it without losing face or taking back significant salary. Now there's a market for a player the Sox waived just a couple of years ago.

It's been a fun six seasons. Manny has hit 234 home runs and knocked in 712 runs for Boston. The Sox won a World Series. Manny has done everything he was brought here to do. Now it's time for him to go.

Face facts, fans: This is not us "running Manny out of town." Manny has run himself out of town. He did not return your love. He wants out. He quit on the Red Sox. He quit on you.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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