This was proved again over the past three days. On Friday, Manny decided his knee was sore, and he couldn’t play in what would be a loss to the Yankees. On Saturday, the team ordered him to get MRI’s on both knees. That, quipped Bill Chuck, the author of the Billy-Ball newsletter, was just in case Manny forgot which knee was sore. The exams showed no physical damage.
The Red Sox lost again on Saturday, cutting their lead over the Yankees to just one game in the three-team horserace that is the AL East.
On Sunday morning, I knew exactly what the Red Sox had to do. They had to trade Manny. He’s already shoved the traveling secretary, taken public pot shots at management and now he’d quit on his team in the first game of a series against their hated rivals, all because his feelings were hurt. He may be one of the top five right-handed hitters of the past 50 years, but no team can keep a player who quits on his teammates. If all the Sox could get for him was a used jock strap and a cracked batting helmet, they should take it. It was better than keeping this tumor in the clubhouse.
It’s now after midnight Sunday, and I’ve realized how wrong I was just a few hours before. Manny has led the Red Sox to a desperately needed victory to climb to within one game of the division-leading Rays and two ahead of the loathsome Pinstripes. He hit the ball hard all over the park, hustled his butt off on the bases, didn’t do anything stupid in left field. He smiled broadly, was hugged by his teammates and cheered by another full house in Fenway.
And I can’t see how the Red Sox can trade him.
Obviously, keeping him around isn’t the right message to send to kids or adults. It’s saying that a player can be a self-indulgent clod who will invent injuries so he can have a good pout and watch his teammates lose from the bench and suffer no consequences. It’s wrong on every level but one.
And that one level trumps them all, because the Red Sox need the Manny Ramirez who helped beat up the Yankees Sunday night. After listening to several interviews he gave before the game, it’s obvious that he’s gotten over his little snit and is now intent on establishing his value when he becomes, as he hopes, a free agent at the end of the season.
Any logical person would have come to that conclusion months ago, but Manny and logic are not on speaking terms; it’s doubtful they’ve ever even met. He goes where his emotions blow him, and that meant having his little sore-knee strike and getting beat up in the media and finally waking up and realizing he’d been naughty and throwing on that goofy smile of his and going out and playing baseball as few others can.
In his mind, he’s already forgotten the nastiness of the past two weeks. He said he expects the team to cut him loose at season’s end rather than pick up the last two option years on his contract. And even he understands that further sulking will not improve his chances of getting a big, multi-year contract from another team.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
With almost anybody else, you wouldn’t care that he’s changed his mind. But it’s been shown time and again in sports that special players get special treatment. Bill Parcells used to be adamant about players working out and behaving themselves — unless their name was Lawrence Taylor. Vince Lombardi had similar rules for Paul Hornung. Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle were also allowed to behave in ways that other players could not.
So it is with Manny. If he were just about anybody else, you’d suspend him, fine him and trade him. But he’s not anybody else. Also, he’s no longer mad at everyone. The Red Sox don’t need a Manny who doesn’t want to play. They do need a Manny who’s ripping the ball all over the park.
That’s the Manny who returned to work on Sunday, and he left Boston with no choice but to keep him around. It’s not the right choice, but it’s the only choice Boston has.
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