Oh Manny

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor and used with permission.

I don’t even know where to begin.

Ever since he joined the Red Sox in 2001, I defended him.  From the moment he hit that first home run as a Red Sox player, on his first Opening Day at Fenway (something I witnessed in person with my father) until the day it was reported that he pushed traveling secretary Jack McCormick.

On May 31st, 2008, Manny Ramirez had his last shining moment with the Red Sox when he hit his 500th career home run against the Orioles in Baltimore.  I was at the game and it was magic.  We cried and screamed and hugged and high-fived all around.  But June 2008 was unkind to Manny fans with his fight in the dugout with Kevin Youkilis and then his altercation with Jack McCormick.  He followed up June with that infamous at-bat in July at Yankee Stadium against Mariano Rivera. Those of us who revered Manny tried to ignore all the signs that he wasn’t happy and wanted to leave the team, but it was difficult to ignore the Dodger blue writing on the wall.   When he was traded at the deadline I was sad but not surprised and only hopeful that Jason Bay would be accepted by the fans.  For the time, Manny was dead to me.  And, I’ll openly admit, I wanted him to fail miserably in Los Angeles.

But time passed and I really didn’t give him much thought.  Enough to know how he was doing and to be disappointed that he got that first 50-game suspension but that was about it.  There’s no way I could ever forget all the wonderful moments he had in Boston so I chose to put him out of my mind and only reflect on him to visit the good times.  And, regardless of what has gone on, there is no arguing that he brought us a lot of good times.

I was ready for Manny to leave Boston but I wasn’t ready for him to leave baseball.  I didn’t realize this until last Friday when my cell phone started blowing up with text messages and voice mails while I was at Fenway asking me if I had heard what happened.   A quick glance at Twitter (man I love smart phones) and the news was in front of us:  Manny was retiring because he failed a drug test and took retirement instead of the 100 game suspension MLB was going to hand down.

Quite the way to celebrate Opening Day, huh?

My feelings on PEDs are all over the place.  I look at a player who might have skills good enough to get his foot in the door but not sustain him who isn’t a superstar and won’t ever make hundreds of millions of dollars and I feel an empathy for his trying to compete with the rest of the league.  Doesn’t mean I excuse it but I sure do understand it.  But Manny wasn’t that guy.

I have no idea what Manny’s deal is.  Was he always on PEDs?  Did he start after getting a monster contract in Boston?  Did he start after he left Boston and was afraid his paychecks would be dwindling? I don’t think it matters when, but I just can’t wrap my brain around it at all.  And I have two distinct feelings about it that not only contradict each other but possibly everything I’ve every written about steroids or HGH…the first is that I was absolutely heartbroken and mad and after feeling like someone punched me in the gut when I heard the news, I mentally said goodbye to him.  How do you support someone, if nothing else, STUPID enough to not only use banned substances but to continue using them after getting publicly humiliated by a 50-game suspension?  I wanted to find Manny and kick him repeatedly for doing this.

But after the game on Friday, when I had more time to think about it, the other feeling hit me…I remembered how I felt after Manny hit his 500th home run.  I remembered being in Fenway Park for Game 2 of the ALDS in 2007 when he hit that walk-off home run that had almost forty thousand people raise their arms in unison to cheer him (and the ball) on.  I remembered how happy Don Orsillo’s call of “Manny’s back and he’s back big” made us all.  I remember being in Fenway and watching Manny be one of the four players to hit back t0 back t0 back t0 back home runs against the Yankees on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.  I remember always wanting to sit in the left field seats so I could witness “Manny being Manny” any time I went to Fenway…

I’ve always argued when the sports writers blame the fans for the “steroid era” by saying that were complicit because we were seeing the ball get smashed around and willfully ignored the obvious fact that the players were juiced.  I’ll still argue that to a degree.  I still believe the majority of your average baseball fans rarely took into consideration that their favorite player was doing something illegal to up his game, but I will say this in agreement:  Manny entertained the hell out of  me for many years and he brought happiness to this team and the fans (both on his own and with his teammates) like Red Sox fans hadn’t seen in maybe forever.  I discovered over these past few days that as disappointed as I am in what he chose to do with his body and his career, it doesn’t taint or fade those memories for me at all.

Manny will always be one of the 25.  He’ll also always been one of the most talented yet enigmatic players I’ve ever seen in my lifetime and I am happy that I had the opportunity to watch him in his best years here in Boston.  So, yes, I’m sad and a little mad that his career is ending the way that it is…and by his own hand, make no mistake, but I’m also a bit wistful about the whole thing and I suspect with time the sadness and madness will fade and soon I’ll be able to fully appreciate him again.

I hope so.  I don’t like being mad at Manny.

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