Thursday, September 02, 2010

On Manny Ramirez and Revisionist History

They're trying to rewrite history.

It's the same old mainstream media guys, banging away on their Smith-Coronas, trying to convince you that Manny Ramirez was a blemish on Los Angeles Dodgers history. That he was nothing more than a petulant goofball who quit on the Dodgers years ago, shouts Bill Plaschke. That he was not only tainted by his drug suspension, but that his tenure was an ugly classless run, proclaims Dodgers-hater / Phillies-fawner Jayson Stark.

That his final Dodger at bat, getting tossed arguing a strike-one call (after being inexplicably benched for four straight games by a team that was still posturing to remain in the postseason race), was more indicative of his Dodger tenure than the two and a half seasons that preceded it. As if we should throw out Seinfeld and Battlestar Galactica (2004 series) just because their last episodes were thoroughly unfulfilling.

They're trying to rewrite history. And you'd better not let them.

You can't tell me you never liked bought into the Matrix trilogy, no matter how bad Reloaded and Revolutions were. If you search yourself, you'll recall that the original Matrix was, despite the presence of Keanu Reeves, one incredibly kick-ass movie that blew your mind the first time you saw it. (I remember coming home to my girlfriend and telling her, "You're not going to believe this, but I just saw a quality Keanu Reeves movie." And I took her to see it the next evening, and she was just as shocked as I was.) Hell, you upgraded your hardware from VHS to DVD just to see the elevator shootout scene fifty times and try out your surround sound system at full volume. The components still sitting in your living room are proof that you were just as bought in as the rest of us. So don't try and get revisionist because the recent data wasn't as satisfying.

In fact, revising history now, amidst a difficult and disappointing 2010 season full of injuries and unfulfilled potential, the chaos and embarrassment of a very public ownership divorce case (with enough emerging skeletons to fill Disneyland's Haunted Mansion), and the incredible fluke of one division rival, is simply not fair or accurate.

And Manny Ramirez, perpetually goofy and irreverent and refusing to succumb to media interviewing conventions or sartorial common-sense, is an easy target for criticism. Legions of Boston Red Sox fans, dismissive of Ramirez's contributions to their 2004 and 2007 championship runs, drove him out of town when his indifference became corrosive to the clubhouse and allegedly detrimental to the team's performance (he still had an OPS+ of 136 in 2008 with Boston, third-best on the team). Were Red Sox fans correct in painting Manny as a malcontent? Or were they just airing the most lip-pursing of sour grapes?

On La Brea just south of the 10, August 31 2010

After lifting the Dodgers on his shoulders and carrying us into the 2008 playoffs, sweeping past the Cubs in the NLDS before falling to Philly in the NLCS, it was pretty obvious that Manny still had a lot to contribute both to a team (Ramirez' OPS+ over the eight 2008 Dodgers playoff games was over 1.74, by far the highest in his postseason career), as well as to a clubhouse. A junior corps of players still tentative in expressing their confidence and identity (thanks, Jeff Kent, for your clubhouse leadership!), broke out after Ramirez' arrival, hitting better with protection in the lineup, while taking more risks and stepping up to new levels.

The numbers don't lie; they prove Manny was an incredible tonic for the Dodgers throughout his tenure. Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness already did a bang-up job recapping Manny Ramirez's Dodger career, separating fact (his 2008 late-season addition, in which he singlehandedly carried us into the playoffs, ranks as the sixth-best NL OPS+ ever) from fiction (many believe understudy (and underpowered) Juan Pierre's 2009 fill-in tenure was Manny-like, despite the fact that Pierre slumped through the last 60% of that 50-game suspension stint). So I won't focus further on the numbers; let me cover the emotional side of this in reflecting upon Manny Ramirez' "value" as a Dodger.

Any Dodger fan who has been to games this past decade, who has sat there in the Stadium during the barren Fox years and the early McCourt years, knows that this team was simply not exciting. At times, we had decent pitching; sometimes even including exciting personalities from the mound (Eric Gagne). More often than not, however, we had moribund offense (2003 comes to mind as a particularly sad year). As a Dodger fan, the players with the most offensive potency--the ones for which you wanted to root--were usually either as bland as bananas in lumpy oatmeal (Shawn Green, J.D. Drew) or as combustible as mentos and diet coke (Milton Bradley). Sure, we had Gary Sheffield in 2000-2001, and Adrian Beltre in 2004. But we're talking ten years, people.

And even relative to Sheff and Beltre, Manny Ramirez was otherworldly. Manny Ramirez was the first Dodger in the last decade who made me alter my beer and restroom runs while at the stadium. Throughout his tenure, I didn't want to miss a single Manny at bat, no matter how far ahead or behind the Dodgers were, no matter if it was a meaningful scoring opportunity or if the bases were clear.

Manny was electric. Manny was exciting. Manny was the catalyst for unbelievable revelry. Check this video out, from Game 1 of the 2009 NLCS, showing a Ramirez HR to Mannywood (left field).

And that was in a loss, for pete's sake--and Manny's HR didn't even give us the lead in that game!

Seriously, when Manny connected, Dodger Stadium would go wild. Maybe it's because the Dodgers had never had a player who sat in the top-20 all-time HR list (excluding Jim Thome's late-season 2009 stint). Maybe it's because Manny as a personality was just as intriguing as Manny as an offensive weapon. Maybe it's because choosing to root for Ramirez to succeed--which we all, as Dodger fans, did--was infinitely better than being incessantly implored to root for Dodgers you knew would not deliver (the three-drum beats for Hee-Seop Choi never did it for me).

Ramirez the Dodger had flaws. The 2009 50-game suspension was mortifyingly embarrassing and a difficult strain on the team, though what really did in Ramirez (and by extension, the team) was the Homer Bailey fastball to the hand in July. Ramirez's whole aloof demeanor thing can be tiresome when the team isn't performing, particularly in 2010 when it came from the disabled list and the alternative options were shadows of Ramirez's self. And Manny's accent on the VIP Tickets radio advertisements were largely unintelligible to anyone besides Mr. LA Sports Fan.

But unlike his departure from Boston, it should be noted that Manny Ramirez leaves Los Angeles without a mob of pitchfork and torch-wielding fans in tow, despite what the Mainstream Media folks would have you believe. Most of us Dodger fans reflect upon the Manny Ramirez Dodgers era with happiness and appreciation, disappointed that the 2010 season didn't work out and that Ramirez wasn't able to contribute more, sure--but also grateful for the 2008 excitement and 2008/2009 playoff runs that arguably would not have happened if not for Ramirez.

Even though we didn't win World Series titles, Manny Ramirez helped restore the Dodgers as the major-market franchise it should be, as well as a relevant part of the overall baseball conversation--which was a level we had not achieved in many, many years.

I was there for the Manny Ramirez run with the Los Angeles Dodgers. I paid my admission tickets and enjoyed the thrill rides. And I'm not going to let the haters paint a different reality than what really happened, to let them revise history to contradict what we Dodger fans really felt.

I have a dream that there will be a time when journalistic value will not be judged by the color of the (faded and brittle) newsprint, but by the content of the writing.

And I'm not going to let Manny Ramirez leave Los Angeles without a hearty thank you for some really fun times the last couple of years.

photo of Manny's Bobbleslam: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

28 comments:

Josh S. said...

Marvelous. This is a must-read.

(Side note: Is "Kirby Lee" the coolest comic book geek name or what?)

Fred's Brim said...

thank you Saxy
I still miss him

Mr. LA Sports Fan said...

I do miss Manny.

rbnlaw said...

My favorite Manny memory has to be the two times I saw him play at The Big Phone in SF. In 2008, he came up against Matt Cain and to a chorus of boos (not boo-urns). He calmly waited in the batter's box and lined the first pitch from their beloved Matty into the left-center gap for a double.

The second time I saw him up in Frisco (suck it, Gnats' fans), it was after the suspension. The locals were chanting "Manny is a tranny" all around us. My friend and I sat quietly until Manny lined Jonathon Sanchez's fastball down the left field line for a run scoring double. Then we went wild and several things thrown at us (you stay classy, Frisco).
This was a nice farewell piece, Saxy. I just wish the Dodgers had been as classy and eloquent in their good-bye as well.

Godspeed, Manny. It was nice having a feared line-up for 1.5 seasons.

rbnlaw said...

^had several things thrown at us.

Jason said...

Did anybody else hear Andre Ethier on Kevin and Bean this morning? First, showing up at a radio station at 6:30 am is probably going to cause some issues with his routine this week. He was publicizing a food bank drive (http://votelahotdog.org/) but, more relevant to this thread, Manny was a topic of conversation. Dre was mostly bland and non-controversial on the topic (he's a great hitter, we'll miss his bat, etc...) but did get into the show's "Manny" calling in bit:

"Manny": Hello! This is Manny Ramirez, outfielder Chicago White Sox. I love Chicago. But I miss LA. I miss the beautiful weather. I miss the beautiful right fielder. And I miss the banana nut bread from Whole Foods!" (honk-honk)

Dre: (laughing) I believe every word of that.

Jason said...

Forgot to add, kudos to Bean for suggesting Dre should get behind the Win for Vin campaign.

Rob said...

You can't tell me you never liked the Matrix trilogy, no matter how bad Reloaded and Revolutions were.

If two-thirds of the "trilogy" suck, I sure as hell can.

Hating the "trilogy" has nothing to do with loving the first movie.

QuadSevens said...

Nice job summing it all up Sax. I also will look back on the Manny era with fond memories. In the future, I will still proudly wear my Ramirez Jersey tshirt and Mannywood tshirt to games and root for all the current Dodgers.

Steve Sax said...

Fair point Rob. Original post amended.

Todd said...

This is why SoSG is my favorite Dodger blog. Plenty of silly but quality prose when it counts. Great work.

Neeebs said...

I still bobble my Manny bobble on a daily basis. [Part of my morning work routine.] I guess that means that I loved the Manny era.

Dusty Baker said...

Agree with 7777. I will continue to fly the Manny flag (t-shirt) proudly, as I always have.

Haters gonna hate.

karina said...

Thank you very much, Manny.

Thanks Sax, this is Mustang-like :)

Rafael Bournigal said...

I've been coming on this site for the past year or so and have really enjoyed all the comments and insights from all you fellow Dodger fans. I never wanted to actually post because I don't think my views or comments are up to par with what all you write but this piece made me want to leave a comment. This piece was an incredible read and it sums up how I feel about the whole manny thing and I just wanted to thank the writer for doing such a good job with it. Thanks for the great read you guys

Mr. Customer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Central Valley Fan said...

The last time I saw Manny hit a homer was in the 2-1 game against the giants back in April. GA got a single (minor miracle), and then Manny came up, I was on my feet. Texting everyone I know that was a giants fan, getting ready to hit send.... Only Manny has caused me to get excited every time he was at bat. For that alone, I will miss him. Well that and the bandanna dreads I bought during the 08 playoffs....

Mr. Customer said...

Welcome to the peanut gallery Rafael. There's no going back, now.

Rafael Bournigal said...

Ha Ha I'm in it for the long Haul now Mr.Customer.... My lurking days are over

Steve Sax said...

Posts won't get passes
from the avatar with glasses

Welcome to the circus RB. Thanks for the kind words and glad you're here.

Josh S. said...

I just saw that the ChiSox play the Angels in Anaheim 9/24-9/26. I kinda want to go.

Mr. Customer said...

'Specially since the Angels suck.

QuadSevens said...

Wear a Dodgers Manny shirt to that game and see how friendly the Angel Stadium ushers are.

el montanero said...

*uses manny wig to wipe away the tears*

my favorite manny moment...the first week of the season against the gnats. i'm at dodger stadium, the are dodgers down 1-0, a few gnats fans behind us are feeling all uppity as seemingly only gnats fans can, bottom of the 8th and manny pinch hits a two-run blast into the bullpen. my cousin from frisco texts me, "do you have any idea how much i hate manny?" i text back, "it's exactly 1/528 as much as everyone else hated barry. seriously, i did the math. so suck it!" ah, memories. fare thee well, man ram.

Mr. Customer said...

Saw some kid wearing a Mannywood T-shirt today here in the People's Republic. Strongly approve.

Dusty Baker said...

@Rafael said "I don't think my views or comments are up to par with what all you write". Clearly you have a very low benchmark! ;-)

Glad you piped up.

#99

Meaniebreanie said...

Excellent piece Saxy. It's very well written and offers great perspective. Kudos to you!

NicJ said...

beautiful Saxy,

Manny, i want to thank you from the bottom of my heart from bringing my team from the abyss of suckitude.

I will always wear my manny shirt proudly.