Why Manny Ramirez is our hero

>> Friday

I'm way late on this because I've been too wrapped up in work and personal affairs to read the sports pages in the daily post, but I have to talk a little bit about Manny Ramirez's post-Game 4 remarks on Wednesday.

Let's just start by saying, Manny Ramirez is awesome in every respect imaginalbe. And his latest show of honesty gives me a sense of vicarious catharsis that I haven't felt since Gilbert Arenas told everyone to take the stick out of their ass and just enjoy some basketball.

"If we don't do it, we'll come back next year and try again . . . If it doesn't happen, who cares? There's always next year. It's not the end of the world."

Thank you, Manny Ramirez. Thank you for having perspective. Thank you for understanding that not everything is in your control. Thank you for knowing that your work is not defined by competetive structures. You are awesome.

Matt and I had a nice phone conversation last night (how I learned about this story--thanks Beck) on this topic--the proceding being a rehash of our thoughts on this topic.

People are upset because Manny doesn't seem to be taking his competetive duty seriously. But competition can mislead you. Competition can stray your focus. Competition can destroy you... when you direct it the wrong way.

Manny understands competition. Manny may be a flaky weirdo who exists and plays baseball in a vacuum, but I think that makes Manny the most perfect baseball competitor that we have ever seen because Manny doesn't care. He doesn't care that the purists are obsessed with competition, or that the fans and blowhard newsmen are the same. Manny just watches that silly white ball and hits the behayzeus out of it. And that's what baseball players are supposed to do.

He is phenomenally talented. He can watch an 0-2 slider miss the zone by three inches and not even flinch and then smoke a dead-center dinger on the 1-2. He may be the most talented hitter (at least top five) us twenty-something punks have ever seen. How has he done it? In order, 1) talent, 2) talent, 3) not giving a fuck, 4) not buying into the purist bullcrap.

As relayed to me by Matt, ESPN Radio invited Wade Boggs on the air to talk about Manny yesterday morning. Evidently, he was disgusted by Ramirez's words, as were--I'm sure--scores of other active and retired ballplayers.

But really, what's the big deal? Why the condemnation? Are you jealous, Boggs? Do you resent Manny because his talent is so phenomenal that he can excel at baseball without obsessing over it? Are you mad because Manny can dominate the game of baseball without worshiping it? Do you hate that you lost sleep and clumps of hair over your failures and ate chicken before evey game because you were so damned superstitious and worried about the game's outcome while Manny goes on smiling under his wacky braids and--heaven forbid--seems to enjoy himself on the field?

We've said it over and over: Baseball is not an effort sport. You don't try in baseball; you react. It is a game played most effectively in a purely instinctual, almost hypnotic, mindset--not with a busy mind and feelings of duress. One could argue that this is true of all sports and even many professions. Excessive effort and obsession with work are what give people ulcers, one-dimensional personalities, and strained relationships with their spouses and children. What a shame that Manny can't be like that.

Say what you will about Manny's track record as a defensive player. But if you think for one second that he isn't 100% focused when he's at the plate, or that he somehow exhibits a lack of regard for his at-bats, then you have never watched Ramirez hit. He is the epitome of the perfectly honed-in, perfectly reactive major league hitter.

So of course, Manny wasn't going to let the negative press worry him in Game 5. Instead, he scorched two hits and drew a walk, but undoubtedly, the Boston sports talk airwaves were filled with critics railing on his off-the-fence single last night. Such is the trade-off with Manny. But really, who's counting? I'll take the man on my team any day.


Paul 4:06 PM  

Speaking of existing in a vacuum... You didn't hear about this story until you talked to Matt last night?

I agree with you on some points, and I would find it hard to believe Manny isn't giving 99-100% on each at-bat. However, I think the guy is a little under-competitive when it comes to other aspects of the game, like fielding and base-running.

Sure, his comments aren't worth getting all in a huff. They may reflect Manny's perspective that not every aspect of the series is within his or anyone's control. Or it can reflect the mindset of an amazing hitter who locks in for his at-bats but couldn't care less for other aspects of the game. I find it hard to believe he's "locked in" when he's running the bases or in the field. And aside from giving props to Big Papi, I don't really see him as a real team player.

Finally, a true competitor DOES work on the aspects of the game where he is deficient. Manny doesn't do that. He's not a competitor. He's an outstanding athlete, he's a focused hitter, but he's not competitive nor a competitor.

Matt 4:46 PM  

I love the fact that you found the best possible picture to convey that, "eh" feelin' that is Manny. Love it.

Nathan 4:49 PM  

I just got on to write a belated post about this story, and see that you have beaten me too it. It's nice, though not that surprising, to see that we all feel the same way about this.

I have not seen or heard any former or current players discuss the comments, but I have heard plenty of baseball pundits, talking heads, and people calling in to radio shows express their outrage.

These are the people that Manny will never listen to, because they're just trying to ruin his fun. We, the fans, hear a story like this and say "How dare you disrespect my fandom! I treat this game as a life or death situation. I will either drink myself into bliss or drink myself into depression based on the outcome of a game that I have no control over, and a game that is largely a flip of a coin. I put so much religious faith (that's the only way to describe it) into this team, and how dare an actual player suggest that it's not as important as I have made it in my delusional mind."

...Or that's what they would be saying if they stepped back and looked at their motives for criticizing a man who realizes that despite the million-dollar salaries, TV contracts and Dane Cook appearances, he is still just playing a fucking game.

So yeah, he should have slid into home in the first inning. And sure he should have been running the bases hard on that "single". But with Manny, you have a guy that is playing a game that he is insanely talented at, and he's having fun doing it. That's it.

The anger directed towards him when he gets tagged out at home and jogs to the dugout smiling is, without a doubt, rooted in jealousy.

Vinnie 7:53 PM  

Haha, I know. I feel like I was the last person in the world to hear about this. I think there's kids in Cameroon reading this like, "You didn't hear about this?"

But you're dead-on Paul. I'm not pretending for a second that his lax baserunning and, er, unusual defensive plays (e.g. the famous shallow left-field cut-off) don't represent deficiencies in his game. Nor do I think it's entirely excusable for him to not improve these shortcomings.

I guess my point was this: There are things that all of us wish we could beat out of / beat into other people. But sometimes, that's just not realistic. The same demon that makes us great at stuff makes us sucky at other things, and I guess that's what I'm saying about Manny. You change the man, and you change the results. I think the mindset that makes Manny look like a clown sometimes is the same one that makes him an incredible hitter and seemingly insusceptible to pressure.

And as Nate pretty much said, it's wonderful to see an athlete--just once it a while--to approach a playing a game is he were... well, playing a game. He may not be the perfect model for this attitude as a guy like Gil is, but he's one of the few that baseball has.

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