While much of the country is glued to their computer screens and TV sets watching the Michael Jackson memorial in what already seems to be an endless mourning (cashing in) period, here is the irrespressible Charles Pierce on the return of Manny Ramirez:
I thought the hype ladled onto Manny’s return was excessive, even by ESPN’s elephantine standards for excess. (I mean, honestly, breaking into ESPNews for every minor league at-bat? What if there had been a sudden fantasy-baseball emergency somewhere?) That’s Bonds treatment. Or A-Rod. I always thought Manny Ramirez was a notch below them as a subject for hyperpituitary voyeurism. However, it was of a piece with Manny’s greatest gift as a professional athlete—his innate ability to make everything about baseball that is self-reverentially loathsome look ridiculous. In the great, hushed temple that baseball is perennially building for itself in its own mind, it’s Manny’s who provides the dribble glasses, the whoopee cushions, and the exploding cigars. It is his holy mission to take the living piss out of the self-important, the moralistic, and the people who cling to baseball in order to defend their inherent right to be 13 years old for the rest of their lives.
…At his best—not as a hitter but as a public person—Manny Ramirez always has been most valuable in his ability to be a walking (if an occasionally completely unwitting) satire on baseball’s pretensions, which sorely need to be mocked on a very regular basis. He worked to fashion himself into one of the most feared hitters in the game. By any reasonable standard, he has “respected his talent” a hell of a lot more than did, say, Mickey Mantle, who left too many of his best days on a barstool in Manhattan. Without ever being completely aware of it, he spoofed the whole notion of baseball “professionalism,” which should have been left a bleached pile of bones by the side of the road back in 1970, when Jim Bouton published Ball Four. He was more than a flake. Flakes—like Bill Lee or Moe Drabowsky—generally are aware that they’re flakes. They glory in it. Manny is something sui generis—as natural and instinctive an eccentric as he is a hitter.