01 August 2008

Thanks for the Memories… and the Championships

At the last minute of yesterday’s trading deadline, Manny Ramirez was sent to the Dodgers in a three-way deal that brought the Pirates’ Jason Bay here to Boston.  I don’t think there is any way to construe the Red Sox as “winners” in this exchange – they paid an awful lot to get rid of one of the best hitters in our generation – but they did manage to salvage some last bit of value from Ramirez, who has suddenly become even less reliable than he has always been.  Though it is hard to put a finger on exactly how and why, his presence on the team has undoubtedly hobbled the Red Sox since the All-Star break.  He had to go.

My assessment is that the Sox management did the right thing - but in the manner of pulling a tooth that must come out, as opposed to buying a shiny new toy.

photo from The New York Times, credit Jim Davis, The Boston Globe 

Actually, the amount that the Red Sox paid to get Bay – moving Ramirez, plus Brandon Moss, a backup outfielder who would be a starter on many teams, plus Craig Hansen, a young right-hander who has struggled in the Majors but has upside, plus $7 million – speaks volumes about how badly the trust in Ramirez had deteriorated in the corner office.  The Red Sox management is terrific at staying focused on winning championships; they are conspicuously unemotional in dealing with players.  There could not have been anything personal in this trade, no intent to “punish” Ramirez for his recent transgressions. 

Indeed, Ramirez seems like a big winner in deal, getting everything he wants, since he apparently does not care if he ever returns to the World Series.  (He made the crass and somewhat perplexing comment that he “can even play in Iraq if need be.”)  The Sox clearly calculated that unlike past episodes of the last seven and a half years, this time they could no longer count on Manny stepping it up in September and October.

During the years that Manny was merely lazy, it was frustrating to watch him but I could accept this as part of the “Manny-being-Manny” package, as it came to be known.  He limited himself to being a two-tool player, but those two tools – batting for average and power – were so valuable it was worth it… I suppose.  At least he seemed like a decent person, if immature.  

But this season, especially recently, Manny’s antics took a turn toward actual malice.  It seemed a little different than past years, in subtle but important ways.  My brother pointed out to me how quickly and accurately Boston fans in general seemed to detect this change.  After putting up with Manny for almost eight years, in the last two or three weeks it is as if a switch had just been flipped.  There are still some Manny defenders, but for the most part, the fans have gone suddenly cold.  He was heartily booed the other night at Fenway Park when in the seventh inning, while the slumping Sox were being no-hit by the Angels’ John Lackey, Ramirez didn’t bother to exert himself past a trot up the first base line after hitting a ground ball to deep third.  He was thrown out by a few steps when with a little effort, he should have easily beaten the throw to break up the humiliating no-hitter.  (Dustin Pedroia eventually did so in the ninth.)

Not that the blame should be deflected from Ramirez, but I do not discount the possibility that his new agent, Scott Boras, could have played some part in the turn.  Of course, I don’t think Boras told Manny to start shoving old men to the ground or taking swings at his teammates as a strategy for making more money, but it seems that it would have been a simple matter for Boras to manipulate Ramirez with a few well placed comments – Wormtongue whispering in the ear of King Theoden.  Boras may have had much to gain by shaking things up.  I don’t think he could have expected much of a commission with Manny playing happily on the Red Sox for the next two option years.  In any case, it’s obviously Manny’s decision to act as he did.

Just before the trade, Ramirez had the gall to say, “The Red Sox don’t deserve me.”  He’s right about that, but not in the sense he intended.  Indeed, the Red Sox do not deserve him: the ownership and management have strained too much to accommodate him and have worked too hard building a team around a collection of hard-working veterans and talented youngsters to be dragged down by one guy who can’t be bothered to run on ground balls or to show up for a game against the Yankees in a pennant race.  The Red Sox of the last decade have been built on good men who consider hard work a matter of honor: Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, Bill Mueller, Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and many others.  Boston fans will grudgingly tolerate laziness and goofiness in special circumstances, but bad guys are chased out of town.

Thanks for the memories, Manny, and thanks especially for the two World Series championships.  But I’ve already moved on, and all I feel is relief.


1.  photo from The New York Times, “Red Sox Send Ramirez to Dodgers in 3-Way Deal,” http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/07/31/sports/01trade_600.jpg, 1 Aug 2008.

No comments: