April 9, 2011

THERE IS NO WORSE SIN IN SPORT...:

The Retirement of MannyBManny (Joe Posnanski, 4/09/11, Sports Illustrated)

But I still maintain that Manny Ramirez was a hitting genius.

I wrote this once before, and I continue to admit it’s a bizarre notion. But what is a genius anyway? The dictionary definition is “a person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative, either generally or in some particular respect.” MannyBManny is clearly not a generalist. The man has been ticketed for having the windows on his car tinted too dark. He has wandered to the outfield with a water bottle in his back pocket. In an era when nobody — and I mean NOBODY — with even two milliliters of sense would test positive for steroids, he apparently has now tested positive TWICE, the second time sparking his sudden and forced and merciful retirement from the game on Friday.

But in one particular respect … I never saw anybody hit a baseball quite like Manny Ramirez. You can — and I often do — a lot of crazy things with numbers. But do you know how many men in baseball history have hit .310 with 525 homers and 525 doubles? Of course you do. One. M-A-N-N-Y. He also hit 21 grand slams — only Lou Gehrig hit more. Yes, those numbers are skewed to single him out, but I’ll tell you one thing that those numbers do suggest: It’s possible that nobody ever hit more balls HARD than Manuel Aristides (Onelcida) Ramirez.

And he hit the ball that hard without even the slightest outward suggestion of anything resembling discipline or exertion or dedication. People may not have liked Barry Bonds but nobody could doubt the commitment he made to being a sensational baseball player. MannyBManny hardly seemed to care at all. I can only assume he DID care, and that he DID work hard on his hitting — it doesn’t seem even remotely possible that anyone could become that good at anything without extreme drive — but, yeah, he did an amazing job hiding that part of himself from the world. He cared so little that the main defense his fans had against the likelihood he was using steroids was that using steroids would take too much effort. He cared so little that at one point when he was still hitting rockets all over the park, the Red Sox put him on waivers. It was a bit like putting Alexander the Great on waivers just after he crossed the Tigris … only they didn’t just put him on waivers, they basically PRAYED that someone would claim him. Nobody did.

Of course, the story goes that the Red Sox were forced to keep him … and he led the league in slugging in 2004 and was named World Series MVP. In 2007, the Red Sox — with Manny playing a somewhat less prominent role — won the World Series again. In fact, Manny Ramirez’s teams always won. I looked this up once before in 2009 — at that time Manny Ramirez had never once played for a losing team in his 15 full seasons. His teams had made the playoffs 10 times and the World Series four times. He may have been a terrible teammate. He may have been an atrocious left fielder. He may have been the biggest pain this side of kidney stones. But the man hit baseballs hard. And because of him or despite him or both, his teams won.

In my own romantic view of baseball and the world, I tended to see Manny as baseball’s Mozart — an often vile personality who did one thing so beautifully that you could not turn away. He finished top five in batting average five times, top five in on-base percentage five times, top five in slugging 10 times. He faced Dennis Eckersley three times … he walked once and hit two home runs off him. He hit .643 against CC Sabathia. Here’s one that will blow your mind — there are 27 men out there who have had only one at-bat match-up with MannyBManny … and they will always be able to tell people that Manny hit a home run in that one at-bat.

When I wrote the Manny-is-a-genius piece, I talked to a few people in the game … and it was clear that these tough old baseball men who had no respect at all for the way Ramirez treated the game were almost absurdly awed by his talent. They talked of games he would play with pitchers during spring training to set them up later in the year. They talked of adjustments he would make pitch-to-pitch that were so remarkable they could only compare it to chess grandmasters. Bill James — co-host of the next Poscast, coming out Monday — insisted that Manny Ramirez would purposely get into 3-2 counts with a runner on first so that the runner would be on the move with the pitch and could then score on the double MannyBManny planned to hit.


Cabrera, Alomar reflect on Manny stories (Jordan Bastian, 4/08/11, MLB.com)
Cabrera said Ramirez was as dedicated to his craft as any player the Indians infielder has ever seen. Cabrera would wake up early on the road and always saw Ramirez headed to the hotel gym in the morning -- hours before being required to show up to the ballpark.

"Everywhere we'd go," Cabrera said with a laugh. "Everywhere. Seven o'clock in the morning, you'd go down in the hotel and you'd see Manny Ramirez going in a hockey shirt. Yeah, he'd wear like the biggest hockey shirt. I don't know where he'd find these things."

Later, at the ballpark, Cabrera would see Ramirez in the video room.

"He'd be the first person you'd see watching the videos," Cabrera said. "He'd just watch them quiet, like he didn't want anybody watching him studying the pitchers."

Once in New York, Cabrera saw Ramirez studying Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina. Ramirez was not watching his at-bats, though. Instead, he was breaking down at-bats of other No. 3 hitters who faced Mussina that season. Curious about the approach, Cabrera asked Ramirez about his plan.

"I said, 'Hey, what are you going to do?'" Cabrera recalled. "He goes, 'Second at-bat, third pitch, I'm going to hit a curveball. Home run.' He goes, 'Don't tell anybody.'"

On Sept. 24, 2004, Ramirez strolled to the plate against Mussina in the third inning. He only saw two pitches in his first at-bat of the game. The next pitch released by Mussina sailed out of Fenway Park for a two-run home run.

"Third pitch. Breaking ball. Boom," Cabrera said. "I was like, 'That's why I can't be like you. That's incredible.' I tell that story and people don't believe it. I saw it."


....than to quit on your team, which is why we treat gambling scandals so deservedly harshly. However, you can forgive a lot from a guy who could do this:

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Posted by Orrin Judd at April 9, 2011 5:40 AM
  
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