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July 28, 2005
Rightly or wrongly, the weight of public opinion shifted against Nomar Garciaparra on an early July night in New York last year. That was the night Garciaparra asked out of the lineup and then never got up from the bench while the Red Sox and Yankees engaged in a 13-inning tong war -- the night Derek Jeter nearly killed himself diving into the stands while making a game-saving catch -- and it was the night that transformed Nomar, in the consensus of the public, from Boston Baseball God to Typical Selfish Red Sox Superstar. The angst over his eventual trade four weeks later barely registered, and he was all but forgotten when the Sox were celebrating their World Series championship.
Will a late July night in Tampa be Manny Ramirez' undoing?
The "Manny Being Manny" defense rings hollow this morning. This isn't a baserunning blunder, a defensive flub, or a quick trip inside the left-field wall for a comfort break; this is a refusal to play on a day when the Red Sox truly needed him. This is the ultimate in individual-first-team-last, and that never plays well with the majority of the fans. Manny will always have his defenders among some segments of the populace -- just as Nomar did nearly 13 months ago -- but we're talking about a consensus. And the consensus will never be, "What Manny wants is so important that it's okay for the Red Sox to put out a lineup with Adam Stern and Adam Hyzdu in the outfield and John Olerud batting cleanup."
Those speculating on how the Red Sox feel about this need look no further than Terry Francona's terse description of the leadup to Manny's day off. Francona is well-known -- and sometimes highly criticized -- for protecting his players, but there was no protection yesterday. We told him we needed him to play, Tito said, and he refused. Period. End of story. You're never going to see Francona throw a player under the bus more thoroughly than that. Subsequent statements by Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein hinted at organizational displeasure, and both were striking in their lack of the feeblest defense of Ramirez. We may not know how the fans ultimately will react, but we can guess the team is less than euphoric.
But, actually, I think I know how the fans ultimately will react. Not all of them, certainly -- Ramirez' unique offensive skills insulate him from virtually any criticism in certain corners, especially those who think the yahoo portion of the fan base is more interested in blood, guts and moxie than the concrete on-field contributions that actually win games -- but it's more than the yahoo portion of the fan base that's up in arms today. 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. That's never a good thing in any team sport, and to many people -- myself included -- it's indefensible.
Ramirez' contract makes him virtually untradeable, so he and the Red Sox are probably stuck with each other. But I wonder if, as was the case with Garciaparra last year, what happened yesterday hasn't changed the public face of Manny Ramirez. He'll no longer be Our Lovable Goofball; he'll now, like so many before him, be seen as a Me-First-Me-Only prima donna in the tradition of a Red Sox past we all hoped had been buried in 2004.
Posted by Art at 9:36 AM | Permalink