FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jonathan Papelbon isn’t sorry he called Manny Ramirez a “cancer” whom the Red Sox had to get rid of in an interview in the April edition of Esquire magazine, nor is he backing away from the comments. As he said, “I’m not going to sugar-coat anything.”
And he didn’t, though he did emphasize that the opinions were all his own, and not those of his team or teammates.
“It takes 25 guys on a team to win, not 24, and that was blatantly obvious,” Papelbon said today after the club’s workout. “It doesn’t matter who you are — you could be Babe Ruth — if you’re not in that same cubbyhole with the rest of the guys going to war with you, you’re all going to die. That almost happened.”
But then Ramirez was gone, traded for Jason Bay at the July 31 trading deadline, the new left fielder arriving without any baggage at all.
“It was bad enough to where we weren’t winning games,” Papelbon said. “We weren’t doing our job. When it comes down to that, we’ve got to find a cure. Jason Bay was our cure. It’s that simple. We’ve got a team with one guy, we’re not winning games. He leaves, a new guy comes in, and then we start winning games.
“That’s pretty much putting the writing on the wall, if you ask me.”
Papelbon did say it wasn’t frustrating for him to see Ramirez succeed in Los Angeles after his trouble in Boston. He was, though, excited when the trade came. He knew, as he told the Esquire, the “ship was sinking.” Heading into the trade deadline, the Sox had lost eight of their last 12 games. The team won 10 of 13 after August 1.
“I was excited because I knew [Manny] didn’t want to be there,” Papelbon said today. “I wasn’t excited that he was leaving because I know how good of a player he can be when he wants to be a good player. If you don’t want to be a good player, you’re not going to be good.
“If you want to sit out games against certain pitchers or you want to sit out because you don’t feel like [it] for whatever reason, I mean you’ve got guys like [Dustin] Pedroia that are playing with a broken wrist and guys like Mikey [Lowell] that are trying to make it through hips that need hip suregery. You’ve got [Josh] Beckett with a bad back, everybody in the buulpen that’s picking up extra innings that’s breaking down. All kind of extra stuff that we’re pushing through.
“When 25 or so guys are pushing through and one guy is not, that creates a problem. A problem was created and we weren’t winning games, so we had to do something. It is what it is. Yeah, we lost a great player, but we started winning games. So what’s more important?”
Papelbon also said he had not heard from teammates or anyone else asking him to soften his statements about Ramirez.
“Because I think they all know that’s the truth,” he said. “If I said something that was out of line, then yeah. But I don’t think I said anything that’s out of line. I spoke the truth.
“There’s no secrets here. So, I’m not coming up with some new big hidden secret that nobody knows about. This is something everybody’s been knowing about…and it is old news,” he added. “But I know those comments just came out today from a magazine (interview) that I did in the first of December. But there’s no secrets here. The writing is on the wall.”
Manager Terry Francona didn’t condone Papelbon’s remarks, while noting the closer usually says what’s on his mind.
“That’s Pap’s personality,” Francona said. “The one thing we don’t ever want is somebody criticizing their own teammates. They know that.”
The Esquire article — which is written by Chris Jones — also touches on his respect for Mariano Rivera and Papelbon’s competitive nature, among other topics. But it’s the Ramirez comments that obviously captured the headlines, particularly this quote:
“. . . Manny was tough for us. You have somebody like him, you know at any point in the ball game, he can dictate the outcome of the game,” Papelbon said during the interview with Jones, which took place in mid-January. “And for him not to be on the same page as the rest of the team was a killer, man! It just takes one guy to bring an entire team down, and that’s exactly what was happening.
“Once we saw that, we weren’t afraid to get rid of him. It’s like cancer. That’s what he was. Cancer. He had to go. . . That was the only scenario that was going to work. That was it for us. And after, you could feel it in the air in the clubhouse. We got Jason Bay — Johnny Ballgame, plays the game right, plays through broken knees, runs out every ground ball — and it was like a breath of fresh air, man! Awesome! No question.”
Papelbon told the magazine the team got rid of Ramirez when they realized he was becoming a distraction.
“The beautiful thing about our team is, we don’t let anybody get above the team. He wasn’t on the same train as the rest of us,” Papelbon said. “He was on a different train! And you saw what happened with that. We got rid of him, and we moved on without him. That comes from the manager, and it comes from guys like Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield and David Ortiz. Nobody is ever going to be allowed to do that. Even a guy like me, just heading into my fourth year in the big leagues — if David Ortiz gets a little, you know — I’ll tell him what’s up! I’m not afraid to do that. I’m not afraid to put him in his place, because I think everybody needs that. And if somebody does it to me, I understand that. I most certainly understand that. Varitek tells me all the time, ‘Just shut up. Do what you’re supposed to do.’ ”
Papelbon said today that while some players tried to talk to Ramirez about his behavior, he was not among them.
“Well, I think some guys on our team that maybe could talk to him,” Papelbon said. “Guys like me I can’t talk no sense into him. I think there’s other guys on this team that had a better opportunity at that than me.”
Ramirez last week signed a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers worth $45 million. He is scheduled to make his spring training debut today when the Dodgers play South Korea’s World Baseball Classic team, but the Dodgers announced at approximately 3:30 p.m. that he would not play because of a tight hamstring. MLB.com reported that Ramirez told manager Joe Torre he could play, but Torre decided to scratch him.
When word reached Ramirez this morning about Papelbon’s comments, he was not bothered. “That’s fine, that’s fine,” Ramirez said according to the Associated Press. “I’ve already moved on with my life. Like I said, I wish everybody the best. I’m in LA now.
“I’m just focusing (on) playing here,” he said. “I don’t got no control over what people say or what I did in the past or whatever. I moved on already. I’m in LA. It is what it is.”
According to the Globe’s Nick Cafardo, when asked about Papelbon’s comments, Sox manager Terry Francona said if he has something to say he would do so with the player behind closed doors.
“It doesn’t make sense to talk about stuff like that. We did what we thought was the right thing for our team [in trading Ramirez] and we’ll continue to do that,” Francona said.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this update. (Steve Silva of the Boston.com staff contributed to this report.)