Friday, May 08, 2009

Does Manny Ramirez Emit Light In The Large Shadow Of Barry Bonds?

It has always been easy for Dodger fans to thumb their noses at Giant fans. When I was growing up, in particular, there was an abundance of easy targets to mock about the second-tier baseball franchise up north.

There was Candlestick Park, where a summer day could be spent shivering in arctic winds, watching one's full soda get swept down the aisle by a pocket tornado in that multi-purpose disaster of a stadium.

There were the garish orange and black colors, highlighting a 1980's-era all-caps GIANTS uniform logo, looking like an outfit that only deserves public viewings on October 31 amidst ghouls and goblins trick or treating.

There was the fact that the San Francisco Giants have never won a World Series, while the Dodgers have had five World Series titles since moving west to Los Angeles.

And then, in glorious 3D Technicolor right in front of our eyes, there was Barry Bonds. Bonds, a man of truly superhuman talent, was the cornerstone of the San Francisco Giants organization from 1993 to 2007. It was challenging for any reasonable baseball fan to deny that Bonds' offensive powers were godlike, with his laserlike intense focus and lightning quick bat speed and ridiculously smooth power swing. Add in the fact that at one point, he was a decent outfielder and a decent threat on the basepaths, and Bonds was quite a formidable foe, worthy of our derision and hatred. When the centerpiece Dodger, Mike Piazza, was unceremoniously traded in 1998, the Dodgers were left with a squad of largely unremarkable talent through the early 2000s, struggling for identity and for a marquee player who had the wattage of Bonds. Ironically, San Francisco's team had star power, while the team with proximity to Hollywood had nothing in that atmospheric level.

But like some Faustian deal, Bonds came with warts--no, huge, festering, open sores--that were incredibly easy for any fan, let alone a Dodger fan, to assail. Bonds' corrosive nature and elitist attitudes around his teammates made him unloved within the clubhouse, and his self-righteous arrogance won him no fans with the media. It was always clear that Bonds was about himself, not his team. And it's easy to rag on the know-it-all who has no friends and makes no bones about it.

Especially when said know-it-all was clearly, almost undeniably, bending the rules to gain advantage. Bonds' body parts swelled to inhuman proportions, while anyone could see his basic agility decline at a rapid, inversely proportionate rate. Rumors of steroids swirled around Bonds as his continued home run trajectory belied what the decay of age should have caused to atrophy. And as unsavory BALCO representatives began to grab headlines, Bonds' hiding behind ignorance of "the cream and the clear" was sad and pathetic. His years of failure to cultivate a media image or relationship of any sort resulted in mass carnage, as everyone--media, Dodger fans, baseball fans, casual observers--picked away at Bonds like vultures on carrion.

And Dodger fans revelled in their superior glory. Bonds' talent was undeniable, true, but he was almost certainly a cheat. A lowly, good for nothing, cheat. The public floggings and incessant booing that he received at Dodger Stadium were the proper karmic response to his arrogant demeanor and outright flaunting of fair rules of play. Boo, Barry. You're not a nice person. And you're a cheat. And you and your cartoonish skull and Popeye-like frame are a perfect example of why Dodger fans are superior to cheating Giant fans.

"A cheat is a cheat," we Dodger fans would reply. "And Bonds is a cheat."

What was always curious, in this debate, was how Giant fans would defend Bonds to no end. Sure, he was arrogant, they would admit. And abrasive, and divisive, and corrosive. And probably a cheat. But he was the only shot that Giants fans had whatsoever: at greatness, and a potential World Series title; at relevance, among a team of also-rans caused by Bonds' vacuum of a salary; at visibility, on a national stage where sports stories are dominated by east-coast biases. And so, Giants fans stuck by Bonds, to the bitter end, refusing to believe that their emperor had no clothes despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I remember having conversation after conversation with Giants fans who would acknowledge that steroids were bad, that Bonds' refusal to address the issue with the press exemplified his conceited self-righteousness, that the physical signs of steroid usage in Bonds were undeniable, that the game's rules and spirit had been violated. "But steroids only accentuate the god-given talent that Bonds already has," the Giants fans would argue, overlooking their ability to help muscles recuperate at otherworldly speeds and how they could amplify raw skills by orders of magnitude. "Bonds always had those skills in them, even when he was a scrawny toothpick with the Pirates--so you see, he isn't all bad," they would feebly argue.

"A cheat is a cheat," we Dodger fans would reply. "And Bonds is a cheat." And the fact that he was a jerk who got into clubhouse skirmishes with teammates, or would weakly serve up his kids as human shields while trying to play the victim card, only served to further emphasize our point. Bonds may be talented, but history would not smile upon him.

You want to build your franchise around Barry Bonds? Take him, Giants fans. Win a couple more games a season, possibly even beating us Dodgers in the process. Your rewards, if any, would be hollow and worthless. We Dodger fans would rise above.

To be fair, Dodger fans have had their brushes with steroid ignominy as well, but these were always fleeting glances, sideswipes that scratched the edges of our bumpers, not the multi-automobile, SIG alert inducing, traffic-stopping disastrous wreck that was Barry Bonds. Dodger catcher Paul Lo Duca was called the "heart and soul" of the Dodger squad when he was traded away, only to (basically) admit to steroid usage while watching his career atrophy with the woeful Washington Nationals. But we could write him off, since he admitted to his deception while he was with another squad (and, the Brad Penny trade worked out pretty well for us at first, to boot).

Eric Gagne? Same thing. Sure, his 84 consecutive saves was a streak of beauty that will probably never be broken. His breakdown at the end of his Dodger career couldn't have signalled any steroid usage, right? We can still cherish the memories of his incredible ninth-inning exploits, wonders so powerful that they kept Los Angeles fans in their seats until the bitter end, since pitchers never came under the same level of scrutiny about steroids anyway. Gagne hasn't been able to re-bottle the genie since then, with Boston or Milwaukee? Nah, it's not because Gagne might be coming off the juice. It's gotta just be a case of bad luck.

And then came Manny Ramirez, in the second half of 2008, singlehandedly lifting the Dodgers onto his shoulders and carrying the team into the National League playoffs like a deity. We couldn't find a reliable offensive threat in the lineup, our clubhouse was rife with factions and lacked leadership, and we were languishing amidst a division of weak teams that should have been left in the dust. But along came Manny, winner of two World Series rings in Boston, and the Dodgers' messiah was here. With the Los Angeles Dodgers. With the good guys.

Disparaging talk of Ramirez lollygagging through the end of his Boston reign were glossed over by Dodger fans, who cited inconclusive statistics (which don't show a drop-off in performance), as well as sour grapes. And how could you argue with someone so media-friendly, so likable, so wonderful for the team and the clubhouse and the community and the organization? Manny turned us around. And we did it without stooping to the Giants' level.

Can we give our unyielding support to a player who may be guilty of the same transgressions as a Giant who has incurred our wrath for almost two decades?

Once again, we were above it all. We were above Giants fans, both figuratively and literally (in the standings, just as we are now). Ramirez = good. Bonds = bad.

And then, came the news today, the news that we may not be above it at all. That Manny, innately talented with the bat--just like Bonds--might be tainted by steroids himself--just like Bonds. And we might not be able to hoist our flag from the higher ground after all.

Hmm.

Now, Manny Ramirez is a different case than Barry Bonds. Manny is incredibly likable, with an infectious personality and kid-like approach to the game that can't help but make one smile along with dreadlocked man with the ear-to-ear grin. Bonds was not a nice man, by any stretch. Manny is a team player, one who brought harmony to a divided clubhouse and gave a group of young and raw players the confidence that they could be solid contributors, even breakout performers. Bonds never took anyone under his wing, or even let them near his clubhouse recliner. Manny's statements Thursday demonstrated clear repentance and apology, to fans, teammates, and the Dodgers organization, while Bonds has apologized to no one for his behavior, years into his own media circus, hiding his grotesque physique behind shady colleagues who refuse to testify to the federal government.

And I should give credit--the Dodgers handled today's press conference with much more transparency and openness than I would have expected, from multiple people in the organization. The Giants have dodged the issue and hoped that Bonds, and their own prostituting of the home run record's chase, would just fade away.

But at heart, is Manny really that different? I suppose that's what all of us Dodger fans are wrestling with tonight. Can we give our unyielding support to a player who may be guilty of the same transgressions as a Giant who has incurred our wrath for almost two decades? Even if he is friendlier, and goofier, and possibly even a better person--is it all that different?

And that's the dilemma on which I sleep tonight. I'm not sure if this is a pill I have to swallow--again, the cases and individuals and facts may indeed be different, as we wait for information to trickle out--but if I do have to swallow this, it will indeed be bitter.

There aren't as many easy targets for Dodger fans to use to discredit and devalue Giant fans. AT&T/PacBell/SBC Park is indeed a huge upgrade over Candlestick. Orange and black garishness has been muted by a more stylistically palatable updated uniform and logo. And now, the foundation of their franchise may be just as corroded as our own franchise's marquee player.

At least we still have the five World Series titles, I suppose.

And we still have Manny Ramirez. The question is, Dodger fans, can we still defend him as our guy? Particularly when we need him so much?

29 comments:

John G said...

The big difference for me is that Barry was the face and corner stone of the Giants for almost as long as I remember. Manny, as amazing a hitter and fun to root for guy, is a hired bat. As much as this sucks for the team right now, I don't think it is a death blow for our season (or future) by any means, and it hurts way less than if Matt Kemp of C Bills would have been busted.

Julie Hibbard said...

Today, I understand why people stay with their cheating husband.

I will love, honor and cherish, root for, support--and defend--the Dodgers...
til death do we part.

Fred's Brim said...

Great piece, Saxy, although I don't know is any of this matters, unless Manny comes back and helps us win the World Series. If we turn into the 1911 Tigers and finish way back in the pack, people will blame Manny at the end of the season, Giants fans will have a laugh, but we will all move on to the 2010 season and start new (hopefully with Manny). But if we finish the job and win the World Series, this stink will linger over it. How bad would the funk be? Hard to say at this point, obviously. I guess it depends on how well we Dodger fans are able to forgive and allow ourselves to celebrate a World Series title. It will also depend on how we win it, if stars in the making like Dre and Matt and Bills are the ones who lead us there and we aren't reliant on Manny for production and attitude.

gregory.finley said...

Great post. I feel like I've entered a baseball version of a midlife crisis.

Hong Like a Chih Kuo said...

I don't think I'll be able to do it; give my support back to Manny Ramirez after he returns. I have tickets to the Giants series and I don't even want to go. Can the Dodgers void his contract and just cut this guy loose? My love of the Dodgers extends way past Manny or any free agent hire, so if his presence in the clubhouse is going to tarnish the image that I or anyone else has of this team then I don't want him. I don't care how much thunder he has in that bat, or his ability to produce runs and win ballgames.

He tricked is all. In what was probably the most bizarre, frustrating and anxious offseason in modern baseball history: Manny was front and center. He strung us all along folks, he pulled the wool over our eyes. I suppose that this is what happens when you put all your faith and hope into a person of questionable morals, even if he's so likeable.

Bonds was a dick, and now I can honestly give (I hate that I'm about to type this) credit to Boston fans who warned the Dodgers that this would end badly. Manny might shine in front of a camera, but that doesn't make him any better than Barry now. Barry cheated, and now we know that Manny cheated as well.

QuadSevens said...

Manny has taken responsibility which is much more that we can say for Bonds. Manny has the chance to come back and clear his name like many other players in MLB by staying clean and being a standup guy. Yes he cheated. But that doesn't mean we can't give him a second chance. I for one am going to stay a fan of Manny because I think he will be more man about this than Bonds was in the past, or A-Rod is in the present. And if for some reason Manny doesn't own up to this fully when he returns, I may have a change of heart.

Chappy said...

I have decided to embrace the ways of the Giant fan as it relates to Bonds and blindly support Manny. New avatar (inspired by QS's change) and I will be telling anyone who will listen that Manny has never tested positive for any steriod or HGH and that his erectile disfunction is no one's business.

Chappy said...

But I'm Chappy, so this could all change for me tomorrow.

Hong Like a Chih Kuo said...

Quads, that sounds like a classic case of Stockholm syndrome. I'm sorry, but Manny bent the Dodger fan base over, took McCourt's money, and soiled the Dodger name. How can anyone want to forgive this guy? I don't care if he hits .600 when he gets back, he ruined his reputation even further, and I was a Manny apologist to the bitter end defending him when he came here last year. I'd rather lose the division without him than win a world series that will forever go down in history as a title tainted with Manny's HCG residue. Not rejecting Manny's BS makes us just like Giants fans, and I won't ever let that happen to me.

QuadSevens said...

The way I look at it, Manny and Boras quite possibly could have known about this during the off season. If thats the case (which is likely) then they bent over the McCourts. The McCourts of course took advantage by selling plenty of Manny merch to all the fans. The fans now know the truth and have the opportunity to show how they feel by not supporting Manny in any way if that's what they choose. They can stop buying Mannywood seats, stop buying dreadlock wigs, stop buying Manny jerseys and shirts. But that doesn't change the fact that Manny is still a Los Angeles Dodger.

He is a part of a team. The team is going to play without him for a while and they will be just fine. When he comes back to the team, I will be very suprised to hear fans boo him during introductions. I will be even more suprised to hear fans boo him when he hits a HR. I seriously doubt these things will happen.

Now judging Manny on his moral character is completely different. He has cheated. There's is no hiding that. Should kids look up to him, probably not. Should everyone think about him a little differently? Yes. But if the Dodgers win the division or the World Series, it won't be only because of Manny. There probably isn't a team in baseball right now that could honestly say they are 100% clean from any PED use. So any championship that is won would be tainted.

The Dodgers have won one playoff series in 20 years. Manny helped us win that one series and he can help us get farther. I am going to cheer for my team to the bitter end. I won't defend Manny's wrongdoings, but I won't kick him out of my life because he made a mistake. I'm fine with him serving his punishment. I'll cheer for him when he gets back.

Gil Gamesh said...

The key differences between Bonds and Manny is the eras in which their transgressions occurred. Bonds cheated when there were no official repercussions for drug use. He could cheat at levels beyond anything Manny has been accused of, and completely get away with it. The only repercussions Bonds faced were baseball fans. We had to do what MLB refused to: punish Bonds. Considering his lengthy transgressions, our derisive jeers were small recompense. But we did all we could do. There was purpose behind those jeers: unanswered justice.

Today the landscape is different. Since 2003 MLB has acknowledged the problem of drug use and has a comprehensive testing and punishment program. The fans no longer need be the purveyors of justice. MLB has appropriately taken that role.

Retribution and rehabilitation is only possible when both crime and punishment are well defined. Drug use in baseball is now well defined, as is the punishment due. It's now part of the game, it's addressed in the rule book, action and reaction are governed by by-laws.

Manny will serve his time. Each Dodger fan will deal with it in their own way. Disappointment, loss of respect, uncertainty, resentment, apathy. All understandable emotions.

In 50 days, Manny will have served his time. When Manny steps on the field July 3rd, will he carry the Bonds stigma? No, Bonds never paid retribution. Bonds took advantage of the system without fear of reprisal. With Bonds, justice has not been served.

On July 3rd, I'll be cheering for Manny, content in the knowledge that he paid for his violation. Baseball fans need no longer be the Justice League. We can enjoy the game again.

Hong Like a Chih Kuo said...

Then I guess I'll be one of the few who do boo Manny when he comes back. Maybe the wound is too fresh to feel differently, but the fact that he held out for so long for more money adds to the insult. The way I see it, it's a privilege for and athlete to put on Dodger Blue, more than putting on most other uniforms. The Dodgers represent more than just another ballclub (at least to me). Its personal, its a relationship I have with the team. Manny was outside that, came in here and acted like he owned the city, and we as fans accepted him into the family based on a set of circumstances. Those circumstances have changed. He doesn't deserve to wear that Blue because he did something that violated the trust he built with the fans. There is no justice served that can repair what he did, in my opinion.

Dusto Magnifico said...

I dont have the attention span to read something that long. I'm going to assume it was a nice piece... furthermore, the comments are just as long... I'm saddened that Manny will be gone, but just think of the tear he will go on when he returns!

Rob said...

Do. Not. Care. I hated how Barry Bonds was treated (and continues to be treated) by overzealous prosecutors, hated how the allegedly "anonymous" blood samples suddenly became nonymous after somebody decided the agreement with MLBPA wasn't worth the publicity that would ensue if they could shame if not prosecute, hated how Mark McGwire was dragged through the mud to score some cheap political points for a bunch of hack politicians who couldn't be bothered to attend to their actual duties (hey, boneheads, we've got a real war going on, why don't you monitor how that's being prosecuted?), and on and on and on.

Except for the suspension, this is a non-story, unless you're one of the pious jackasses braying OMG teh drugz.

Manny, come home!

Rob said...

The way I look at it, Manny and Boras quite possibly could have known about this during the off season. If thats the case (which is likely) then they bent over the McCourts.Oh, hells no. Mike DiGiovanna hinted in an interview earlier this year that Manny's using was pretty widely known; it certainly accounted for the lack of offers on the table this last offseason. A 50 day suspension was part of the risk you took with Manny, plain and simple, and everyone probably knew or suspected that he was going to have to take that dive on their watch.

rbnlaw said...

Lots of thoughtful comments. I'm still conflicted, as the post reflects. Bonds used, he's despicable. A-Rod used, he cheated. Clemens used, it explains his dominance late in his career. Any other hated rival used, they suck.
Our guy(s) used? We turn a blind eye? I dunno. That's what makes it hard.
My hopes lie in this team pushing ahead without the Dreaded Wonder and showing the rest of the league how good we are (with suspect pitching). When Manny comes back, the fans in Mannywood will return, but will the team welcome him with open arms? I know Pierre wont.

What's a 40 year fan to do?

Steve Sax said...

rbnlaw, I'll tell you in 15 years.

rbnlaw said...

Damn youngsters. 47 today and I remember going to my first game when I was 7. Sat in the left field Pavillion courtesy of the Dodger/Pepsi Fan Club.

We beat the Cubs. Maury Wills was reduced to a pinch runner by then.

Langston said...

For me in a situation like this, supporting and defending are two different things. I will support Manny as long as he is a Dodger, however I cannot defend someone who knowingly broke the rules. Hopefully he learns from the mistakes of A-Rod and Bonds and handles it with honesty.

fanerman said...

Bonds was a jerk and a Giant. Manny isn't either. If nothing else, that's enough of a difference between them.

Chappy said...

Happy B-Day rbnlaw!

rbnlaw said...

Thanks Chappy.

If you look at all the numerous knee, elbow, and shoulder injuries piled up by the various "power players" in the past 5-10 years, you can't help but say, "Jose Canseco was right."

The Red Sox knew Manny was a user. . .of something. I find it easy to salve my wounds over this by blaming them. A pox upon the Sox. (much more poetic than declaring jihad)

Eric said...

I agree with what some other SoSG readers have said- namely that ManRam has at least taken the step of taking responsibility for taking the substances in question. No Bonds-esque dodges, no having a friend/trainer do jail time for him, as well not protesting this to the players' union to save himself a 7.7M financial hit.

Manny still cheated, but he's still a fair cut over Mr. Bonds. I will still greet Manny when he comes back, but with none of the mindless Bay Area fan worship of Bonds, who seem to rubber stamp his deeds without any criticisms.

Mr. LA Sports Fan said...

Bonds just didn't care about the game. That's what sets him apart. He abused his body, the fans, and baseball for his own personal gain, not even for the team, and still to this day shows no remorse for dragging the Giants and MLB into the most controversial era of baseball. At least Manny has apologized, and done his best to accept his fate. No fighting, no lies, and certainly no arrogance.

karina said...

I despise Barry Bonds not for the steroids usage, just for his attitude on/off the field and his detachment from team accomplishments. How i see it, a player could inject himself the blood of Jesus and the tears of the Virgin Mary, but if you can't hit the ball, throw strikes, own the ability to run bases smartly and have a sharp defense, it's useless.
When Bonds was using, supposedly drugs were passed all along the way into minor leagues and the MLB, if so, why weren't more players with the performances of Bonds and Clemens, for example?
I do not condone it, it's a bad example for millions of young boys with dreams of baseball superstardom, besides the dreadful consequences for the body of otherwise healthy athletes and of course, it had to be punished.
Manny deserves the punishment but i still stand by him, because he makes hitting a ball to look effortlessly, like it is a piece of performance art and also like he has fun while at it. Steroids don't give that.
Another reason is he light a spark on this young talent filled team and i do believe more than his numbers, his attitude carried the team to win a postseason series (to the Goliath of the equation) for the first time in twenty years. This mistake won't erase that happy memory from my heart and soul.
So, i'll wait for him while Martin, Loney, Kemp, Ethier, Bills, Kershaw, Brox, Wade and Troncoso will give us very good reasons to love and enjoy this season.

karina said...

I also have a question: why isn't Alex Rodrifuez punished?

Eric said...

I think it's because his steroid use was before baseball's more stringent testing and the list of banned substances was increased. Anything then would be hearsay since they don't have evidence of him failing a test recently.

Aside from that, I don't see what makes a big difference from him and other juicers. I sincerely hope he stays clean, since so many people thought (or would have liked to think) A-Rod _was_ clean and could clear the air left by Clemens, Bonds and others who used performance-enhancers.

Mr. LA Sports Fan said...

I'm still not in support of this lynch-mob mentallity that takes the expression "where there's smoke, there's fire" too seriously. Selig has gone so far to clean baseball's image that any kind of infraction becomes grounds for suspension. Just look at J.C. Romero. Don't believe Bill Plaschke or Jeff Passan. This is a matter with many gray areas. It's not all black and white.

Planet Splat Team said...

Hi....I'm with you on Bonds. It's too bad, but the truth is he did drugs. He was great without them, but couldn't help himself. that will always haunt his numbers, as well as others of that era.

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