Monday, April 11, 2011

Manny's Bittersweet Lesson

by Mark Lawrence, 'Down Under' Editor

Sydney, Australia—April 9, 2011. This morning, I awoke to two pieces of news from the Wonderful World of Baseball, neither of which surprised me all that much: the Red Sox had lost again and Manuel Aristides Ramirez had taken the easy way out.

It seems that Manny tried being Manny one time too many, again testing positive for yet another proscribed substance. Under the rules, Manny would face a one hundred game suspension for this latest transgression and so – well, whaddya know? - it was suddenly time to retire. And from what I’ve been able to glean, Manny’s attitude could hardly be any less predictable – there’s all the calm arrogance of a criminal caught in the act – okay, coppers, ya got me – and absolutely no trace of contrition, either. And I’d bet cash money that the dishonor he’s done to his dwindling fan-base and to the club naïve enough to sign him this season will never enter his mind. Oh, no – apparently, ole Manny’s jetting off on a little Spanish vacation – just to get away from it all, y’unnerstan’.

According to Marc Topkin of The St Peterburg Times, it’s not just the Tampa Bay Rays who have been left holding the bag – the fans’ support for a team facing possible contraction has been damaged, probably beyond repair – and a group of civic-minded Floridians who sunk a bunch of their hard-earned cash into a Manny tee-shirt venture designed to benefit the families of slain policemen, are left with a pile of unsellable Fruit of the Looms and, as Mr Topkin reports, staring down at a huge loss. I wonder if Manny might consider reimbursing them.

Ramirez’s numbers – 2,573 hits, 555 home runs and a career batting average of .313 – should have ensured that he had a pretty good shot at election to the Hallowed Hall. Add in those 11 consecutive All Star appearances, the nine Silver Sluggers and that precious World Series MVP honor and he would’ve been an unbackable favorite. But now, like I’ve said before, I have a better shot at going to Cooperstown than Manny Ramirez. And, whether you loved him, hated him or didn’t care about him either way, it’s actually kind of sad that such a prodigious talent was also so fatally flawed and so incredibly arrogant.

Tales of Manny’s odd behavior and his inexplicably indifferent attitude towards pretty much everyone around him are legendary: taking a swing at Youkilis in the dugout; disappearing into the Monster at the start of an inning and, perhaps most despicably, shoving 64 year old Jack McCormick to the ground, ordering him to just “do his job” when the travelling secretary was unable to meet Manny’s request for 16 free tickets for his entourage. I think that incident signaled the beginning of the end for Manny’s Boston sojourn. The spurious knee injury soon followed and fans endured the frustrating sight of Ramirez failing to run out ground balls – the Major League equivalent of a sulky child giving a strict parent the middle finger – and signaling that his own personal trade deadline had arrived.

This is hardly the way that any of us might’ve expected the Ramirez saga to end – not with a Cooperstown bang, but with a cowardly whimper from the sunny shores of the Costa del Sol. Ramirez now takes his place in a long and shabby line of players whose professed love and respect for The Game placed a distant second to their greed, ambition and arrogance. The chance afforded to Manny by the Red Sox helped shape the slugger into a baseball legend – and possibly planted the thought in his addled head that he himself was approaching invincibility. Ian Browne, the MLB beat writer, once asked Manny how he felt about hitting elsewhere in the line-up – and Manny’s response shows just how high a regard the two-time loser had for himself: “Hell, it don’t matter where I hit – I’m Manny Ramirez.” And it was likely that same deluded arrogance that allowed him to continue to cheat, confident in the knowledge that he’d never be caught or – if he somehow was – his reputation might just mitigate his crimes and reduce his punishment to a mere slap on the wrist.

And while an incident like this truly is an ugly stain on the National Pastime, it does prove that no one player is bigger than The Game itself. And as Manuel Aristides Ramirez watches his much anticipated Hall of Fame enshrinement fade away forever, I’m guessing it will likely be the bitterest lesson of his life.