Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Four Faces of Manny Ramirez
There's something telling about this picture right here. It was taken on Tuesday, Feb 1st, 2011, when the Tampa Bay Rays introduced a couple of former "idiots," Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. Manny flashes his typical light-up-the-room smile while Rays Manager Joe Maddon (in the suit, hello) beams with pride, expectation and admiration at his newest slugger. Unfortunately for the Rays, Maddon's beaming smile wouldn't last very long.
Here's a quick background for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about (although my girlfriend knows, and she doesn't really like baseball). Last week, Manny Ramirez was notified by Major League Baseball of an "issue" with a drug test he had taken in spring training. Facing a 100 game suspension, Manny simply chose to walk away. This ugly episode ended a 19 year career unlike any other before it. Manny was a larger than life bat and personality, but how will he ultimately be remembered? These are the four faces of Manny Ramirez
1. One of the Greatest Hitters of All-Time
Whether inflated by performance enhancing drugs or not, Manny's career numbers are of Hall of Fame caliber. He hit .312 over his 19 seasons with 555 career home runs and 1,831 career RBI and made 12 all-star teams. My first memory of him was as a 21 year old rookie with the Cleveland Indians when, in his 2nd career Major League game, he had a double, two home runs and drove in 5 runs against my beloved Yankees. To steal a line from my favorite movie, Major League, who was this effin' guy?? Manny soon answered that question by terrorizing the AL Central for the next 8 seasons before finally hitting free agency.
To my dismay, Manny signed with the Boston Red Sox prior to the 2001 season. As a Yankees fan, this was terrifying. Eventually, with the advent of the unbalanced schedule, the Yankees would have to face him almost 20 times per season. He always made them pay. In his career against the Yankees, Manny hit .322 with 55 home runs and 165 rbi in 200 games. In his seven and a half years in Boston, the Red Sox not only broke the Curse of the Bambino, they won 2 World Series. A fan base that hadn't seen a championship in generations suddenly had two in a four year span! That helped to really cement Manny's reputation as a slugger, and a winner.
2. "Manny Being Manny": The Lovable Clown.
Every big hit of Manny's career seemed to be accompanied by a ridiculous clown-like moment. The first one i recall was in July 1999, when Manny misread a lineup card that listed him as the DH and his teammate, Alex Ramirez, as the right fielder. When Manny mistakenly went out to play right field in the first inning, the Indians had to remove the DH and use the pitcher to hit 7th for the entire game.
Most of his clowning around seemed to happen in Boston, fueled partially by the "idiot" culture set up by Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, and the rest of those guys. There was the time Manny took a break to urinate inside the Green Monster and delayed the start of the inning when he took too long. There was the time when he dove to cut off a throw by center-fielder Johnny Damon when Damon was trying to throw someone out on the base paths. I remember the time when Manny made a running catch in Baltimore for the first out, then (using his momentum) climbed the wall and high-fived a fan before landing and throwing the ball in as the runner was tagging (he threw the runner out, of course). There were all the unnecessary hands-in-the-air celebrations on meaningless home runs. Every goofball play he ever made was accompanied by that infectious smile that led to the coining of the phrase "Manny Being Manny." Fans simply shook their heads in disbelief and waited for him to come up to the plate and mash baseballs.
3. The Quitter
As good a guy as Manny could be when he was happy, he could be completely toxic to a clubhouse when he wasn't. It seemed like every off-season, Manny would be demanding a trade (something his contract made virtually impossible). Eventually, the season would start and Manny would play, and play well. His professionalism always made it's way back to the foreground and he'd come back, only to demand a trade the next off-season.
It all really unraveled in 2008. His effort in the field really eroded, and he began looking foolish on routine plays. In early June, he and teammate Kevin Youkilis had to be separated in the dugout after an argument nearly came to blows between innings of a game against the Rays. Later in the season, Manny attacked the team's 64 year old traveling secretary after an argument about how many tickets Manny could have for a game against the Texas Rangers.
The final straw came in late July, right before an important series with the New York Yankees, when a brooding Manny asked to sit out because of a knee injury he'd been dealing with for the better part of a week. The training staff, of course, was never made aware of this alleged injury. To add to the suspicion of this injury, Ramirez seemingly couldn't pinpoint which knee was actually injured. Was it the left or was it the right? Manny was not very forthcoming with the answer. The Red Sox, in a shrewd counter-maneuver, ordered MRIs on both of Manny's knees. All tests came back negative and Manny was soon forced back into the lineup under the threat of suspension. When he proceeded to dog it down the first-base line and not playing hard, the Red Sox reached their boiling point and traded him to the Dodgers.
There, Manny seemed rejuvenated. His knee injury miraculously healed, and he was suddenly Mr. Hustle, busting it on the base paths on every play. Amazing! He went on to hit .396 with 17 home runs in 53 games with the Dodgers, helping the to the NLCS. This all but confirmed suspicions that he had basically quit on the Red Sox, a team that was paying him $20 MM a year. The Dodgers rewarded Manny with a 2 year contract worth $45MM. He thanked them by getting suspended for 50 games one month into the 2009 season (more on this later). He eventually returned, but really did not play well. Late in 2010, after an injury-plagued season, Manny seemingly quit on the Dodgers too. He allegedly refused to play in a game in late August, even though Manager Joe Torre had put him in the starting lineup. A few days later, Manny was asked to pinch hit with the bases loaded in an important game. He took a questionable strike one pitch and exploded, getting himself thrown out of the game. That was to be his last at bat as a Dodger. The team pretty much took that as his letter of resignation, placed him on waivers and traded him to the White Sox.
Manny had quit on two teams in a 3 year period, and he wasn't done there. He would eventually quit on a 3rd team, the Rays, and on Major League Baseball. This brings us to the 4th face of Manny.
4. Steroids Cheat
It's hard to ignore steroids when compiling the legacy of Manny Ramirez, because his sudden retirement came on the heels of more steroids allegations. It's hard to really say when Manny began "juicing" though. In 2003, before the MLB began officially testing for performance enhancing drugs, Manny allegedly failed a drug test. Like A-rod and Fat Papi, Manny too was dirty during the steroids era. Because this was an anonymous "survey" test, no one was disciplined. The news didn't even come out until 2009.
In 2009, the world heard about Manny's failed 2003 drug test while Manny was already serving a 50 game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs earlier that season. Earlier in the 2009 season he had tested positive for a female fertility drug often used by steroids abusers to mask the effects of the anabolic steroids they use.
In 2011, Manny signed with the Rays and showed up to camp in great shape, ready to mount his comeback and terrorize the AL East again. Unfortunately, they still test for steroids in the Major Leagues, and Manny was caught again. Barely a week into the season, after taking two "personal days," Manny called the Rays and let them know that he would be retiring. The news later came out that Manny was retiring because of an issue with a failed drug test. Rather than face his 100 game suspension (2nd official offense), Manny chose to tuck his tail between his legs and go home. He walked away a coward and a cheater.
Conclusions... Sort of
So What's it going to be? Is he the Hall of Fame slugger, the lovable clown, the quitter or the cheater? This is a debate that will rage on for years to come. Some people will say he was a product of the steroids era in baseball and shouldn't be penalized for getting caught doing something everyone else was doing. To that, i say that both of his official suspensions came after the "steroids era," when strict testing policies were put into effect. Others will say that his records and statistics should be wiped from the books because he cheated. I'm not sure where i sit on this issue. I think the two official suspensions came late enough in his career that you could say he was just another aging athlete trying desperately to hang on and cement his Hall of Fame status. However, the failed test in 2003 suggests that Manny had been cheating long before 2009, and puts all of his statistics in question. Was he doping in the 1990s in Cleveland? Sadly, a wonderful career is forever tainted. Manny will most likely not get into the Hall of Fame, and may even be dropped from the ballot all together because of his actions. Maybe his legacy is that he's just an idiot who went back to the well once too often, which cost him his career and his legacy. I'd like to hear what he has to say for himself, but knowing Manny, we might not ever hear from him again.