The End of Manny?

1217514583When Manny Ramirez held up that sign, the one that said he would get traded for Brett Favre, you thought what? Bemusement? Anger? Nothing? When Manny told ESPN Deportes, “The Red Sox don’t deserve me,” how did that strike you?

We’re beyond the point of being angry, and a good number of people who excused his behavior are also past the point of laughing it off. So, we are left with nothing. Well, possibly Jason Bay and John Grabow from the Pirates, according to the media reports this morning, but in the case of Manny Ramirez and the Red Sox there is now emptiness.

It didn’t have to be like this, of course. Manny owned this town. Not like his partner in the middle of the order, David Ortiz, who is beloved, but Manny had a hold of the city’s imagination like no other athlete in recent memory. And now that’s gone.

Manny isn’t going quietly, if he’s even going at all. His comments to ESPN Deportes may strike some as petty and ridiculous, but he conveyed a sentiment that has been around the Red Sox for decades, and not just the current ownership group.

It wasn’t enough that Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn got big money elsewhere, they had to be “vilified” first. Manny brought up Nomar and Pedro, and he could have brought up Derek Lowe too if he wanted. Whatever you think of Manny right now, his comments yesterday were not pulled out of thin air.

(By the way, NESN didn’t do itself any favors in that regard, by running the truncated Manny comments on its crawl last night. There was no context, only that Manny says that the Red Sox don’t deserve me, and that the team is trying to turn fans against him.)

From a baseball sense, if the Sox can get an accomplished hitter like Bay and a useful reliever in Grabow for the price of paying Manny to play in Florida, it’s a no-brainer. If there are prospects involved, the question gets trickier. But this isn’t about baseball anymore, and that’s a problem. The 2008 Red Sox are looking an awful lot like the 2006 Sox, and we all know how that ended. Will Manny shut it down if he isn’t traded? Will he tear the team apart?

Short answer: Probably not. As an organization, the Red Sox are too strong to be torn asunder by one player, even Manny. But if he goes in the tank, and the Sox follow, the Pats exhibition schedule could start to look a lot more exciting.

In the end, and that end still might not come at 4 p.m. today when baseball has its waiver-free trade deadline, the Red Sox will be a much different team. Not just on the field, but off it as well. Of all the out-sized personalities that have come through the Sox clubhouse in the last decade, from Nomar to Pedro, and from Papi to Papelbon, none are bigger than Manny.

Some day you’d like to think that Manny will look back and say that he had it pretty good here. The owners and the front office, who got to bathe in the glory that came with winning two world championships sure did. The players and the manger too.

Most of all, we had it good. We got to watch this quirky and beguiling character do things none of us have ever seen before, and probably won’t ever see again. Some day maybe everyone will appreciate all of that, but right now it just feels empty.

Image of Manny SI cover from SI Vault

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