Friday, July 29, 2005

More on Manny

This just in: Manny Ramirez is not a perfect baseball player. Manny Ramirez is not a perfect human being.

Some people seem shocked - shocked! - to discover that. It's a discovery that's launch a thousand lines, or a thousand times a thousand line, of outrage and hyperbole. As it did last year. And the year before. And the year before that. It's an annual event, as much a part of the baseball season as the All Star break, as the Boston media, and particularly the ranters on WEEI, scream and shout and wave their hands in the air, at least metaphorically, at the "outrages" that Manny commits against his teammates, the fans, the management, baseball and, apparently, humanity.

I've made it quite clear what I think about the Manny issue. But there's a lot of commentary out there in the Boston sports media, and I want to address it again. A certain amount of it is just noise, but some of it's particularly irritating. First, let's examine the situation.

First, from the Boston Globe:
According to manager Terry Francona, Ramirez wanted a day off Sunday in Chicago. Sensing the importance of the game -- the White Sox began last week's series against Boston with baseball's best record -- Francona asked Ramirez to wait until Wednesday in Tampa Bay.

But Trot Nixon landed on the disabled list Tuesday night with a strained oblique muscle. Short on outfielders, Francona approached Ramirez that night and asked if he could play the following day. Ramirez said he needed the day off, leading Francona to start Kevin Millar in left field for only the fifth time in his career.

Next, from the Boston Herald:
The short story: The Red Sox were going to give Ramirez a day off in Chicago last weekend, but the club and player agreed to postpone that day until yesterday. But when Nixon went down to a strained left oblique Tuesday - the right fielder was placed on the 15-day disabled list yesterday - the Sox went to Ramirez and asked him to adjust.
Ramirez said no.
Explained Sox manager Terry Francona of the exchange: ``After (Tuesday's) game, we went to him and asked, and he said, `I still need it (off).' So we gave it to him.''

So Manny needed a day off. He'd played or traveled every day (to and from the All Star game) for 2 1/2 weeks and said he needed an off-day. After agreeing to give him a day off in Chicago, the manager came to him, asked him to re-schedule it for Wednesday, and Manny agreed. Wednesday arrived and because of the injury to Nixon, they asked him to put it off again. He said that he needed it, so he got the day off, and they went ahead and won without him.

Does that sound like a hanging offense? It sure doesn't to me. Whatever the reason, if he needed a day off, either for his physical or mental well-being, they're better off with him taking it than playing and getting hurt. It's not Manny's fault that Nixon got hurt Tuesday night. Would it have helped the team to have a tired Manny pull a hamstring running out a ground ball on Wednesday and have to join him on the DL? Obviously, there's no way of knowing whether that would have happened, but we're talking about 1 game out of 162. Does the fact that Trot's on the DL mean that Manny can't have another off-day the rest of the year? If not, why does it matter that it was the first Trot-less game as opposed to the 7th or 32nd?

I can understand how the manager might be irritated that he asked Manny to give up his day off and Manny declined, but it still seems like a grotesque overreaction is taking place on the airwaves.

The following quotes are from the weekly radio interview of Red Sox President Larry Lucchino by Gerry Callahan and John Dennis on WEEI.

On whether Manny can be traded:
LL: "I think it's hard, because of the size of his contract"
GC: "And the size of his heart."

That had me swearing at the radio. Who the [expletive deleted] is Gerry Callahan to be questioning Manny Ramirez' "heart?" How does he know what's in Manny's heart, or his head, or his hamstrings?

We know that Damon's playing hurt, because they make a big deal about it. We know when Nixon's playing hurt, because they make a big deal about it. Do we know when Manny's playing hurt? What Major League player isn't banged up, sore, tired, 100 games into the season? With most guys, a big deal doesn't get made about it. Who's started more games for the Red Sox than Manny Ramirez this year? David Ortiz, who doesn't play the field. That's it, the only one. Other than Ortiz, only Damon has played in as many games as Manny, and no one's made as many starts.

JD: "Either this is a brilliant plot by Manny to 'Jay Payton' his way out of Boston ... or he's a complete and total moron who doesn't realize that what he did the last two nights disrespects his team, the uniform, the game and the organization all at once."

That's about the level of intellectual discourse provided. Lucchino, to his ever-lasting credit (and I'm not a particular fan of his), didn't buy it, and expressed, intelligently, that there may well be a reasonable and rational explanation for Manny's behaviour.

GC: "Do you think he notices what Damon does, and Renteria, and Varitek, and Schilling, and Clement? Do you think he notices how they put their heart and soul into it, how they take on the obligation of playing every day, and playing hurt?"

What the hell is he talking about? All of those guys get more days off than Manny. Varitek only plays 4 games out of 5. How the hell is Clement relevant to this discussion? And, again, is Renteria (who gets more off-days) hurt more than Manny is? What injuries has Edgar had? This is just utter nonsense, Manny-bashing for the sake of Manny-bashing.

And one of my favorite writers, Art Martone, the sports editor of the Providence Journal, a smart guy that "gets it" as a general rule, gets into the act, too:
As we said, this isn't Manny Ramirez having a brain cramp and doing something on the field that you'd normally only see in a T-ball game. This is Manny Ramirez deliberately, and against the team's expressed wishes, placing his own interests ahead of the needs of the Red Sox.

The Red Sox "need" for a healthy Manny Ramirez over the next 3 months VASTLY outweighed their "need" to have Manny play yesterday. The fact is that Manny's long-term "interests" and the team's long-term "interests" are actually the same right now - to have Manny get the proper amount of rest to maximize his playing time and productivity throughout the baseball season. It's not "placing his own interests ahead of the needs of the Red Sox" if he really needed a day off.

A couple more things:

"Ramirez didn't run out a 10th-inning ground ball Tuesday night in an extra-inning game the Sox won."
- Chris Snow, Boston Globe

This is the other thing that Manny's getting hammered about. When Dennis and Callahan talked about the "last two nights", this is the first thing being mentioned. In the top of the 10th on Tuesday, with the Sox up 9-8, he hit a double-play ground ball to 2nd and trotted down to first. He absolutely didn't look to be top-speed sprinting. Not that it mattered - the fact was that it was a play that, if the defense handled everything properly, he'd be out regardless of how hard he "ran." So he didn't sprint down the line, just headed to first, in case the defense screwed up.

Interestingly enough, he was actually safe on that play where he "didn't run." True, there was a bad throw required for that to happen. But a good defensive play would have had him regardless of how hard he ran. There's a lot of baseball "hustle" that's just "hustle for show." Manny doesn't usually bother. One time in a hundred, that will cost him a chance to be safe when there's a bad defensive play, but not quite bad enough, but it's silly to be up-in-arms about it. While you'd love him to run hard all the time, that's not part of his game. Stop whining about it.

"[T]his is a refusal to play on a day when the Red Sox truly needed him."
- Art Martone, Providence Journal

Final score of that game that the Red Sox "truly needed him" for: Boston 4, Tampa Bay 1.

I guess they didn't "truly need" him after all...

One of the things that you need to recognize in order to be successful in this world is that everyone is different. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, everyone is motivated differently. In order to manage people, you need to recognize and accomodate those differences. You need to determine whether the weaknesses outweigh the strengths or the other way around. Manny Ramirez is a great baseball player. According to all of the information available to us, he works very hard at his craft, putting in long hours every day. If he needs a day or two, or five, off during the course of the season, because his legs hurt, or he's tired, or he's irritated by the press, then that's one of the weaknesses. Looking at what he's done, it seems extraordinarily silly to let a half-dozen days off when you'd rather he'd played outweigh the 150+ games that he does play, and the offense he produces over the course of the year. This isn't football, where the success of every play depends on the proper execution and timing of 11 players. Baseball is, at it's core, an individual game, where the outcome of the game is determined by the results of the batter-pitcher matchups. Very few players in history have been more successful at those matchups than Manny Ramirez, and if Manny's day off results in worse performance by Jason Varitek or Johnny Damon or Bill Mueller, that's their fault, not Manny's. One would think, or at least hope, that the front office does, in fact, understand all of this, even if there are members of the media that don't, or at least purport not to for the sake of their own ratings...

Update: Chris Lynch has got some good thoughts on this as well...



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