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.
Six years ago if you’d told me Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon would, in 2011, both sign relatively inexpensive one-year contracts with the Tampa Rays, it would have been jarring. Really, it’s still a bit jarring. Time and change come to us all, yet it’s odd to think how quickly yesterday’s superstars become today’s late-offseason bargains: Manny Ramirez made $20,000,000 last year, and last week he signed for $2,000,000. He didn’t get old overnight, but he started getting paid like an old player overnight. He is still only 38.
The real winners of this move are the few, the proud, the Tampa beat writers and columnists, whose clubhouse just got about 12 times more interesting: Damon is outgoing and easy to talk to and always sticks around to offer goofy quotes, and for a player who rarely talks to the media, Manny manages to provide plenty of material. Not that either new acquisition is destined to be useless, by any means. Damon had quite a lousy 2010, by his standards, but still produced more than the average left fielder, and is a clever enough hitter that he’ll be finding his hits here and there even after his bat speed and power deteriorate further; Manny fell off too, but I wouldn’t want to see him up against my team in the late innings with the game on the line, and I doubt too many pitchers would either. With that said, Damon was, even four or five years ago, not the best fielder- I remember bleacher fans at the Stadium joking about his “perfect 20-hoppers to first” – and hasn’t gotten better with wear and tear, which means right-handed visiting hitters may find their BABIP getting a nice boost in Tampa next year. Manny, of course, will probably not be seen in the outfield unless he jogs out there to urinate between innings.
It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Damon is getting paid more than twice as much as his brother-in-hair, even though he’s nowhere near twice as good a player as Ramirez, and just one year younger; I can only assume that Manny’s positive steroid test played a role, and perhaps the lingering ill-feeling after his acrimonious breakup with Boston (where he was more or less accused, at various times, of faking or exaggerating an injury, missing spring training to make promotional appearances, and shoving an elderly traveling secretary to the ground). When I mentioned these signings to a friend, her first thought was that Tampa might be looking for veteran leadership on their young team, and she wondered if it was really a good idea to have Manny try and full that role. But I don’t think any team’s management would view Man-Ram as that kind of figure, although you could do a lot worse that having young players watch the way he hits. I think he’s there for his pop, as well as his talents as a box-office draw and attention grabber. I have a hard time imagining that he won’t give the Rays their $two million’s worth.
For more analysis check out Jay Jaffe over at Pinstriped Bible, talking about how the additions of Damon and Ramirez give the Rays flexibility. I know it’s way too early to surmise anything, but on this frigid winter day I’m not loving the Yankees’ odds against Tampa or Boston.
And speaking of old friends… Bill Clinton had dinner in Miami last week with Alex Rodriguez and Cameron Diaz. While none of those people are on my “If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be?” list, I have to admit that, like the nymag.com headline, I’m curious about what they might have talked about. Other than “so, being incredibly rich: pretty cool, eh?”
Well, sometimes you make a plan and while it might not be popular, you stick by the plan, you lay low, and then…you blow it all up. The Angels have been criticized this winter for not doing enough, but last night they went out and traded for Vernon Wells. Not just that, they are picking up the rest of his seemingly unmovable contract. MLB Trade Rumors collects some reactions to the deal; Hardball Talk has more.
What was it P.T. Barnum was supposed to have said?
Closer to home, old pals Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez have agreed to join the Rays. At least it’ll be fun to see them around more often this season.
Manny Ramirez is in Boston this weekend as a member of the visiting Chicago White Sox. Here is a clip from a chat he had with reporters, via NESN:
The Dodgers’ Blues have Jay Jaffe seeing red. While Manny Ramirez has been getting killed for his final days, in particular his last at-bat, which was classic Manny, Jay takes aim at Joe Torre:
Torre hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory elsewhere this season. He’s made a hash of the bullpen at times, failing to get closer Jonathan Broxton save opportunities early in the year, then overusing him in non-save situations. Worse, he quickly burned out his top setup men, a tale that will be all too familiar to Yankee fans. Righty Ramon Troncoso and lefty George Sherrill made a combined 28 appearances in April and another 25 in May, a pace that comes out to 168 combined appearances over the course of the season; not coincidentally, that not-so-dynamic duo has combined for an 8.06 Fair Run Average while each facing demotions to the minors. To be fair, the Dodger bullpen ranks third in the league by BP’s advanced metrics, but those quality arms may be in Proctorville by the time the season is all said and done.
Worse, the young, homegrown players on whom so much of the Dodgers’ present and future depends have regressed on Torre’s watch. Catcher Russell Martin, first baseman James Loney and center field Matt Kemp have played mediocre ball for most of the season. The production of Martin, who once looked to be the Dodgers’ answer to Derek Jeter — a face-of-the-franchise leader — declined for the third straight season before it ended abruptly due to a hip injury earlier this month. Torre’s overuse — starting him behind the plate 271 games in 2008-2009, the third highest total in the majors, and using him in 298 overall, the highest — can’t help but be implicated in that decline; as a former catcher himself, he should have known better, particularly as Martin’s production flagged. After earning All-Star honors last year, the still-raw Kemp has at times suffered from braindead play at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths. After some heavy-handed benching by Torre which was accompanied by unsubtle comments from henchman Larry Bowa, Kemp appears to want to talk his way out of town if he can’t play his way out.
Finally, there’s Torre’s handling of Ramirez, who at .311/.405/.510 still rates among the game’s top hitters; his .328 True Average would rank third in the league given enough plate appearances to qualify. Around his injuries, he started just 54 games out of the 72 games for which he was active, meaning that Torre didn’t start him a whopping 25 percent of the time — about double what you might expect for an aging player of his caliber. The Dodgers went 32-22 in his starts, scoring 5.3 runs per game, and 35-42 in games he didn’t start, averaging 3.7 runs. Four of those non-starts came in the days immediately after Ramirez hit the waiver wire, three of them against the Rockies, the team directly above them in the NL West standings.
And for an even more lively take-down, head on over to Futility Infielder.
[Photo Credit: Zimbio]
According to the LA Times, Manny Ramirez will be suspended 50 games today by Major League Baseball for a positive PED test.
Ramirez is expected to attribute the test results to medication received from a doctor for a personal medical issue, according to a source familiar with matter but not authorized to speak publicly.
The Dodgers informed triple-A outfielder Xavier Paul this morning that he was being promoted to Los Angeles.
With the suspension taking effect with tonight’s game against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium, Ramirez will not be eligible to return to the team until July 3.
Update: Will Carroll has more details:
Two sources confirm for me that Ramirez did not test positive for an anabolic steroid. What the substance was remains unclear. The press release from MLB indicates that it was not a “drug of abuse” or a “stimulant,” the other two classes of banned substances. Ramirez’s positive test came during Spring Training, which follows his story that he received the substance from a doctor this January.
2nd Update: from Yahoo! Sports:
A source close to Manny Ramirez said Thursday that the illegal substance for which the Los Angeles Dodgers slugger tested positive was not “an agent customarily used for performance enhancing.”
At least not on the baseball diamond. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the substance is supposed to boost sex drive. It is not Viagra, but a substance that treats the cause rather providing a temporary boost in sexual performance, the source said.
“The substance is not a steroid and it is not human-growth hormone,” the source said.
Ramirez, the source said, acquired the substance through a prescription from a doctor in Miami for his medical condition. The source intimated that Ramirez might bring legal action against the physician.
Drugs or hormones that increase testosterone production often show up on banned lists.
“Testosterone and similar drugs are effective for erectile dysfunction in that they jazz up your sex drive,” said Charles Yesalis, a professor at Penn State who has testified before Congress on issues of performance-enhancing drugs. “But far more clinicians accept that affect with Viagra and Cialis. It’s hard for me to understand if it was erectile dysfunction why they would use [something else].”
I’m in the process of putting the final proof-reading touches on The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan. (The book will be released next spring.) I am the editor of the project, which, in many ways, has been like making a literary mix tape. Jordan has long been one of my favorite writers, so it has been an utter joy to read through well over one hundred of his magazine pieces from the past 40 some oddd years and select 25 cherce cuts for this collection.
I’ll have more to say about Pat and the book as the release date approaches. In the meantime, you can check out a bunch of Pat’s New York Times work, which has recently been made available via the Times on-line archive (the only piece that is there that is also in the forthcoming book is the Roger Clemens story).
Here is an excerpt from a piece Pat wrote about clubhouse harmony in spring training, 1989, when both the Mets and Yankees were dealing with “chemistry” issues. I thought you guys would get a kick out of it:
Reporters, however, take the…disturbances seriously. They wonder, in print and on television, if dissension is ripping apart what they perceive as the delicately stitched fabric of clubhouse harmony each team must weave if it is to be successful? They see it all so clearly from their perspective, as men and women who have never been part of such clubhouses. They have always imparted to clubhouse harmony a certain romance of brotherhood they would only laugh at if someone tried to impart it, say, to the boardroom of I.B.M. They see relationships among players in a baseball clubhouse as merely an extension of the child-play relationships they remember from their youth.
In a way, this is condescending to the players, implying as it does a childishness on their part, which, as grown men, they don’t have. What reporters see, then, exists only in their mind’s eye. Which is why the players laugh. They know that clubhouse harmony or the lack of it hasn’t much to do with a team’s success on the field. Players know that good-natured camaraderie in the clubhouse, shared intimacies over a locker, plans to get together with families for a cookout on a day off, all have nothing to do with a team’s success.
…Like most men in business, baseball players compartmentalize their jobs. What goes on across the white lines is infinitely more important than what goes on behind them. A close friend who consistently strikes out with the bases loaded isn’t as much use to a ballplayer as a despised teammate who consistently strokes game-winning hits. The respect a player feels for a teammate’s personal life has nothing to do with the respect he feels for a teammate’s baseball talent. Babe Ruth, Pete Rose and Wade Boggs are three of the greatest hitters ever in the game, and yet not many teammates might envy their personal lives. Yet to a man, every player in the game would want one of those three at the plate if a World Series championship was on the line.
Check it out. There is even a “Rickey being Rickey” line about Henderson, the original Manny.
“Man, I’m just happy to do something special like that. I’m not trying to show up anybody out there. I’m just trying to go have fun. If somebody strike me out and show me up, that’s part of the game, I love it. I like that. I like to compete, and when people strike me out and show me up, it’s all good. It’s not a hard feeling. I ain’t trying to go out there and show anybody up.”
Reggie Jackson spoke to a group of reporters in the Yankee dugout last week before Game 4 of the ALDS. Initially, he talked about Alex Rodriguez, but soon, he was talking about himself. He recalled how he used his large ego to help him succeed in the playoffs. He talked about how tough Fausto Carmona’s sinker was against the Yankees in Game 2, and then about how daunting it was facing Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and John Matlack in the 1973 World Series.
Eventually, someone brought up Manny Ramirez, and Jackson smiled. “Did you see that?” said Jackson referring to Ramirez’s game-winning home run in Game 2 of the Red Sox series against the Angels. Jackson mimicked Manny’s celebration at home plate and cracked everybody up.
Clearly, Reggie admires Manny. He likes the chutzpah, he likes Manny’s flakiness. (“How can you be offended by Manny?” he suggested.) Mostly, he likes the fact that nothing fazes Manny and that Manny hits bombs. How much better can it get?
Ramirez, who has been ridiculously locked-in at the plate this October, pulled his usual home run schtick the other night even though the Red Sox were losing 7-3. Mike Lowell wasn’t sold on the routine, but most of the Indians didn’t seem to mind. Nobody really cares because it’s just part of Ramirez’s make-up, because showboating is an accepted part of the game, and because, like Reggie, most players simply admire Ramiez’s talent.
Yesterday, Manny told reporters:
“We’re not going to give up,” he said. “We’re just going to go, play the game and move on. If it doesn’t happen, so who cares? It’s always next year. It’s not like the end of the world.”
Now, how do you bother somebody with that kind of attitude? Perhaps you can’t.