I was spared a catastrophic internal crisis today when Manny “Being Manny” Ramirez finally signed a contract, and with a team other than the Yankees (for now, anyway…):
Is Manny the biggest villain in baseball now for taking months to haggle over a $45 million contract in the midst of a national recession, and after supposedly “quitting” on his Red Sox the middle of last year? Oh probably. But he’s my favorite baseball player of all-time, for better or worse, and what’s more– he’s probably worth the $45 million, given that at 36 last year for the Dodgers, he enjoyed one of the finest offensive half-seasons in baseball’s last 50 years (.396/17 HR/53 RBI in 53 games), and that he’s baseball’s biggest winner.
But more importantly, he demonstrates more than anybody the central truth that baseball is a kid’s game. Always with a smile on his face, he’s been baseball’s most colorful character ever since he came up with the Indians in the early 1990s. His sick offensive talent (as one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time) is somehow matched by his tomfoolery. For instance, he took center stage in three of the most hilarious outfield plays of all-time. One involved Manny inexplicably diving to cut off a throw from fellow outfielder Johnny Damon, which led to an inside-the-park home run. The second concerned a routine ball in shallow left that Manny misplayed, fell on, rolled over, and then nonchalantly tossed back into the infield as the batter slid safely into third. The last involved an impressive running catch toward the wall– who knew Manny had the hustle in him?– followed by a leap up the fence and a high five with a fan sitting in the front row of the bleachers within less than a second, and, once he fell back to earth, a perfect throw back to the infield to double off a baserunner for the most bizarre double play you’ll ever see. (Oh, by the way, for several years Manny lead the league in outfield assists.) Sadly or happily, depending on your perspective, these are just the tip of the iceberg for Manny.
I’ve always wanted to make a documentary about Manny’s career, and after last year, I decided I can just concentrate on the 2008 season only– with all the drama of a contract dispute, fighting with teammates in the dugout, 2 of the 3 hilarious outfield plays I just described, his contributions to 2 pennant contenders, and his astounding second half– bookended by his home plate preening at what turned out to be a just long double off the wall in the very first game of the season, and his monster golf-swing home run half way up Wrigley’s center-field bleachers in the playoffs– you know, the year in which Manny finally got enough attention for the entire baseball world to figure out that he is not only a better hitter, but a much better hitter than that Papi guy. And a lot more entertaining too.
Baseball is fun. And secondarily, it’s about beating the Yankees, which I hope Manny can continue to do the rest of his career. Welcome back, Manny.
To see most of the plays I’ve referenced, click here and view “The World of Manny Ramirez”– it’s in the video playlist.