Thursday, May 7, 2009

If It Matters At All: Thoughts on Manny Ramirez

I can honestly tell you that I remember everything about the moment, all except for the Blue Jay who foolishly pitched to Manny Ramirez.

Six weeks into the 2004 season, early May I believe. 2-2 count, and some middle relief rack threw a slider to Manny that didn't dive. It hung there suspended in mid-air as if the baseball were on an invisible tee that only Manny Ramirez could see. I was drinking a Magic Hat #9, and started to choke on a swig, as he began to swing. He hadn't even connected just yet, but I knew what the hell was going to happen.

Manny Ramirez was going to hit the ball harder than any human being ever had before. Bat connected with baseball. Beer went flying out my nose.


Magic Hat #9, the only good thing to ever have come out of Vermont, went shrieking out my nose burning like cocaine in reverse. Manny Ramirez freaking destroyed this baseball, not in The Natural Roy Hobbs way. He hit that hanging slider the way Ike hit Tina, or Forrest Gump beat the ever-living shit out of that thug at the Black Panther party. Manny smacked it merciless and cruel like a bad-wielding Machavelli with a stick of black chaw spewing from his gums. Fenway didn't even cheer for Manny. They audibly gasped as if they were trying to keep the $10 beers from coming out of their collective noses as well.

The baseball that Manny Ramirez hit was still ascending over the Coke Bottle behind the Green Monster behind the Citgo sign. That's about 420 feet away and still climbing.

To put that in perspective: The dead center field flagpole at Minute Maid Park in Houston is about 430 feet away. Manny Ramirez's home run that night in Boston would have had a legitimate shot of sailing higher than the flagpole.

The baseball ended up careening off a building, skipping through a parking lot and ended up on the Mass Pike almost 800 feet away. It was unquestionably the most massive shot I have ever seen anyone hit my entire life.

I watched Manny trot around the bases thinking, "Holy crap, there's no way what he just did was humanly possibly."

Turns out, I was right. It wasn't.

Here's the implausible explanation that Manny Ramirez: He has broken junk. The same man who beat a baseball into submission will now take a 50-game vacation for using gonadotropins, or simply put, something prescribed to address erectile dysfunction.

Well, at least he and Rafael Palmeiro now have two things in common, I do suppose.

Maybe more than that now that I really consider it closely. Both had swings that were Grand Canyon at Sunset pretty. Call me naive, but I will never believe steroids would have made their swings better. Steroids improved the results of their at-bats, no doubt, but damn, I'm convinced their swings would have looked just as graceful flailing at air.

They were also unequivocally bad guys, as well, and no, their steroid use isn't indictive of their character. Rafael Palmeiro was arrogant and defiant in front of Congress, lying to everyone and pretty much everything about what he was really doing. Manny may not have lied--at least not that we're aware of--but he was accused of shoving the 60-year-old assistant around (roid rage?), sulked and essentially quit on the Red Sox, forcing a trade to the Dodgers.

And as soon as he got to Los Angeles? He reverted back to the Manny of that night in May 2004, demolishing every baseball in the National League with a wooden, Louisville Slugger-style jackhammer. After the season was done, he held the Dodgers hostage in a Favrian manner, continually toying with them until they gave him a contract that even AIG would have blushed at.

Manny Ramirez, in the Dodgers' mind, was too big to fail.

He did anyway.

Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds.

Four guys that were unquestionably heading for Immortality. Now they're just four rich bastards that no one will ever trust again. But that's not their problem. Those four guys will simply insulate themselves with their friends, their peers, their hangers-on, their butt-kissers, their groupies and a million other people who will make their excuses for them.

Trust? That's hardly their problem. It's yours.

But there's a greater problem with sports now, and it doesn't have the slightest thing to do with steroids, in and of itself. Sports has a credibility problem, and it's manifesting itself in every possible avenue. Today's news about Manny Ramirez is hardly shocking. Yao Ming picking up three quick fouls in the Rockets loss to the Lakers was NBA refereeing at its finest. Yao picking up three quickies all but ensured a Lakers win, and tied the series up at one a piece.

Hell, I actually bet my friend Brad, a Southern California native and die-hard Laker fan, a bottle of 18-year Jameson's that the Cavs would beat the Lakers IF they both got to the NBA Finals. Simply put, David Stern would rather market the entirely likeable LeBron James, as opposed to probable rapist, Kobe Bryant. I am 100 percent certain of the outcome in the same way that I am certain the sun will rise in the east, this summer will be hot and Amy Winehouse will be ugly tomorrow, the next day or the day after that. It's a foregone conclusion that the NBA refs will ensure the Cavs (read: LeBron) gets their first ring, and then market the hell out of him, trying to make him the next Michael Jordan. And that's why I'll be drinking some of the finest Irish whiskey in the world come late June. It's not because I think the Cavs are better.

It's because the outcome that I'm betting on is more favorable to the business of the NBA.

The BCS is such a farce it's not even worth mentioning. And even the NFL isn't immune from this credibility problem. They have a steroid problem every bit on par with MLB, but people are all too willing to sweep their problems under the rug in the name of gambling, fantasy football and all the other things the make the NFL so popular.

Perhaps I'm wrong about all of these things. Maybe I will watch Brad drink a bottle of my favorite whiskey right in front of my face. And maybe Yao really did pick up those three fouls, and maybe--just maybe--Manny Ramirez really does have broken junk.

But when he comes back 50 games from now, thousands upon thousands of people will flock to Dodger Stadium to watch a man fallen from grace hit a baseball farther than perhaps anyone on the planet ever could.

The sun will shine in Los Angeles, the beers will flow, Vin Scully will wax eloquent about days gone past, Dodger Dogs will taste better than ever.

And Manny Ramirez will round the bases without a care in the world.