by John Furgele
It has become an annual tradition, much like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. You know it’s coming and even though you don’t plan on it coming, it still comes—the Manny Ramirez Saga. And, it usually comes when the Yankees are either in town or breathing down the necks of their long time rival Boston Red Sox.
A few years ago versus the Yankees, Ramirez took himself out of the lineup, but was later seen having drinks with former Yankee infielder Enrique Wilson. This year, he complained of a sore knee and took himself out of the series finale in Seattle and the 1-0 Friday night loss to Joba Chamberlain and the Yanks. Should Red Sox management and Nation be surprised?
Ramirez says his knee is sore, that he suffers from tendonitis, but MRIs taken on both knees showed no structural damage. That certainly doesn’t mean he is not in pain. Tendonitis often does not show up on medical exams and it is never good to question a players contention that he is injured. Some players have a higher pain tolerance than others. If Manny Ramirez says his knees are sore, then you should give him the benefit of the doubt.
Of course, this is Manny Ramirez we’re talking about. A player with a history of mood swings and “questionable” injuries. In 2006, he missed most of the last month of a what turned out to be a disappointing 86-76 season. There were hints that Manny could have played, but with the Red Sox out of contention, he chose to milk the injury and sit out.
After the MRI, Red Sox management went on the offense with Manny, telling him “play Saturday, or face the consequences” (suspension without pay). Manny played, went 0-4 and drove in a run in a 10-3 loss to the surging Yankees. Last night he played again, going 3 for 5 with two runs scored, and two RBI. For the season, he has played in 97 of Boston’s 106 games, and is hitting .302 with 19 home runs and 65 RBI.
Before last night’s game, Manny told ESPN Deportes that he would waive his no-trade clause if the Red Sox could find a suitor. He said that he is sick of the Red Sox and the Red Sox are sick of him and perhaps, that it is time to move on. Of course, the Red Sox said nothing and even though they would like to trade Manny Ramirez, it is not going to happen.
Why? Because Boston cannot win it all without him, and nobody knows this better than Manny Ramirez. Ramirez may come off as being aloof, but he knows exactly what’s going on. He may be dumb, but he’s not stupid. Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis are nice players, but without Manny, there stats would compromised—greatly. David Ortiz is a very good player, but without Manny, his numbers would be compromised, maybe not as much as Youkilis and Lowell, but compromised enough.
The Tampa Bay Rays are the other reason why Manny will stay in Boston. In the past, the American League East was pretty simple: watch the Yanks and Sox battle it out, with the runner-up getting into the playoffs as the Wild Card. But this year, the Rays continue to lead the AL East, and as long as it’s a three team race, where is Manny going? In the past, both the Yanks and Red Sox knew that it would be a two dog fight, but Tampa Bay is now the third dog. They may or may not disrupt the usual order, but as July becomes August, they are there, and they can pitch, which suggests that they will be there right to the end.
What happens after this year is the mystery. The Red Sox have a $20 million option for 2009 and another $20 million option for 2010. Manny turned 36 on May 20, so he’ll play most of 2009 as a 37 year old and most of 2010 as a 38 year old. One would expect a little bit of decline in batting average, home runs and RBI, but 38 is certainly not old. Dave Winfield batted .290 with 26 home runs and 108 RBI for the 1992 World Champion Toronto Blue Jays as a 40 year old, and as good as Winflield was, he isn’t near the offensive player that Manny Ramirez is. And, at $20 million, he is far from overpriced.
If the Red Sox and Ramirez part ways, his agent’s phone will be a burning rope with just about every team looking to sign him. He’s that good of a player. For his career, Ramirez has 509 home runs, 1,699 RBI, but the most revealing stat—his .312 career batting average. People don’t realize just how good a hitter this man is. In today’s game, the 400 and 500 home run club is fuller than ever, with some saying that 400—sans Dave Kingman, Darrell Evans and Jose Canseco—is not even automatic for Cooperstown enshrinement, no longer a “magic” number.
Look at Ramirez’s contemporaries and you’ll see just what a great hitter he is. Barry Bonds, love him or hate him, batted .298 for his career; Hank Aaron, .305; Alex Rodriguez, .307; Ken Griffey, Jr., .288; Jim Thome, .280; Carlos Delgado, .279. Ramirez’s .312 beats them all, in fact the only player with a better batting average that is still active (sluggers only) is Vladimir Guerrero, who is a .322 hitter. Chipper Jones (.310) and the recently retired Mike Piazza at .308 are close, but still lower than Ramirez.
Ramirez can flat out rake and overall, is the best pure hitter in the game today. The Red Sox Nation and management may be sick of him and made rid themselves of him at season’s end, that’s for sure. It may be time, but the Red Sox will someday realize that they were in the midst of greatness when Manny was in the lineup. Furthermore, after not winning a world title in 86 years, Ramirez helped Boston win two titles in four seasons, and yes, he was the 2004 World Series MVP to boot. Hopefully, the Red Sox faithful will remember the long years of suffering, the heartbreak of 1967, 1975 and the tragic heartbreak of 1986. Have then been so spoiled by their recent successes that they have forgotten how sad they once were?
Manny has been in Boston for eight years. He should remain for two more. He’s just too good to let go.