Manny Ramirez returns to Fenway Park tonight for the first time since July 30, 2008. He was traded to the Dodgers the next day.
In a city where homecomings can turn ugly, how Ramirez is received at Fenway Park will be the big story in baseball.
Let’s look at the issues:
Facts not in dispute: Manny had a .999 OPS in eight seasons for the Red Sox. The team won the World Series series twice, went to the playoffs two other times and he was an All-Star all eight years. Ramirez was in the top 10 of the MVP voting five times as a member of the Red Sox.
In all, he hit .312 for the Sox with 274 homers and 868 RBIs. He and David Ortiz were the scariest offensive combination in baseball and without him, the Sox may still be looking for their first title since 1918.
On the other hand: Manny was at best an indifferent left fielder and base-runner and by some accounts was a poor teammate. He reportedly shoved 64-year-old traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the ground in 2008 in a dispute about tickets and once fought in the dugout with Kevin Youkilis.
Ramirez also appears to have forced his trade by feigning a knee injury and dogging it through some games. Once he became a Dodger, Ramirez badmouthed Boston. Now 38, he remains an above-average offensive player, but not the force he once was.
Then there’s the drug issue. Ramirez was suspended for 50 games in 2009 when be tested positive for the female fertility drug HCG, a substance favored by steroid users to mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of the drugs.
If Ramirez was using PEDs after Major League Baseball instituted drug testing, it is anybody’s guess what he was doing before while a member of the Red Sox and there was no testing.
So what now? Will you cheer him for what he did for the Red Sox or boo him for how he acted in the final days?
Johnny Damon, who came back as a Yankee, was booed intensely in 2006. But Nomar Garciaparra, once a disgruntled hater of all things Boston, has been hailed. So was Pedro Martinez when he returned with the Mets. Now it’s Manny’s turn.
“I’ll be kind of curious. I’ll be out there when they announce his name and see what transpires,” Mike Lowell said. “His offensive numbers were great. But I’m sure for some people, his approach to other things was less than desired. I guess it’s a big wait and see.”
“I think the fans will appreciate what he did. I’m kind of curious myself. I’ll be a good spectator on that one,” he said.
David Ortiz had this take:
“I think people have to keep in mind that you’re talking about a guy that had a lot to do with two World Series that we won here He’s more than earned respect from fans. That will be the thing that me, as a fan, will focus on.”
Before the days before pinks hats and furry green mascots, Ramirez would have been jeered without mercy. But Fenway has changed in the last five or six years. For better or worse, it’s a more friendly place.
Manny was good enough (and goofy enough) to work his way into a lot of hearts. He’ll get booed, but the suspicion here is that it won’t be all that bad.