“It’s just Manny being Manny.”
That tired, enabling quip was one that followed Manny Ramirez throughout his brilliant and bizarre career. Fitting, as it may also best sum up the abrupt retirement announced by the fabled, dreadlocked slugger on Friday.
For the second time in two years, Ramirez tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Back in 2009, while a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ramirez did not appeal the 50-game suspension imposed on him, opting to simply serve out the sentence with an “aw shucks” smirk on his face. But the punishment doubles for second-time offenders, and rather than accept a 100-game suspension from Major League Baseball, the 38-year-old slugger opted to walk away from the game last week.
Always a magnet for attention, the news of his sudden retirement had an impact throughout the league.
“We were obviously surprised,” said Tampa Bay Rays vice president Andrew Friedman, “and hurt by what transpired.”
It’s understandable that Friedman is a bit hurt, particularly in the wallet region. Paying Ramirez $2 million to go 1 for 17 with his new ball club before hanging up his spikes probably wasn’t the impact the Rays were hoping Ramirez would have on their organization.
So while the defending American League East champion Rays scramble to replace Ramirez in the lineup with a suitable power hitter, and also turn around their dreadful 1-8 start to the season, what is Manny doing? Well . . . he’s just being Manny, of course!
“I’m at ease,” Ramirez said. “God knows what’s best [for me]. I’m now an officially retired baseball player. I’ll be going away on a trip to Spain with my old man.”
Believe it or not, this is the best thing that could have happened to the Rays and M.L.B. With each passing day, Barry Bonds is being exposed as the fraud that he is in a court of law. Completely vanished from our radar are the likes of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Even Jose Canseco couldn’t last more than a week on “Celebrity Apprentice.”
It isn’t just that the baseball world doesn’t have a tolerance for these headliners of the steroid era anymore; it simply doesn’t have the room nor the time for them. The game is healing before our eyes, and as the scab of shame deteriorates, so too do the men who befouled the game. They traded everything for a brief moment of immortality, and ironically that cost them a lifetime of shunned obscurity. This is poetic justice in its purest form.
There really is no point to exhaust the arguments of the legitimacy of Manny’s career numbers. The asterisk that haunted Roger Maris like a scarlet letter has long lost its impact in society. How can a symbol designated to call attention to a discrepancy mean anything when the symbol is as common and plentiful as the tainted numbers themselves? The rogue wave of baseball’s steroid era left behind an ocean of asterisks to swim through.
No one will remember Manny Ramirez for his 555 career home runs. No one will remember his .312 lifetime batting average, or that he knocked in 1,831 runs. And when it comes to this particular character, most people won’t even remember the steroids. What everyone will remember about Manny, though, was the odd, uncomfortably childish clown persona that he molded himself into.
In a sophomoric inability to accept the responsibility that came with being a premier athlete, Manny attempted to come across as a fun-loving man-child who just loved playing the game. He relished any opportunity to remind the world (often by flopping around in the outfield after misplaying a line drive) that baseball is just a game, and therefore can’t be taken too seriously.
This is a healthy mantra to adopt if you plan on suiting up to play beer league softball in Montauk this summer. But when you are paid to be the cornerstone of the offense for the Cleveland Indians, or the Boston Red Sox, or the Los Angeles Dodgers, or even as a midseason acquisition for the Chicago White Sox, or as the veteran designated hitter for the Tampa Bay Rays, you need to try a little harder.
“It’s sad, man,” said David Ortiz of his former teammate in Boston, where they won two World Series rings together. “He got his issues, like a lot of people know. But as a player, I think he did what he was supposed to.”
Ortiz isn’t alone in saying that, despite his antics, Manny was a great player. Inside the fraternity of Big Leaguers, Manny was regarded not only as a great teammate, but a very hard worker. There are tales of his rigorous self-imposed batting practice sessions, all of which were fueled by his love for the game and his desire to excel in it. Though mysteriously, none of that footage has ever been captured on tape.
The sad truth is that his B.P. sessions were probably accurate accounts. And in his own heart, Manny Ramirez probably did love the game. But he sure did have a funny way of showing it.
You can say you love your wife, but if every time you appear with her in public, you act the fool and deeply embarrass her, then you really aren’t showing her any love. Despite your pleas of being a misunderstood and happy-go-lucky guy, you’re just being an asshole. Toss in repeated drug abuse to go with a childish insistence on defying any form of accountability, and you don’t just have misrepresented love, you have a blatant disrespect.
And that is Manny being Manny.
Have fun in Spain.