Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hoping for Magic

This isn’t 2004, and it’s not 2007, either. This year’s edition of the Red Sox has been hampered by injuries (Schilling, Ortiz, Drew, Lugo, Lowell and Beckett) and badly inconsistent relief pitching (Hansen, Tavarez, Delcarmen, Okajima, Timlin).

Fortunately, the rotation, the starting lineup and especially the kids (Masterson and Lowrie) have stepped up. Since the trading deadline, though, the most valuable member of the team has been Theo Epstein. Jettisoning Manny’s childish distractions and bringing in Jason Bay, Paul Byrd and now Mark Kotsay has succeeded in settling the team and refocusing everyone on the priority at hand, namely making the postseason.

As currently constituted, this team probably doesn’t have what it takes to go all the way this year, especially without a reliable Josh Beckett or a rock solid bullpen. Magic is possible, but you do get the sense that the team needs to catch fire, and that hasn’t happened yet. We’re running low on time. However, you’ve got to love their energy, grittiness and their refusal to give up. The nucleus of the present and future of the team now looks like this: Pedroia, Lowrie, Youkilis, Ellsbury, Bay, Lester, Matsuzaka, Masterson, Buchholz (we hope) and Papelbon. That’s already a Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove and two no-hitters, along with an MVP candidate or two, a handful of potential batting championships, a couple 30-30 guys in the making and perhaps a Cy Young (maybe 3 or 4). Probably about 10 more Gold Gloves, too.

I probably shouldn’t be conceding this season already, but it just feels like it’s going to be some combination of the Angels, Rays, Cubs and Mets this year, unless Michael Bowden becomes the instant new phenom or Beckett magically regains fall 2007 form in a big damn hurry. Doesn’t feel like it, though. The stars don’t feel like they’re quite aligned. And hey, that’s ok with me, because if the Sox are eliminated, it gives me a chance to become one of Boston’s biggest Cubs fans. I’m hoping that if we’re not there, it could be, finally, the Year of the Cub. Once every hundred years is appropriate!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Great hitter, rotten role model

In the summer of 2003, I coached Babe Ruth League baseball in Waltham. I was having trouble getting the kids to hustle. One night while watching a Red Sox game, it became crystal clear why. In a game in Tampa Bay, Manny Ramirez hit a routine grounder to short, and barely moved 10 feet out of the batter’s box while the shortstop made the play and threw him out, ending the inning. I was horrified, as was Jerry Remy, who supposed that “perhaps Manny didn’t see where the ball had gone, and thought it was foul”. Bullshit. Manny saw the ball. He just didn’t feel like running out a routine grounder. The possibility of the shortstop missing the grounder, or throwing it in the dirt or over the first basemen’s head either didn’t occur to him or he didn’t care. He didn’t feel like running, so he didn’t. A couple innings later, he homered, and the Sox beat the pathetic (at the time) Devil Rays.

The next day we had a practice. “How many watched last night’s game?”, I asked. Most hands went up. “Do me a favor. Don’t watch Manny Ramirez. I don’t want him to be your role model. Watch Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon or Pedro, but please, don’t follow Manny.” “Are you kidding?”, they asked. “He hit the ball a mile! They won!”

Manny’s homers were all anyone cared about. Yes, he’s one of the most talented hitters of the past 50 years. In his time in Boston, he was also a rotten team player. His defense was routinely laughable. His concept of baserunning was pathetic. Worst of all, he didn’t care that he was a distraction. He reveled in Manny being Manny. We all put up with all of it because you couldn’t ignore his lethal power numbers. 35 HR and over 100 RBI a year will do that. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will go down as arguably the best 3-4 combination in the history of the game. And I’m overjoyed Manny’s gone. He pushed a traveling secretary to the ground because he didn’t get enough comp’d tickets. He intentionally tanked during the last few pathetic weeks of his tenure in Boston. He begged out of games because he didn’t feel like hitting against tough pitchers. He feigned injuries. He stood with the bat on his shoulder while Mariano Rivera blew him away on three straight strikes to end a rally in New York. He jogged down the first baseline in key late-inning situations. He fell all over himself in the outfield, once rolling on to the ball. And he thought it was a hoot. To boot, he insisted “I’m sick of them, they’re sick of me”. What were you sick of, Manny? That you were being paid $20 million a year and the team just wanted you to show up, hustle and be a team player? At no point did the team ever truly hold him accountable. And he rubbed their noses in it.

Voila, he’s traded to the Dodgers, and starts hustling, pronouncing himself “in love with Los Angeles” after 24 hours, and of course, restarts his torrid hitting ways, crushing everything in sight. He says he wants to end his career as a Dodger. Now, according to George King of the New York Post, Manny wants to sign with the Yankees in the offseason and get his revenge on Boston 19 games a year. Nice adult behavior there.

Manny Ramirez is a slam dunk first ballot Hall of Famer. His credentials for greatness are indisputable. And he’s a childish, petulant embarrassment to the game he plays. It’s hard to find good role models nowadays. Manny Ramirez certainly isn’t one.