THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Did Ramirez intentionally fan flames?

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / July 19, 2008

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Headphones in place, catching a few Z's on the clubhouse couch at Angel Stadium, Manny was 3,000 miles from the storm back home. Blissfully oblivious. Just another day in Mannyworld.

Back in the Hardball Hub of Hysteria, the storm raged with full fury. Former Channel 4 sports anchor Bob Lobel went on the radio yesterday morning and said Ramírez had been fined "six figures" for flooring Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick in Houston June 28. Lobel went on to say club officials suspected Manny's July 6 pinch-hitting appearance against Mariano Rivera - an at-bat in which he looked at three strikes - was his payback for being sanctioned.

The story raged on the airwaves and in the blogosphere all day, but Manny either didn't know or didn't care. He was approached by a few media members when he awoke from his nap and said, "No, not talking. I already talked."

He talked quite a bit in the days leading up to the break, and again in New York on All-Star Tuesday. Manny did a lengthy interview with Channel 7's Larry Ridley and said he wanted to know what was going on with his contract. He talked about ownership going behind his back in prior negotiations. Then he said the same stuff to the Herald Tuesday.

Owner John Henry fired back with an e-mail to the Herald, writing, "I find remarks that we have been anything other than completely straightforward to be personally offensive."

Next came the Lobel broadside on WEEI: a six-figure fine for Manny and club suspicions of an intentional strikeout.

"I don't think this is false information," Lobel said last night. "It's not something I'd make up. It didn't come to me in a dream. I know it's not in their best interests to talk about this, but I'm pretty confident with what I said."

Regarding the amount of the fine, the Globe's Gordon Edes (citing industry sources) last night reported Ramírez was assessed $10,000-$15,000 for assaulting McCormick (who turns 65 tomorrow).

"Obviously, the [Lobel] report is inaccurate," said Ramírez's agent, Scott Boras, who attended last night's 11-3 loss to the Angels.

This from CEO Larry Lucchino: "We said at the outset that we were going to handle this as an internal matter, and that remains our position. We're not going to discuss what actions we took."

Manager Terry Francona added, "We handled it how we thought was appropriate. So much has happened since. Things that happen, we take seriously. I don't think because we don't say things that that makes us spineless."

When told of Lobel's accusation regarding Manny's passive pinch-hitting appearance, Francona asked, "Where'd he come up with that?"

"It's ridiculous and incendiary for anyone to suggest that Manny would purposefully make an out in any game," Henry wrote in an e-mail. "Ridiculous."

Lucchino wasn't buying, either.

"I'm not going to dignify that with a response," he said. "This is Boston and this is the big leagues. A lot of things get created out of whole cloth, and we've got to appreciate that things like this happen from time to time."

Manny's strikeout against Rivera certainly looked bad, but it's impossible to get into the head of any ballplayer. Nobody said Bob "Beetle" Bailey was tanking when he took three down the middle against Rich Gossage in the 1978 playoff game.

In fairness to Manny, all three strikes he watched were nasty cutters on the black. No one looks good when they go down looking at three strikes, but it's risky to accuse an athlete of tanking.

"I think those allegations are unsupported," said Boras. "You don't hear any of Manny's teammates saying anything like that."

"I don't think we thought that," said Mike Lowell. "I've seen him have other at-bats like that where he'll strike out without swinging at any of them. It's a fine line when you start getting into what people are feeling up there. If guys on the team thought he threw an at-bat in that situation, he'd have been called on it. Some guys won't swing at a cutter unless it's down the middle."

"It's not the first time he's taken three strikes," said Alex Cora. "You go up there with a plan. Manny guesses. When he doesn't get his pitch, he won't swing. What's he going to do with that pitch - hit a popup to the catcher?"

Manny looked like he was trying in the fourth inning last night when he crushed a first-pitch homer to right. However, two innings later, he looked positively hideous when he turned Maicer Izturis's shallow pop behind short into a triple. Manny flopped on the field like a seal and didn't know where the ball was until he realized he was sitting on it.

Manny got a good chuckle out of his blunder as the Sox were being routed. Sitting behind the backstop in the front row, Theo Epstein did not appear amused. Ditto for No. 1 enabler Francona.

We're probably never going to know how much the Sox fined Manny and we'll certainly never know what was going through his mind when he struck out against Rivera. The Sox will continue to let him do what he wants because of his talent, and he will continue to entertain all with his slugging and those occasional cartoon moments.

The future is what matters. The Sox have an option to renew him for 2009 for $20 million. They have the same option for 2010. Manny seems to think this is something the club should be addressing now, which, of course, makes no sense.

Theo has never been a fan of the nonsense that comes with Manny, but in the end, this will be a business decision. Ultimately, the Sox will decide if Manny's numbers are worth another $20 million for next season. That's when it'll be worth watching the storm clouds.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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