I wasn't sure what to expect yesterday at Fenway Park. I can see both sides of the Manny situation: without his bat, the Red Sox would, as Joe Torre said, "never have hung those banners." But the end was brutal: quitting on the team, phantom injuries, disrespect to team employees.
I hadn't decided how to receive #99 when he made his first appearance by the time we got to the game, and then I reallized that the indecision WAS my decision: I couldn't bear to boo Manny, but neither did I think he deserved my cheers, and so I remained silent. When he came to the plate in the second inning, I think I was the only silent person in Fenway Park, as everybody got to their feet (you had to, just to be able to see). From where I was sitting, it sounded like the boos and cheers were about 50/50, and so my personal indecision felt defensible.
Not surprisingly, Ramirez is refusing to do any interviews while in town (he never particularly liked them), but he did speak animatedly with several current Sox players during batting practice, including Victor Marinez (whose son was in tow), and David Ortiz. While this was going on, people were cheering for Manny, and an usher stationed near my vantage point muttered, "steroid using asshole."
Of course, he said this loudly enough to be overheard, and several people looked at him in surprise: "What?" he asked, "I've been here twenty years... I know what goes on." This is an especially interesting tidbit when considering what really turned the tide on Manny's public opinion ratings was his mistreatment of another team employee, traveling secretary Jack McCormick.
It's worth noting that the team did nothing to stop Manny's skid from popularity. Manny Ramirez is exactly the kind of distraction that Theo does not want on the team, while Tito spent years trying - and apparently failing - to meet Manny's many needs, both on and off the diamond.
But through all the drama, we knew we were watching something special. Manny Ramirez has one of the most beautiful, effortless, right-handed swings in the game, and though a cynic might wonder how much of that power is due to chemical enhancement (especially since that incident with a certain banned women's fertility drug), from 2001 until mid-2008, no one was saying such things. It was "Manny being Manny," and we put up with all the lackadaisical defense and the off field antics, just for the chance to watch him belt one onto Landsdowne Street.
But then it all came screeching to a halt, and I can remember the trade like it was yesterday: I was in the car, and I heard the news on WEEI. Unfortunately, the station was going in and out, and I didn't hear all of it, so I texted my baseball crazy cousin to confirm, and confirm he did. Manny was going to Hollywood, and we were getting some guy named Jason Bay.
Bay did a pretty good job, of course: he performed at a high enough level, with no off-field shenanigans, that some of us swore never to miss Manny. Last night, WEEI handed out posters that read "Who needs Manny?" and during that game, we didn't need him, and maybe we never did (depsite Papi's cries for lineup protection)... But it sure was fun watching Manny being Manny while it lasted. Happy trails, #99, I hope LA is treating you well.