Friday, June 18, 2010
'Sons' weigh in on Manny
By Gordon Edes
BOSTON -- When I want to take the pulse of committed Red Sox fans, I often visit the Sons of Sam Horn website (sonsofsamhorn.net). I did so even before Curt Schilling, who the night he was agreeing to come to the Red Sox spent some late-night hours chatting back and forth with SOSHers. They couldn’t believe that “Gehrig 38” was the real Big Schill.
The SOSHers are hardly a homogenous bunch. Opinions run the gamut, and I’ve been whacked a few times on their chat board over the years, a few occasions when I deserved to be.
A lot of SOSHers, like many fans, lead with their hearts. Others pride themselves on their ability to delve deeper, and probably helped steer the mainstream media to a greater consideration of the newer forms of statistical analysis that have made a big impact on the game.
I asked Tim Quinn, owner of the SOSH site, if he could ask a few members to weigh in on Manny for me. Appropriately, there were differences of opinion, and a couple of issues not touched on elsewhere -- allegations of racial bias on the part of the media, defining yourself by how you view Manny, and, in one instance, self-mutilation.
Here are their responses. Thanks to all who participated.
To be honest, my thoughts are super-conflicted. I respect what he did here but I despise him as a person/teammate so much I can't help but want to jeer him. Obviously as fans we root for far worse people, from Wil Cordero to Ty Cobb, but Manny seemed to hate the place we live and finally the very team we root for. When you have a guy play here as long as he did, these things matter.
Then again, without Manny do we still hear "1918" on a daily basis? I seriously would have cut off a pinky finger before 2004 if it meant the Red Sox would win a World Series. Is dealing with a village idiot worse then walking around the rest of my life with nine fingers?
A little context first -- I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan, grew up in Canada near Toronto, but didn’t have a team back then. 1967 was the first year I was old enough to really follow sports, and I fell in love with the team that year. Very loyal, so like for so many of us, it was a tough few decades before the magic that was 2004.
I can’t say I always loved Manny when he was here. Of course the offense was awesome, Watching Ortiz and Manny those years was as close as I’ll ever get to seeing what Ruth and Gehrig must have been like. But I’m a big fan of fundamentally solid baseball, so Manny’s nonchalance and occasional bonehead moves didn’t endear him to me. Yet it’s doubtful that 2004 or 2007 happen without him. And for that -- if nothing else -- he’ll always have a special place in my heart.
And ... if you can believe even a fraction of the stuff you hear about his behavior in the locker room and as a teammate, it’s hard to really like the guy. This is still a team game at the end of the day, and the circus that surrounded his final days with the club was a very sad sight. When you’ve got that much talent and yet you make it obvious that the team would be better off without you … that says a lot right there.
But if I were there [Friday] night, I’d stand and applaud for all that he did for the team over the years. Those two Series victories changed my life -- can’t help but love him for that.
I actually think people's reactions to Manny returning are far more interesting than Manny's actual return. Manny always had an ability to divide fans, exactly how you rooted for him and how you felt about him was supposed to say something about you as a fan and, by extension, as a person. Was he aloof? Or lazy? How you answered that question mattered.
The ultimate insult to the fans was his exit. At first the most devoted Manny fan could write a lot of it off as the Red Sox's very strong marketing machine 'selling' the trade but it became apparent pretty quickly that his teammates were tired of him and he was tired of Boston.
Some Red Sox fans hated Manny, but I really think that a majority were just hurt by Manny. They forgave, understood, made excuses and essentially "loved" unconditionally. That he didn't recognize that, or worse, didn't care, was a hard pill to swallow.
Manny's relationship with the Red Sox organization and fans of the Red Sox is extremely complicated and nuanced and will only get more so as the years go by and people look to put Manny's career in perspective.
He was an offensive force of nature. He was a part of two World Series championships. He was exceedingly frustrating to root for at times and at the end he disappointed everyone who did root for him. And now he's back and it's difficult to know how to feel about that. Anyone who does know exactly how they feel about it lives in a very black-and-white world.
You make your own destination, indeed.
When he was between the lines, no one played the game with more unadulterated joy than Manny Ramirez. Who will ever forget him high-fiving the fans in Baltimore after making a great catch at the wall? Say what you want about the guy, and he undeniably had issues, but he loved playing the game of baseball and it showed when he was on the field.
Watching Manny hit was a treat for any real baseball fan. He was so calm at the plate, his head still throughout the entire swing, his body perfectly aligned and balanced. His consistency with those incredible mechanics was amazing -- his swings were identical. Manny had/has a beautiful swing, perhaps the prettiest right-handed swing the game has ever seen, and we were privileged to watch it.
Manny's numbers speak for themselves. During his tenure with the Red Sox, he batted .312 with a .411 on-base percentage and .588 slugging percentage. This gave him an OPS, a popular stat that combines on-base and slugging, of .999. But that is misleading, as the stat undervalues on-base percentage. A more accurate measurement tool for for Manny's offense is linear weights, and using that metric we find that Manny contributed 340 runs more than an average major league player during his time in Boston. That translates to approximately 45 runs above average per 150 games, or 4.5 wins. Think about that for a second, Manny's hitting was worth, on average, 4.5 wins for each season he was in Boston. In other words, he would take an average (81-win) team to 85.5 wins. Unbelievable.
I would be remiss if I did not mention race and the Boston media when discussing Manny Ramirez. Although I have no desire to delve into this topic deeply, I will say that as a Latino baseball fan I felt Manny was treated poorly by the local press. They wrote about him with a double standard when compared to other players, dismissing him a a flake and lazy, as a player who had incredible natural talents but did not work hard enough or care enough to maximize them. That’s [BS].
Manny worked hard to get that beautiful swing -- that did not come naturally. His workout routine was legendary -- I once saw him benching 100-pound dumbbells effortlessly, and that also takes plenty of work. Manny was at the park early every day and worked as hard as anyone to become the great player he is. I've said enough about this sensitive subject, but will add that every Latin Red Sox fan I know believes Manny was treated unfairly to some degree by the Boston media and that it may have contributed to his behavior and attitude here.
I loved watching Manny play baseball, and feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to see one of the all-time great right-handed hitters, a lock for the Hall of Fame, perform at Fenway Park during his prime. He helped the team break the phony curse and win two world championships, and for that I will be forever grateful.
I will stand and cheer when he is announced Friday night.