Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Why I Can't Help Loving Manny Ramirez

I've tried. I really have. I've tried to hate Manny Ramirez. I've tried to disavow my feelings for him. But I just can't. Every time I've tried to put him away as a joke, a freak, a quitter, a child or a cheater, he keeps popping back up onto my mouth as a smile. The funny thing is, the smile on my lips is the same smile that you so often see on Manny. It's like we are all in on the same big joke. And maybe we are. Manny Ramirez is like our Peter Pan. He probably leads us places we ought not to go, but we are always glad we made the trip.

Last year was a difficult year to love Manny because Manny wasn't Manny. He was quiet and so was his bat. There was no drive in his swings. There were no results. There was no drama. There were whispers that he was done. His bat was slow. He probably quit again on the Dodgers just like he had with the Red Sox. He was supposed to save the White Sox who had paid for letting Jim Thome go. But he was just a singles hitter for the White Sox. He failed in big situations. The White Sox sunk out of the race. So this is the end of Manny Ramirez?

Then the off season was upon us and everybody was signing except for Manny and Vlad. Vlad probably wants two years and too much money. That's probably kept him off the merry-go-round. But Manny wasn't signed because there was doubt he had anything left AND because he's always had...umm...issues. But there were other stories. There was one that he was hurt much of last year and an off season rehab has him in great shape. He showed up in Tampa minus 12 pounds and looking great. Could Manny have something left to offer? Can the Manny circus ride into town again with the elephants trumpeting and the tall men on stilts juggling their way through the town commons? Just the possibility is enough to wet the whistle of the man crush again.

And how fitting is it that he signed in tandem with Johnny Damon in Tampa? The two are so incredibly linked to the Red Sox of 2004...the Red Sox that finally beat the curse and allowed old men in Boston to die happy. Anyone who thinks that 2004 team would have won without Manny or without Johnny is crazy. With Manny, it was all about fear. The pitchers were just plain scared to face him. He remains one of the smartest hitters on earth. You don't think the pitchers know that? There is no way David Ortiz becomes Big Papi without Ramirez. And Damon just finds a way to beat you. He did it with the Red Sox in 2004 and the Yankees in 2009. And now they are together again. And what a show they put on in the press conference yesterday! Yes, the circus has arrived in Tampa.

And you know what? This could actually be a world class triumph of front office genius on the part of the Bay Rays. Both Manny and Johnny could have that one last good year to cap their careers. With Manny only DHing and Damon having some versitility, the Bay Rays could get lots of production from both players, more production by far than what the Bay Rays are paying for the two champions. And that will be a switch with Manny.

Why a switch? Well, one of the biggest secrets in baseball is that Manny has only twice out performed his contract since 2001. Sure, he had some big years, but with his defense (or lack therein), he made lots of money and he only twice earned it. Once was nearly on the nose (2002) and the other was 2008 when he blew his salary away. Every other year, he's performed under his salary level. It is an ironic switch that he is now probably vastly underpaid for what the Rays will get out of him. Manny chose the Bay Rays despite his saying that others were offering more (kind of doubting that). So now one of the greatest right-handed hitters of this generation is playing for less than Edgar Renteria and Jeff Francoeur. Maybe that is a bit of poetic justice. At least some will view it that way.

But what we love about Manny is the unexpected. He is the most enigmatic player of our times. He is just as apt to smile child-like as he is to turn churlish. We all think he's just one big kid playing in his own sandbox. His mere presence in the majors gives more entertainment value than just about anyone else. And perhaps I am just naive, but I don't believe that his hitting over the years has been PED aided. He's just an amazing talent, an amazing talent that has always beaten to a different drummer.

I've tried. I really have. But I just can't. I just love the guy. I hope he hits 40 homers and drives in 100 runs. I can't help myself.

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