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Manny deserves better from Red Sox, fans

Posted by Obnoxious Boston Fan  August 15, 2013 10:05 AM

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His end didn't come with a parade, a Hall of Fame induction ceremony, or even an appearance on SportsCenter.

Nope the end for Manuel Arïstides "Manny" Ramïrez Onelcida, also known as "Manny Ramirez," "Man Ram" and, according to the current Secretary of State, "Manny Ortez," came where it comes for so many others these days, via Twitter:

Manny may try to press on, perhaps with an independent-league team desperate for Twitter followers or page views on You Tube. But he's toast, officially and once and for all.

At 41, Manny should be settling down for the rest of his life with millions in the bank or stock market and a timer counting down to his eventual induction into Cooperstown. But in the past few seasons, "Manny Being Manny" meant PED suspensions, trips to Asia to play baseball and, eventually, a failed comeback with the Texas Rangers. That faint glimmer of hope for Manny finding a spot in the Rangers' lineup was opened thanks to the eventual PED-related suspension of Nelson Cruz. Karma swung and missed.

Whether it's a result of age, the elimination of those foreign substances in his body, or both, Manny can no longer play baseball at a high, professional level.

This is something the Red Sox, to their credit, realized five years ago in dealing Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was one the few times the Red Sox dumped highly-paid talent at the right time. It would not be the last time the Dodgers bailed out the Red Sox when it came to contractual ballast.

Manny's legacy and how it should be framed remains an issue of conflict for Red Sox fans.

You'd think that anyone who won the first-ever World Series MVP award in the history of the franchise - they didn't star giving out the award until 1955 - would be universally revered in Boston. And it would be just a matter of years before his No. 24 [maybe in a dual ceremony with Dwight Evans] would be posted up on the right-field facade next to Nos. 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 14, 27 and 42, although not in that order.

Keeping it on the field, Manny was simply a stud at the plate during his seven-plus seasons in Boston. The Red Sox made the playoffs four times (2003-04-05-07) with Manny roaming left field and won the World Series twice. He hit 271 home runs with the Red Sox and gave protection in the lineup that allowed David Ortiz to flourish once he arrived from the Minnesota Twins.

Manny was baseball's best pure right-handed hitter since Hank Aaron retired and the second-best right-handed hitter I've ever seen - only because I got to see Aaron play against the Red Sox in 1976 at Fenway Park and slap out a single.

Jim Rice had more power, but Manny was lethal with two strikes [he struck out just 97 time in 679 plate appearances in 2003] and worked the count as well as anyone. He also had a beautifully fluid swing - long before he ever juiced - that make home runs [he finished with 555, 14th all-time] appear effortless.

Manny was also notorious for being effortless when it came to running out routine grounders, pop ups or anything else that didn't see worth his while.

Somewhere, he's still rounding third after this crushing three-run homer he hit off of Barry Zito in Game 5 of the 2003 ALDS:

The Baseball Reference.Com EloRater, which was invented by another guy who went to Marquette University so we know it's brilliant, ranks Manny 120th all time. Rice, by the way, is 164th. Given the ocean of baseball stats out there, it seems as relevant as anything else.

But Rice was 10 times the ballplayer than Ramirez ever was, especially since his 382 career home runs came without a PED suspension. More on Jim Ed in a bit.

And that's where the legacy of Manny gets caught in between "Manny Being Manny" at the plate and "Manny Being Manny" everywhere else. No other player in the long post-Ruthian history of the Red Sox brought so much success to this team - especially in the post season - and yet remains both revered and reviled.

Among his non-drug-related offenses in Boston: he pushed down Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick during a clubhouse outburst over tickets for his family, failed to kiss the media's ass on a regular basis, was considered a general pain in the clubhouse, according to the members of the press whose asses he failed to kiss, he used the restroom in left-field during a game [at least once] and stood motionless while taking three straight strikes from Mariano Rivera in 2008 because he was allegedly mad for being fined after hitting McCormick. Ramirez apologized for the unforgivable shove but refused to admit any wrongdoing at the plate against Rivera.

Leave it to Manny to land a 50-game suspension in 2009 after testing positive for the women's fertility hormone chorionic gonadotropin, a drug popular among steroid users because it can mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of the drugs.

Manny said was not using the hcG to mask steroid usage. Perhaps he was indeed trying to make history off the field by being the first man to ever give birth.

Manny and Johnny Damon joined Tampa Bay before the 2011 season, as the Rays tried to time-travel back to 2004. But that reunion lasted only five games into the 2011 season after Manny earned a 100-game suspension for excessive levels of testosterone and decided to retire. The suspension was later cut to 50 games but it would eventually become irrelevant.

So there's the full Manny - more or less.

How should he be judged in Boston now that his career is finally out it its misery?

Here's my marker: World Series MVP in 2004.

That alone should be worth $164 million to Red Sox fans.

That's pretty much it in a nutshell. Hard to believe the "Curse of the Bambino" was eventually finished off in large part do a guy who's name creates as much angst among the Red Sox literati as does Ruth's.

Much of the ire toward Ramirez was generated by those who covered the Red Sox and those who opined about them during his days here. For the record, I was working in different time zones or in states formerly held by the Confederacy during Manny's time in Boston. I was not part of that media lynch mob. Guilty as charged when it comes to Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, J.D. Drew, Dice-K and Bobby Valentine.

Ramirez was a featured co-star in Terry Francona's recent book [co-written by Dan Shaughnessy] detailing his eight seasons with the Red Sox. Chief among the painful parts for Tito was Manny's decision to pull himself out of a game in 2006 during a season-ending-for-all-intents-and-purposes five game sweep at the hands of the Yankees with a hamstring injury.

"I'll never forget that," Francona said. "He came off the field, walked down the dugout steps, yelled over, and said, 'Hamstring!' and I said,"Manny, which one?, and he pointed with both hands to both hamstrings. He was like, 'You pick.' [Expletive], I'm coming out. It was funny later, but it wasn't funny at the time. I had had it with Manny at that point."

That came a season after Francona almost quit after he ripped Manny and team owner John W. Henry, who otherwise is one of America's true titans of sport and newspapering, wanted Francona to apologize.

There's no reason to doubt the veracity of any of this. How much did all of Manny's garbage - drug usage aside for the moment - effect his play, that of his teammates and, eventually, the win-and-loss record of the Red Sox? Pretty much zero on the downside.

When it comes to science and baseball - physics still matters more than team chemistry, even in the age of steroids. Throw ball, hit ball, catch ball, watch ball leave ball park.

All that Manny clubhouse drama made for great copy and intense talk, but it mattered little to fans who remain focused between the lines. The world champion 1977 Yankees were a psychologist's dream of model dysfunction and they went on to win the 1978 World Series. The 2011 Red Sox had chicken and beer and stopped listening to their manager. That begat fat, out-of-shape pitchers, and apathetic players, which begat their September collapse. There, it mattered.

Being a manager in any business [see sports editor, 20+ plus years] means dealing with workplace drama, and juvenile, mercurial, high-performers who are a pain in the ass. You'll have to wait and read my book for any names in the world of sports journalism, just like we did with Tito and the Red Sox. Baseball managers, like Francona, know that this is part of the deal. The world may have been a lot less stressful for the people who worked at 4 Yawkey Way, either getting their paychecks from the Red Sox or various media organizations spreading the Word about the team during Manny's term in Boston, had he acted like an adult, but they all got paid to deal with it.

Fans don't have those problems or burdens. They can just remember Manny as the hitter, a pretty solid fielder, the guy who could crush the ball, the guy who probably could have hit 555 homers without juicing. While Manny had a rep for being a some-times lovable, often-lazy dope, he never came to camp fat or out of shape and still played in 130 games or more in six of his seven full seasons in Boston - including 154, 152 and 152 games in the playoff years of 2003-05.

Manny the person is probably not the type of guy you'd seek as a role model. He went along with the whole "lovable idiot" thing until he just became a plain-old idiot. He won't have his No. 24 retired at Fenway because of the internal woes his caused the Red Sox, his not-so-subtle PED usage at the end of his career. His name also surfaced on a list of players, including Ortiz, who reportedly tested positive in a 2003 pilot program before MLB instituted its current drug policy.

But much of the distaste directed toward Manny in Boston is a result of his unwillingness to play the game with those who formulate opinions on the metaphorical sports page or via talk radio. Manny often spoke Spanish, which irritated English-only speaking scribes. And while his politically-incorrect answers and remarks seemed cute in 2004, they were boorish by 2007 and 2008.

Ramirez will never live to see his plaque in Cooperstown because of those multiple PED violations. That's as it should be, especially if all the players from this era who tested positive are judged and punished accordingly.

That doesn't mean that all of his contributions to the Red Sox are null and void. The contributions Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi made to the Yankees in 2003 still count, as do the ones A-Rod made to the Yankees in 2009, and those by Jhonny Peralta on the 2012 A.L. champion Detroit Tigers.

And who had the PED advantage when Manny and Clemens faced off in the 2003 ALCS? Only Brian McNamee can answer that one.

Rice, whose career was undervalued during his day as well as after his retirement, sat on the outside of Cooperstown looking in for 14 years, thanks largely due to the fact that he, too, would not play the game with the media in Boston or elsewhere. Rice once tore a polo shirt while it was being worn by a writer for the Hartford Courant in the Red Sox locker room after a misunderstanding. Like Manny's run-in with McCormick, that single incident was used for years as justification by some baseball writers for their Rice-bashing and a reason for keeping his bust from the Hall of Fame.

The first year I covered the Red Sox, 1987, I wanted to speak with Rice about a young slugger visiting Boston for the Kansas City Royals named Bo Jackson. I was warned by several old-timers in the press box to be careful with Rice. Young and fearless, I walked over to him, he was alone at his locker, and asked him about Bo. He looked up at me, smiled, and said. "Let's see what he does. You have to put up the numbers. I put up the numbers. We'll see." After that brief exchange, I walked away with my shirt in-tact realized everything I had been told about Rice and his personality had little bearing on reality.

Rice was the anti-Manny in so many ways, intelligent, independent, 100 percent focused all the time. Hell, he even played 163 games in one season - 1978. But back in the day, we were led to believe by the voices in Globe and Herald, along with the sports talk shows on WHDH and WRKO, that Rice was "surly," "abrupt" and "angry." We used to call those "code words". Fans watched in awe as Rice put up spectacular numbers and sent balls deep into the center-field bleachers or to Cambridge over the left-field wall, but were told he's not a very nice guy.

Any of that sound familiar?

In many ways, the actions of the Steroid Era have opened the doors for players like Rice, and perhaps some day Evans [see joint No. 24 retirement ceremony?], to get the historic recognition they honestly earned by foolishly playing clean.

Meanwhile, it's a whole lot easier and honest for people who don't anoint themselves as the conscience of the franchise to simply judge all the players on the Red Sox for what they did on the field. Given the spread of PEDs in the past 15 years across baseball, it's impossible to do otherwise and still take these games seriously.

In that framework, Manny was one-of-a-kind.

In a pretty damn good way.

Don't forget to visit our Obnoxious Boston Fan blog. As always, let us know what you think. Post your thoughts here, on our Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or e-mail me at obnoxiousbostonfan@hotmail.com.

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