Friday, June 18, 2010

Thank you Manny For Being Manny

    By David Newhan        

    Tonight, Manny Ramirez returns to the place where he became iconic.

    Manny, donning Dodger blue, will make his first trip back to Boston since leaving in controversy and signing with Los Angeles.

    Now, instead of Red Sox Nation shaking its head over Manny simply being Manny, he has a following known as Mannywood and his blue crew is tied for first place in the National League West as it inhabits the historic grounds of Fenway Paahrk.

    The Red Sox have been slowly but now surely building momentum and keeping pace in the division known as the AL Beast, and with the Tampa Bay Rays scuffling and the New York Yankees failing to dominate as they attempt to repeat their World Series title, Boston is only two games back starting a series that promises to be an interesting showdown of east vs. west, NL vs. AL, and maybe even a taste of a future World Series match up.

     But, yet again, Manny will take center stage and all of the attention will focus on his return and the reaction he will receive from the Fenway faithful.

    Manny has always been something of an enigma. For those who watch from the outside looking in, he tends to have an "I don’t care attitude" that I don't buy into for a second. I think this guy is "dumb like a fox".

   Manny will have you believe at times that he doesn’t care or that he is lazy. He’ll even wear his uniform so baggy that you might think he is out of shape. He isn’t fooling me--now or when I was on the same field with him as an opposing major league player.

   He might show up late to the stadium for a night game. but no one informs you that he was already up and in the batting cage that morning, honing his craft and working on his swing.

   Then, of course, he returned home for a little siesta, and when everyone else is at the stadium and the media are circling the clubhouse, the view is that he has shown up late again, hasn't done his work.

   I remember Kevin Millar, a Baltimore teammate, telling me that on the road he would be heading out to get lunch and he would pass Manny on the street just getting back from breakfast and a pilates workout or weight training. As I said, dumb like a fox. The guy worked hard. How else do you become a generational type hitter, and how many times, with all the headlines, with all the negativity, was he left off the Boston lineup card until the Red Sox had no recourse except to let him go?

    Manny, of course, was accused of quitting on his teammates and eventually linked with steroids. Those are probably the two worst accusations a player can be accused of--the former maybe more so than the latter. For me as a player, the ultimate compliment I could receive was that I was a good teammate. Over the course of a long, long season, you show up and battle it out every day. If I had a fellow teammate call me out and question my toughness or will to compete it would sting me to the core. When Manny went on the disabled list after the "Yankee Massacre," the five game series sweep in Boston, it surely irked a number of his teammates who questioned his injury and heart. Sure, the flip flop in the standings was significant, but at that point there were still a lot of games to be played and the division had yet to be decided. I know that I’ve had more than my share of time on the DL, and if you are hurt you are hurt. I also can’t say what Manny was feeling. I just have to believe he was feeling what he was feeling. However, the rumblings from that clubhouse were that he had shut it down and turned the switch off.

    Ultimately, as a Dodger, when the Red Sox had finally turned a corner and decided to go on without him or his idiosyncrasies,  he was linked to a steroid scandal.

    Last season he served a 50 game suspension for taking a female fertility drug that is banned and masks steroid use. He was also in a steroid triangle involving a Boston bat boy and Manny Alexander back in 2000, and Ramirez is rumored to have tested positive in 2003 in the Mitchell report. Obviously, turmoil followed him throughout his career. We haven’t even discussed his brief potty breaks in the green monster during pitching changes, frequent trade requests or his mp3 in his ear hidden by Oakley sunglasses while playing defense. Certainly, Manny was surrounded by a ton of controversy, and how much could the Red Sox take?

     All that being said, Manny is a generational type hitter and RBI guy. He is one of the best to step into the right handed batters box. He played his prime years in Boston, and is as clutch as they come when there are "ducks on the pond". Over his eight seasons in a Red Sox uniform he nearly amassed 300 home runs and almost 1,000 rbi while hitting for over a .300 average. He was an integral part of the Sox’ come back in the 2004 ALCS against the "evil empire" Yankees--one of the greatest come backs of all time. He was on two World Series championships while in Boston, 2004 and 2007--the first championships in over a century for Red Sox Nation.

     For these reasons, I predict Boston fans will welcome him back with a standing "O". I’m sure there will be a few boos, but my bet is that he will receive an overwhelming ovation.

     Look at Albuquerque last year. ManRam just served a 50 game suspension and comes back to cheers and all kinds of love in his rehab assignment, followed by a royal return to Mannywood.

    Maybe with it all he has marred his Hall of Fame chances, but does Manny care? He transcends the game and boundaries. People, for the most part, accept his attitude. More so, the results. Manny can hit, and like the marketing campaign from a few years back, "chicks dig the long ball". Manny has come through with rbi’s and championship rings for Fenway’s faithful while providing unquestionable entertainment along the way--on and off the field.

     Of course, maybe I have something personal involved.

      I would like to thank Manny for…..well, you know, being Manny.

       Back in 2004, while I was with the Orioles, Manny helped to provide myself and baseball with one of the most intriguing relay plays in history and a highlight film that has been shown nationally hundreds of times.

      I was battling Pedro Martinez, at the height of his career, and I was down two strikes. At that point I was just trying to stay alive. Pedro tried to backdoor a curve ball. Luckily, my eyes were out over the plate and I was in protect mode. His backdoor curve came in for a strike on the outer half of the plate, never a real good pitch in my opinion when a hitter has to protect. A better pitch is a curve for a ball down in the dirt, trying to get the batter to chase. Anyways, it ended up being a hittable pitch and I barreled it. Deep to center! I thought to myself, go ball go.

     Wow, I just smoked that one and off Pedro Martinez no less.

    Wow, let it out, run. As the ball carried, Johnny Damon made a play for it. Damon jumped high against the center field wall trying for a "web gem". Fortunately, he narrowly missed, and I told myself to keep running! The ball had caromed hard and Damon was chasing after it.

      I can turn it on, and an easy double had turned into a sure triple.

      As I continued to run and was almost to third, my third base coach Tom Treblehorn threw his arm up and frantically waved me home to score. I kept going and continued safely across home plate. I remember seeing teammate Melvin Mora’s face and the dismay all over it. My teammates were all excited and I was wondering what had just happened. After all, I was in full flight and looking only to pick up up my coach at third. I had no idea what had transpired behind my back as I circled the bases.

     Not until after the game did I see the replay and Manny's involvement. Perhaps, in the greatest show of defensive athleticism in his career, he layed out like super man and cut off Damon throw that was intended for relay man Nomar Garciaparra. Then,  in seeming bewilderment, Manny threw it to Nomar, who did his best to get the ball to catcher Jason Varitek, but the attempt was late and futile. I was safe at home with an inside the park home run.

    Never again will you see a play like that, and it lives on in baseball blooper lore, and for that I must thank Manny.

     I certainly, couldn’t have done it without him, and I have to think most Red Sox fans will be thinking this weekend that they couldn't have won those two rare and coveted World Series titles without him.

     Those idiosyncrasies that have Manny one of a kind be darned.

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