"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Manny Being A Can Of Worms

An interesting and occasionally somewhat heated conversation broke out a few days ago on the post about Manny Ramirez retiring. Partly it was a debate as to whether Manny’s (non-debatable) hitting skills outweighed his sometimes lousy behavior on and/or off the field, and partly it was about whether Manny’s race had played a role in the way people viewed both his game and his personality. And although I hesitate to open that can of worms back up, it’s an interesting issue and certainly, I think, worth thinking about.

As if race weren’t complicated enough to discuss, the conversation is especially twisty here, since:

-At least some of Manny’s critics (in the media and in the stands – I’m not referring to anyone on this site) seemed to be influenced by his race, or at the very least wrote and talked about him, intentionally or not, with somewhat racially-charged language;

-And yet: there are COMPLETELY legitimate reasons to dislike aspects of Manny Ramirez’s game and public persona, which have nothing to do with his race.

-Then, too, sometimes race can color our view of things without us even realizing that it’s happening.

I feel confident that very few people have ever thought to themselves, “I really dislike that Manny Ramirez fellow because he’s Dominican.” That’s not really the question here. I’m referring more to things like, the narrative among some fans and media that portrays Manny as a naturally gifted hitter, almost a savant, who didn’t work hard at his craft or hone it, out of laziness or indifference, but was simply physically gifted in this one respect. Is that true? I don’t really know, but I will say that many of Ramirez’s teammates have repeatedly told reporters that the guy actually works very hard at hitting, and is, in that regard, quite disciplined.

Besides that, the view of non-white athletes as unintelligent savants is very old and not a little harmful. And yet! He didn’t look to me like a guy who worked hard on his fielding; and he made plays that a person who was paying attention to the game would just not make. Is that accurate? Or is my view of his being subconsciously influenced by that older and uglier narrative? Honestly, I don’t know, but I do think it’s worth asking the question.

That’s what I mean when I say it’s complicated. Note that just because some of Ramirez’s critics may have been influenced on some level by his race, that doesn’t mean that a whole grab-bag of  criticisms of Ramirez have no validity. Like I said, there are many reasons to dislike the guy – the steroids, the unreliability, the being on the Red Sox. The leading one, from my point of view, is that he apparently shoved an elderly man to the ground in a debate about reserved tickets. I don’t really see how that happens without him being a dick.

That said, I think it gets trickier with the criticism of his playing style. If I describe Ramirez’s fielding as lackadaisical — which I’m pretty sure I have, probably on this very blog–well, I just want to be sure that I know where that’s coming from.  No one sane can argue that he wasn’t a great hitter, and I think most of us will agree that the man’s not much of a fielder; the statistics, beautiful numbers that they are, will back us up on both counts. The reasons we assign for that, though, are murkier.

Something worth keeping an eye on, whatever conclusions you ultimately draw.

Categories:  Baseball  Emma Span  Games We Play

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1 Jon DeRosa   ~  Apr 11, 2011 10:43 am

Most of us make comments and evaluations based on a very limited set of information. A BB-Ref page, the games we watch, a few profiles we read. Unconsciously, we fill in the missing information to form our opinions, and the sources we draw from are obscure, incomplete and possibly dangerous.

But we don't realize it and the opinion gets formed, even in the mind consciously scrubbed of prejudice.

Cano has made some plays for which I don't have a clear, direct understanding of his motive or intent. I have a sense that he's not always paying attention. I'm reading body language, facial expressions, comparing to other players, with no real level of expertise for any of those things. Just the experience I had playing the game and then trying to compute how he could come up what he just did, and filling in so much of what I don't know with unconscious stuff.

I don't think that means we should stop questioning motive or guessing about a player's inner being, but it should be well understood by the writers and the readers that it's mostly bad guessing.

2 Matt Blankman   ~  Apr 11, 2011 10:57 am

I generally root for the miscreants, especially if I think the media is subconsciously dogging them due to their race. However, I think Manny is a jack-ass - a childish narcissist.

3 RIYank   ~  Apr 11, 2011 11:14 am

[2] Self-absorbed. Not exactly a narcissist.

4 rbj   ~  Apr 11, 2011 11:20 am

I think Manny worked on his hitting to the detriment of his fielding. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, if you allow an extra base, but make up for it with a 2 run homer, it's ok.

And some of the Mannyism is ok, even funny, such as going into the Green Monster. A baseball game is a performance, Manny could be entertaining. But shoving an old guy down is being a jerk, and basically accepting a strikeout from Mo because you're mad you have to pinch hit on your day off is disrespectful of your manager, team and baseball.

So Manny's complicated. Do one or two bad incidents make him ineligible for the HoF? I'm sure there's more than one domestic abuser in there already. I'm not going to make steroid use by itself, in an unregulated era a necessary bar. So being on the 2003 list by itself I won't make a litmus test. But there's that, plus the 50 game suspension plus the new positive test plus some ugly behavior. It does mount up. Still not sure if it's enough to outweigh his talent and hard work and results.

5 Matt Blankman   ~  Apr 11, 2011 11:24 am

Don't misunderstand me - he might be a jerk, but he's the greatest right-handed hitter I've ever seen, and possibly the best ever. I have nothing but respect for his hitting. The rest of the game never seemed to matter much to him, but then again, when you can hit like he could, who cares?

6 Dimelo   ~  Apr 11, 2011 12:02 pm

In five years people will be united in working to get Manny into the HoF. As far as I'm concerned, he belongs there. This isn't a HoF for people that are suppose to be great human beings, too.

7 BobbyB   ~  Apr 11, 2011 12:38 pm

Its sad. I personally liked Manny over the years, found him generally harmless. You feared Manny when he was at the plate and you rolled your eyes at some of his antics. He was colorful (not a racial comment). He could have been a Hall of Famer but I think the last three things, the inexcusable pushing down of the elderly Redsox equipment employee and the equally inexcusable two Steroid incidents will surely keep him out.
I personally think that Steroid issues prior to the MLB and Player Association plan shouldn't have sway in deciding if a player should be in the HOF. I mean, Cal RIpken played during the steroid era and you don't hear people questioning his place in the hall, and surely his close friendship with Brady Anderson (known user) might make someone suspect?

8 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Apr 11, 2011 1:26 pm

Nothing to add other than to say you've addressed the issue cogently, wisely, and with nuance.
The question of the influence of race/racism on the evaluation and narratives of players is a legitimate one.

As with most discussions of race, my experience is that framing the issue in simplistic or binary terms (i.e., race either *is* or *is not* a factor) is always unproductive and facile. Your point is apt, no one (or a negligible few) actually "don't like Manny because he is Dominican." That's nearly always a straw man.

Shades of grey, people, not binaries. (I know, I know, that's a binary. Whatever.)

9 Crazy8Rick   ~  Apr 11, 2011 2:40 pm

I'll always remember Manny as a great player and a fierce competitor who let his funny loving, free spirit lead him in a direction that diminished his accomplishments. I hated to see him at the plate as a Red Sox when he played the Yankees, yet always had to tip my hat at his immense baseball skills. It was a shame to see him in the latter years of his career become oafish, boring, and clownish. Talent like that deserved much better.

10 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 11, 2011 2:45 pm

I'm so happy that my current favorite player in Major League Baseball, Robinson Cano, is Dominican, so I'm unencumbered by guilt, or questions of prejudice when it comes to assessing this schmuck.

If douche points were dollars Manny would be a billionaire. Sorry, but that's the only legitimate narrative here.

Okay, there are other legitimate storylines. He was a tremendous talent whose abilities were sometimes overshadowed by his arrogant behavior, which, unfortunately, was not only inflicted upon himself.

I maintain his race and nationality have ZERO to do with what MOST SANE AND REASONABLE people think and say about him. I'm sorry, but Dominicans are beloved in this game by fans of every race, and nationality. (unlike Dominican-American centaurs like Alex Rodriguez who are still persecuted, unfortunately)

Racial or bigoted hatred of Manny is so illegitimate, and I would say, such a small part of the equation that it's not worth legitimizing with serious consideration. There will always be bigoted assholes.

Thing is, I've yet to see a solid example of it brought forth.
Several Banterers have stated emphatically that he's been victimized, or persecuted by the Boston sports media based on his race, but none of provided any specific examples. Not that I doubt them, mind you, but in my years of watching and discussing, and reading about Manny I've never come across a statement that struck me as racial bias, or some sort of slur against the Dominican Republic.

Manny's douchiness transcends questions of race or bigotry in my opinion.

11 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 11, 2011 2:58 pm

oh, and yes, I would absolutely vote him into the Hall of Fame first ballot.

12 joejoejoe   ~  Apr 11, 2011 3:41 pm

Ortiz/Ramirez was the closest thing I'll ever see to Ruth/Gehrig. Manny could straight rake. .312/.411/.585 is a career year for almost everyone. For Manny it was his career average. I only regret him not being a Yankee. He would have loved to play in NY and we would have loved him back. He's part Reggie, part Bugs Bunny. What's not to love?

13 Shaun P.   ~  Apr 11, 2011 4:22 pm

[10] Media, Sliced, is of course not just print - but radio as well. I don't think WEEI or any of the other Boston-area sports stations kept transcripts during Manny's time in Boston - but maybe they did! Of course, in my own experience, most SANE AND REASONABLE people don't listen to Boston talk radio. ;)

On the relationship of race with Boston sports media in general, I recommend any of Howard Bryant's fine writing on the subject.

[0] I think you've capture the subject just right, Emma. Its a lot of questions, and just asking them gets one thinking. That's a very good thing.

14 Raf   ~  Apr 11, 2011 4:23 pm

[12] With Washington Heights a short ride away from Yankee Stadium, he would've been huge. Would've been interesting to see how he would've fit in the Yankee clubhouse at the time. I don't think he would've pulled the nonsense he pulled in Boston. Probably would've been a continuation of his days in Cleveland, where he was a space cadet, but not nearly as bad as he got in Boston.

15 Bruce Markusen   ~  Apr 11, 2011 7:20 pm

I consider myself Latino, or at half-Latino, because my mother was born in Puerto Rico. (Her maiden name was Rodriguez..) As someone with some Latino heritage, I have found very little of the Ramirez criticism to be racially or ethnically tinged.

Frankly, Ramirez has done some stupid things, and at times, he has played the game lazily, both on the bases and in the outfield. He also did his best to alienate some of his teammates with the Red Sox while treating the traveling secretary (I believe it was) like a piece of trash. Are we supposed to give Ramirez a free pass because he's Latino? I don't think that would be fair or just to do so.

There have been plenty of white guys who have wasted talent, too. I can think of Joe Pepitone and Kevin McReynolds and Dave Kingman right off without putting too much thought into it, too. Given more time, I could come up with a long list of white guys who played lazy and underachieved.

If you act like a knucklehead at times, you have to expect to get criticized for it.

16 joejoejoe   ~  Apr 11, 2011 8:13 pm

[15] It's hard to say Manny Ramirez wasted his talent. He has the same total WAR for his career in a similar number of PAs as Tony Gwynn or Carlton Fisk, two guys known for the way they played the game.

17 FlyGirlFan   ~  Apr 11, 2011 9:24 pm

I don't care who you are. There is no "i" in baseball. To me, Manny represented a very large "I" in terms of the game. He quit on the RedSox and let down his team in order to get a trade to the Dodgers (or any other team that was interested). While talented and a huge part of the game he was one of a team. He couldn't have done it single-handled. I don't want him to be voted into the HOF for that reason. He simply was in it for himself. You can't do it by yourself. Baseball is a team sport - I have to believe in that simple principle. Unfortunately I have no vote on who gets into the HOF. Oh well.

18 Raf   ~  Apr 12, 2011 10:20 am

[17] Baseball is the most individual of team sports. Especially on offense.

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