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It's Surprising That Theo Epstein Brought Manny Ramirez Back to Baseball -- and Great That He Did


Off the top of my head, I can think of three times Theo Epstein absolutely tried to get rid of Manny Ramirez during the mostly lovable, sometimes loathsome slugger's 7 1/2 years with the Red Sox.

The first -- the first that I recall, I should say, since there were probably a half-dozen more that are either forgotten or were never found out -- occurred in October 2003, when in the aftermath of the spirit-shattering American League Championship Series loss to the Yankees, Epstein snapped all of us from our depressed malaise by placing Manny on irrevocable waivers. Any team could have had him for nothing -- well, nothing in terms of players, anyway. He was available for the low, low price of $104,000,000, which was the amount of salary remaining three years into his eight-year deal with the Red Sox.

I do not want to consider how Red Sox history, the most joyous moments of which will be celebrated tonight at Fenway Park in an appropriate anniversary of the 2004 champs, had, say, the Yankees taken on the brilliant player and the steep price.

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The second time I recall occurred a few months later, when the Red Sox nearly dealt Manny in a three-way deal with the Rangers and White Sox that would have also cost them Nomar Garciaparra and Single A lefty Jon Lester.

The return? White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez. And you-know-who:

That hat just looks so wrong. And to think so many of us -- a vast majority -- were crushed when Alex Rodriguez ended up in pinstripes.

Yes, I think it's fair to say that deal would have changed Red Sox history as well. Or to put a finer point on it, it would have kept Red Sox history from changing for the so-much-better. It probably wouldn't be 96 years and counting. But it might be.

The third time I remember Epstein seemingly being on the verge of moving Manny came at the trading deadline in July 2005. He had been in one of his self-destructive, inexplicable snits, out of Boston lineup and soon, it seemed, out of Boston, period. Rumors swirled that the Sox were tired of the recurring headache and were going to deal him in a multi-team deal that included some combination of Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo, Mike Cameron and Lastings Milledge. (Again, in unison: "Red Sox history would have been different ...")

But in a perfect, encapsulating turnabout, Manny drove in the winning run with a pinch-hit single off Juan Rincon as Fenway cheered and chanted in unison. Then, in a postgame interview with Eric Frede, he provided us with the timeless and ultimate Mannyism: "It's just Manny being Manny, man."

He was not traded then. The Red Sox won another World Series. Manny destroyed this baseball:

And then, in July 2008, Theo finally made the thinkable happen. Manny was moved. After more puzzling petulance, when another three-way deal came along to Epstein's liking. Manny went to the Dodgers. The Red Sox got Jason Bay with the Pirates. The Pirates got various scratch-ticket prospects, including Brandon Moss.

Manny ruled L.A. for a time -- remember Mannywood?. He hit .396 that first-half season in LA, with 17 homers in 53 games. But a performance-enhancing drug suspension abbreviated his next season, and his career fizzled as he bounced from the White Sox (for whom he hit his last MLB homer, in 2011), the Rays (where he tested positive again and walked away), Korea, Japan, the A's, and last year, a power-free Triple A stint with the Rangers.

It was apparent that he was having a hard time letting go, the hitting embodiment of that old Jim Bouton quote: “A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

Epstein spent so much time and energy trying to get rid of Manny that, yes, it's certainly a surprise that he's the one bringing him back. But I'm glad he did. If you expect some finger-wagging about the dangers of exposing Manny to top prospects such as Javier Baez, you've come to the wrong place. Manny was a savant as a hitter, but he also put the work in. And his love for the game has become more evident the more the game tries to push him away. I am absolutely fine with him getting a chance to say hello again when it was time to say goodbye.

Baseball is better with Manny's involvement, and you're damn right I'm glad he's back, for all of his follies and failings. By my accounting, there has been one player in Red Sox history who has delivered as much bang for the buck -- on the field and in terms of pure, charismatic entertainment -- as Manny.

That's Pedro Jaime Martinez, with David Ortiz certainly in the argument. (We'll reevaluate when he's done playing.) All three will be at Fenway Park tonight to celebrate that 10th anniversary of the October we always waited for. Theo's forgiven Manny. He even welcomed him back into the fold. I know Red Sox fans will too.