Manny and Favre Learn About Life

1190753159Over this past lovely summer weekend, the sports headlines were dominated by two superstar athletes who are, as the papers like to say, disgruntled. One, Manny Ramirez, wants out. The other, Brett Favre, wants back in.

The treatment each is receiving seems a little different, no? Understand, this isn’t a defense of Manny. The “poor Manny is getting killed by the evil media” thing has gotten as tired as the left fielder’s act itself. Ramirez should be getting ripped for his inexplicable, and poorly-timed, outburst. But what the press has missed in both Manny and Favre’s narrative acts is this comes down to what it always comes down to in professional sports: control.Neither one has it and both are acting out as a way to get it back.

Manny, we know about. From the day he locked into his eight year, $160 million contract, he has had all the power. The heft of the contract made him virtually untradeable, leaving the Red Sox little recourse if the slugger misbehaved. After the 2003 season the team tried to gain some measure of control back by putting him on waivers. When no one bit, they had a slight upper hand. See? No one wants you. But that didn’t stop Manny from asking out in 2004 and 2005 and, whether he was faking it or not, pulling himself out of the lineup while the Sox went down the tubes in 2006.

Now, the Red Sox have control and Manny doesn’t like it. The team has the option of picking up his $20 million contract at the end of this year, and next year too. That means Manny could potentially have to play the final year of his contract three times—for any ballplayer, let alone one of the best of his generation, going year to year like that is hardly ideal. Manny’s only recourse—his only way out—is to act like a petulant child not getting his way.

Favre too has held all the power with the Packers. The will he retire or won’t he headlines have so dominated the latter parts of Favre’s career that it almost makes you forget about the three MVP’s and the Super Bowls. The Packers waited and waited on Favre until he finally conceded and announced his retirement. They indulged him the last few years. Enabled him, one might say.

Football is a different beast than baseball, of course, since contracts are a one-way street. Not performing? See you later. It happens every year. Players learn early that they have to maximize their earning power every chance they get, hence holdouts. (Interestingly, Favre castigated one-time teammate Javon Walker for holding out a few years back. Self-interest is a funny thing).

Favre, however, was one of the few who could actually call his own shots, and he did, every single year until the Packers finally said, “enough. We’re moving on.” Favre is said to be stunned by these developments. What’s really stunning is that after all his years in the NFL he doesn’t understand the game. Not the one on the field, but the one off it.

He was apparently so oblivious to the realities of NFL life that he actually thought he could go to Green Bay’s division rival in Minnesota, and that the Packers would let him. That’s stunning. He admitted to talking to the coach of the Vikings, but denied it was tampering. Of course, it’s the very definition of tampering.

Professional sports are always about power. Some use it discreetly to get what they want (see: Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics), others whisper to their favorite columnists and drop words like “beg,” as in, “The Packers begged me not to come to camp.”

In their own ways, Manny Ramirez and Brett Favre are now realizing that they have lost their juice, and neither one likes it very much. I have no idea what will happen with either, and neither does anyone else. An educated guess says that Manny will probably finish the season and then finally be free to sign with the Mets. Favre, will likely allow the Packers to work out a trade with either Tampa Bay or the Jets and go on his merry way.

Once they exit their current situations, neither one will ever have the level of power they once enjoyed. They will probably remember those days fondly.