This article also appears today at Bornintoit.com.
I waited until the dust settled from this past July 31st, so now it's time to look back at one of the crazier times in recent memory: the Manny Ramirez final days in Boston.
It's a polarizing issue for everyone concerned. We've been down this road so many times with the goofy slugger, who seemed to change his mind about playing in Boston as often as normal people change their socks. I honestly thought this was another of those times when it looked like he was gone but would still be in a Red Sox uniform when the calendar reached August 1.
Not this year.
This time it was quite different. Manny began running his mouth off about his contract around the All-Star break, saying he didn't want to get any BS from the front office about the 2009 club option and wanted to know where they stood. Red Sox owner John Henry sent out an email about how offended he was with Ramirez' statements, something we'd never heard from the Sox' head man.
Manny's status was definitely affecting the club, as they went into a July tailspin. The mood around the clubhouse was not good. Manny begged out of the final game of the road trip in Seattle, claiming a sore knee. Then, when an important three-game series with the Yankees was about to begin at Fenway, once again he asked out, after his name had been written out of the lineup. This absolutely incensed those in the Red Sox front office, including manager Terry Francona. (The Sox sent him for an MRI that day on BOTH knees, just to be sure. They both turned up nothing.)
While Ramirez' numbers in July were good (he hit .347 for the month), at times he looked like he wasn't giving the best effort possible. What stood out most was the grounder he hit in the 7th inning in the no-hit game John Lackey was working on against the Sox on July 29. It was a ball that appeared he could have made it to first on, but was thrown out and the fans let him know about his lack of hustle. While it certainly wasn't the first time Ramirez was accused of loafing, it was one that really stood out, especially since all the trade rumors were growing.
But for me, when the news leaked out that Theo Epstein approached the Red Sox veterans after they were swept by the Angels on July 30th about how they felt about the situation was most telling. Only David Ortiz stood up for Manny, as everyone else felt it was time to send Manny on his way. The fact that his teammates, who were always among Manny's biggest supporters, had had enough of him said that it was time for Theo to take some action.
The Red Sox were not dealing from strength, so they would not get any fair value. A rumored deal with the Pirates and Marlins fell through on July 31, as both teams got greedy and upped what they wanted from the Red Sox. So it looked like no trade would happen. But Epstein got the Dodgers back involved, and offered $7 million (the remainder of Ramirez' deal for 2008), dropping the 2008 and 2009 options on Ramirez, along with sending Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss to the Pirates. So, just moments before the deadline, Manny Ramirez was shipped off to Los Angeles, with Jason Bay coming to the Red Sox.
It was shocking when it finally happened. But in the end, it HAD to happen. In the moments after the trade was completed, Ramirez' agent, the notorious Scott Boras, called the Red Sox and said that if the Sox just dropped the options, Manny would stay and "behave himself." (Boras still denies the conversation took place.) That was all the Sox needed as confirmation that it was all an orchestrated move by Boras and Ramirez to get out of the contract. Theo said thanks, but no thanks; the deal was on.
I am convinced beyond any doubt that Boras was behind this whole scenario. Once I heard last winter that Ramirez switched agents and brought on Boras that trouble would soon follow. But as the spring training started, it didn't appear that way. Manny was in fine shape and seemed to have a positive attitude. He was more open with the media and talked about finishing his career in Boston.
But just a few weeks back it all seemed to go sour. I am certain that Boras got it into Manny's head that one final, big payday was out there for him (as well as Boras, who doesn't make a penny if the Sox exercised the two Manny options). He's convinced him that a four-year deal worth about $100 million is out there from somebody. Manny just needed to get out of his Boston deal, especially the two option years.
So then Ramirez started making waves, and everyone in Boston's life miserable. It became such an intolerable situation that a trade had to happen. And the Sox wanted out of it as well, as the current brain trust didn't sign him to the eight-year, $160 million deal in 2000, Dan Duquette did.
The Red Sox were taking a gamble trading one of baseball's best all-time righthanded hitters, but for the long range benefit of the team, as well as the 2008 season, it had to be done. Jason Bay is a quality player, who is under contract through 2009 (and thankfully is NOT represented by Scott Boras). He is 29 years old, seven years younger than Ramirez. No, he's not Manny Ramirez, but then again, who is?
The Red Sox also took a monumental gamble dealing another moody superstar in 2004, namely Nomar Garciaparra. But like this one, the front office didn't want to deal with a player who didn't seem to want to be in Boston any more, and you couldn't tell from day-to-day whether he'd be in the lineup or not. A divorce between the two parties was probably in everyone's best interest.
Manny Ramirez is a future Hall of Famer who left a mark on the Red Sox that will endure forever. He was an essential part of the Red Sox winning two World Series, including the most incredible comeback in all of sports history. He hit 274 home runs and batted .312 in 7+ seasons in a Red Sox uniform. In the days following the trade I've heard Red Sox fans call him a traitor, and some even going as far as calling for his suspension, due to the fact they feel was "laying down" in his final days in a Red Sox uniform. (MLB is probing whether there is any validity to this, but I doubt anything will come out it, seeing Ramirez' numbers in the final weeks were still overall pretty strong.)
Manny deserves the standing ovations that former Red Sox stars like Pedro Martinez, Dave Roberts, Trot Nixon, Orlando Cabrera and Kevin Millar got after they returned to Fenway Park with other clubs. He was a huge part of the Red Sox turning the page once and for all on their "tortured" past. He should be recognized for that.
As long as his return to Fenway, if it does happen, isn't in a certain team's pinstriped uniform.
Thanks for the memories, Manny. Especially for 2004. Sorry it had to end this way.