About a month ago, my wife brought home two baseball action figures for my kids: Ryan Howard and Manny Ramirez. The boy had first pick, and he grabbed Howard, immediately enlisting the Phillies slugger for fierce underwater warfare with dinosaurs and Buzz Lightyear. When I asked my son why he chose Howard, he gestured at Manny. “I don’t like him,” he said. “He needs a haircut. And he looks tired.” My daughter took one look at Manny, shook her head, and went off to play fairy princess. Manny’s still in the box, with a dazed look on his face.
If only Kenny Williams, the White Sox’s ever-gambling GM, had my children’s sense. Instead, he paid in the neighborhood of $4 million to a 38-year-old with a wonky leg and an even wonkier head. This is a player who managed to make himself persona non grata in L.A. despite hitting .322 over the past two years and .385 in the playoffs. The Dodgers brass basically gave away a rare talent for nothing. You’ve got to be a major pain in the culo to engender that kind of animosity.
Manny Ramirez is up to the task. No matter how good a hitter he is when he wants to be, his whatever attitude means that wherever he takes his talents, his teammates won’t like him. The fans will tire of him. The media will turn on him. Hell, right now, even the umpires don’t want him around. On Sunday, in his final at-bat as a Dodger, Manny came up with the bases loaded, saw one pitch, which he didn’t like, and told umpire Gary Cederstrom as much after Cederstrom had the nerve to call it a strike. The umpire, perhaps sensing the moment, bounced poor Manny from the game, from Southern California, and essentially from the National League.
The White Sox are 4½ games behind a superior Twins team, and everyone knows the Sox needed reliable middle relievers. Instead, Williams went out and got a designated hitter who doesn’t run out ground balls, bitches about balls and strikes, and doesn’t talk to reporters. Manny is the anti–middle reliever, and as a Sox diehard, I’m excited by his presence but befuddled by the move.
Perhaps I should think more like a businessman. From a dollar standpoint, his acquisition makes perfect sense: Ramirez is a future Hall-of-Famer and one of the game’s goofiest personalities—a comic-book character of a freakshow who couldn’t avoid attention even if he wanted to. Four million dollars isn’t much to pay for the Great Manny Circus, which will rake in a lot more than that for the Sox organization. If U.S. Cellular Field does not regularly sell out the next 32 games, I will no longer defend Sox fans for their history of spotty attendance.
But those who believe in the Power of Manny will only get duped by Manny, who, before his pleasant stay in L.A., tantalized fans in Cleveland and Boston and ultimately disappointed both. Diehards will drag their kids to the Cell in hopes of seeing one of the best hitters of his generation, only to find out that Manny didn’t think his knee was up to it and decided to cash his daily check for $134,375 and play cards in the clubhouse instead. And if you like your fireworks hot, just wait until Ozzie Guillen—whose idea of restraint is saying @#$% instead of %*@$—has to deal with his first “Manny Moment.” How can this possibly end well?
The Sox are banking on Manny going on the kind of tear he did in 2008 for the Dodgers, singlehandedly powering them all the way to the N.L. championship series. And the renewed interest could lead to one of his bizarre power surges on the South Side, a hitter’s ballpark where he will not be expected to lope around the outfield anymore. “We know what time it is,” second baseman Gordon Beckham told the AP yesterday. “September is around the corner and we have to make a push.” I’m with you, Gordo. If only the Sox had made a push instead of going for a big splash.
Chicago Tribune photo by Phil Velasquez