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Making sense of Manny

March 10, 2009
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It's become fashionable in Boston to bash Manny Ramirez. His huge salary and occasional bizarre behavior are much better remembered than his Hall of Fame numbers and World Series MVP. But even his detractors would have to admit they never really understood the guy. Enter UMass-Boston professor Jean Rhodes.

A clinical psychologist, Rhodes is the coauthor with Shawn Boburg of "Becoming Manny," a new bio of the inscrutable slugger. (It lands in stores today.) We talked to Rhodes about the ballplayer Bostonians love to hate.

Q. Are you a baseball fan?

A. No, not really. I became a bit of a fan when my sons started to play.

Q. So why a book about Manny Ramirez?

A. I'm interested in mentoring and he has an interesting story. He's also a fascinating person. Compare him to Jason Bay, for instance. He's so much more interesting.

Q. This is an authorized bio, meaning Manny cooperated. How'd you pitch him on the idea?

A. Through his mentor, Carlos "Macaco" Ferreira. I'm on the board of the National Mentoring Partnership, and I'd been hearing about this guy at Manny's games. Here I'd been writing about mentoring for 15 years yet reaching a very limited audience. I wanted people to read about the power of this relationship. I guess Manny became a means to an end.

Q. And Manny said yes?

A. He said yes and no and yes and no a million times over.

Q. Was he easy to talk to?

A. I didn't realize he was the Greta Garbo of baseball. Things would be on and then off. But his wife, Juliana, could not have been nicer.

Q. And you spoke to his family.

A. Yes, I worked on this book for four years. I've hosted members of his family at my house. The most in-depth conversations were with his sisters, Clara, Evelyn, and Rossy. I don't think the book could have been written by Shawn alone because I was really able to connect with the women in Manny's life.

Q. And what did you learn? A. He's not as self-absorbed as people think. He's a great father who always wants to be with his sons.

Q. If you had to diagnose him, what would you say?

A. Well, he has an incredible ability to focus and get into a flow state, which transcends the known world. He's fundamentally a very shy person and experiences a high level of social anxiety. It's like the whole world is conspiring to take him out of his flow state. Also, there's a degree of narcissism. That can't be denied.

Q. Manny likes to talk about how miserable he was in Boston. What's that about?

A. For him, baseball's just a game. He doesn't care so much about winning and losing, and he's put off by Red Sox fanatics. He's not [Curt ] Schilling, who calls into radio shows and parses everything. Manny plays and then his mind goes blank.

Q. Talk about Manny haters. Do you think there's a degree of racism involved?

A. Probably. He prefers to be around Dominicans and speaking Spanish. He addresses reporters in the book, saying he would do the same thing they do if he was a reporter, but he just wants to play the game. Manny showed so little of himself while in Boston that people projected things onto him.

Q. You went on the radio recently, and you were attacked for writing anything that might put Manny in a favorable light.

A. Those guys were transferring the hatred they have for Manny onto me. This book is not an apology for Manny, but it's not as black and white as some people want it to be either.

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