Thursday, July 31, 2008

Manny Being Miffed: He Has the Right

Note: Little did I know that, exactly one year from this post, both Manny and Papi would be outed as steroid users.


If I can come down from Cloud 14 and a half, where I still am from getting rid of Kyle Farnsworth... and I would've settled for getting the proverbial bag of balls for him, never mind a future Hall-of-Famer who looks like he still has a bit left...

As of this moment, less than 5 hours before the 2008 Major League Baseball Trading Deadline, neither Manny Ramirez nor Ken Griffey Jr. has yet been traded, though the current rumors are Manny to Miami (the Minimum-Wage Marlins, which is why I doubt this one) and Junior to Chicago (not sure who the White Sox would give up, nor if he can co-exist with Ozzie Guillen, but if he can that's a great pickup for the Pale Hose). Imagine: In one day, 1,118 career home runs traded -- and that's from only 2 guys.

If Manny actually said those things, and no one "ghost-wrote" them for him, putting some articulation to his true feelings, then maybe he's smarter, or at least more perceptive, than I thought. The Red Sox have, down through the years, frequently had their issues between management and players.

Not while Tom Yawkey owned the team: He bent over backwards to accomodate Ted Williams' temper and Carl Yastrzemski's moodiness, tolerated Luis Tiant's wackiness and Bill Lee's spaciniess, and, as we now know, covered up for the shenanigans of Tony Conigliaro the way Yankee management covered up for Mickey Mantle and Joe Pepitone. In fact, Tony C eventually became the first crack in that steady rock that was Mr. Yawkey's patience: His departure in 1970, brought on by the fact that his injured eye was finally making his seemingly-restored hitting just a "re-flash" in the pan, was the first really ugly dismissal of a Red Sox star since... do I have to say it?

Babe Ruth in 1919. Another guy who, like Manny, was either not very bright or had a severe attention-deficit disorder. Manny Being Manny had nothing on Babe Being Babe. And when Harry Frazee sold him to the Yankees, he basically told the press that Colonel Ruppert was getting a great big headache. Yeah, but he was also getting 659 home runs, 7 Pennants, 4 World Championships and millions of dollars in Roaring Twenties money (worth about 16 times as much today). Face it, if there had been "reality TV" in the Twenties, Babe would have had his own show. Because he was his own show.

But the trouble for player-management relations in Boston really began with Mr. Yawkey's death in 1976. His wife Jean received control of the team, and while it was common in baseball circles to say that Mrs. Yawkey was a saint, and that it was (as George Steinbrenner would put it) her "baseball people," guys like Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux and John Harrington, who were messing things up, the fact is that Mr. Yawkey had more money in the Thirties than George had in the free-spending Seventies and Eighties, and he liked to spend it; Mrs. Yawkey inherited what was left, which was still substantial, and wanted to keep it. Or, as was said of Dodger president Branch Rickey, she had money and players, and didn't like to see them mix.

I have to ask: Was it really an accident, or a mistake, that Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn got their 1981 contracts mailed to them 2 days after the official deadline, making them free agents? Or did Mrs. Yawkey simply not want to pay Hall of Fame prices for 2 guys who looked like they were both headed to Cooperstown? (Fisk made it, but injuries stopped Lynn.) What did the Sox get for Rick Burleson? For Dwight Evans? For Dennis Eckersley?

Talk about letting a good one get away: I know the Eck had his problems at the time, but can you imagine the Red Sox, who won a Pennant in 1986 and Division Titles in '88 and '90, with Eck as their closer -- especially since he was on the A's, the team that beat them in the '88 and '90 ALCS? Can you imagine the Eck on the mound in the bottom of the 10th of Game 6 of the '86 Series against the Mets?

Yes, I know, he gave up that homer to Kirk Gibson in Game 1 in '88, but if Eck is on the mound that strange night at Shea, Bill Buckner has a ring -- and maybe Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens, even if they still leave the Sox, don't end up going to the Yankees for the specific purposes of getting their rings. And Yankee Fans wouldn't be able to chant "Eighty-six!" until 1996. (We've tried, for obvious reasons.)

After Mrs. Yawkey died, Harrington was in charge, and he continued the pattern. The Sox let Boggs get away for nothing. What did they get for Mo Vaughn, not yet especially injury-prone? Getting rid of Clemens, saying he was "in the twilight of his career"? We may never know for sure just why he got kick-started after that, if it was simply the change of scenery, management respecting him for once, getting himself in better shape, or... more sinister means. But even if letting Clemens go made sense at the time, the Sox should've handled it better and gotten something for him.

The way Pedro Martinez was let go wasn't so bad, by comparison. But Nomar Garciaparra? Yes, getting rid of him was the right thing to do. He was an infected tooth, and he had to be pulled. But there's a reason teeth get infected: The Sox didn't properly "brush" Nomar. And they didn't lift a finger to keep Johnny Damon or Kevin Millar, two self-proclaimed "Idiots" without whom they'd now be 90 years without a title. "Thanks a lot, boys, now get the hell out, we don't want you anymore. And duck, we don't want you to get hit by that World Championship flag as it flutters in the breeze."

Now they've pushed Manny Ramirez, arguably their best offensive player since Williams (even better than Yaz? Manny's career OPS+ is 154, Yaz "only" 129) to the brink. If they're smart, they'll put up with him for 2 more months -- maybe 3 if they reach the postseason, which is hardly decided. If they get rid of him now, they won't make the postseason. Even with all his nonsense, he's still got a 140 OPS+ this season. That's a combined slugging and on-base percentage 40 percent better than the league average.

The Red Sox did not win the World Series for 86 years after letting a hard-hitting, high-maintenance, high-salaried head case go. With Manny, they've played 7 full seasons, reached 4 postseasons and just missed 2 others, and won 2 World Series.

I've criticized him plenty, but if my team hadn't won the World Series in my lifetime (a status they thankfully did away with when I was 7), and a player, however much of a head case, had helped us win 2 in his 8 years here (with the chance for a 3rd in Year 8), well, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson, Manny has neither the time nor the inclination to explain himself to team executives who rise and sleep under the 2 World Championship banners he provided and then question the manner in which he provided it. I would rather they just said, "Thank you," and went on their way.

You know, like the Yankees did with Roger Clemens.


UPDATE: The Sox ended up trading Manny to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was a 3-way deal: The Bums got Manny, the Sox got Jason Bay and Josh Wilson; and the Pittsburgh Pirates got Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen.

Manny helped the Dodgers win Division titles in 2008 and '09, but that was as far as they got. The Sox got to within 1 game of the 2008 Pennant with Bay, and then they let him get away to the Mets. That didn't work out too well for the Mets.

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