Manuel Aristides Ramirez was all of 15 months old on Aug. 23, 1973, when Jan Erik Olsson walked into Kreditbanken, a Stockholm bank on Normalmstorg square, shot a member of the Swedish police and took four people hostage.
The hostage crisis continued for five days as Olsson and his alleged accomplice, Clark Olofsson, negotiated with police and even the Swedish prime minister. During the ordeal, the four hostages were said to express more fear of the police than their captors. A criminologist working with police noted the attitude and coined a phrase that provided Olsson and Olofsson some measure of infamy long after the robbery was forgotten: “Stockholm syndrome.”
The aforementioned Ramirez left the Boston Red Sox – all but forced his departure, if reports are to be believed – at the end of July, nearly four months ago. Yet stories continue to leak about the tumultuous final month between Ramirez and the team that paid him handsomely for nearly eight years, and none of them portrays the clearly mercurial slugger as the nice guy.
On the field, the situation seems to have turned out as well for everyone as could be expected: the Red Sox received a left fielder that essentially replaced Ramirez’s pre-trade production, the Los Angeles Dodgers got an otherworldly performance from Ramirez that pushed them into the playoffs, and Ramirez and his agent, Scott Boras, will make a killing in free agency.
Everyone wins but me.
I don’t need your pity – at least not anymore. As a Red Sox fan, I’ve seen two world championships and witnessed more playoff appearances since 2002 than in the previous 13 years combined. Dealing with the drama of Manny Ramirez was easily worth those rings.
But it’s becoming clearer that for much of the seven-plus years Ramirez was in Boston, we as fans were Manny’s hostages. He pouted, lied to the press (and consequently to us), showed up late – or not at all – to All-Star Games and managerial meetings alike, refused to pinch hit when asked or even refused to play.
He did this before the current ownership bought the team in 2001. He did it during the 2002 transition year before Theo Epstein was named general manager. And he did it nearly every season since Epstein took the reins in 2003. The incidents all became part of “Manny being Manny.”
And while the Red Sox made some efforts to rid themselves of his shtick – placing him on waivers and nearly engineering his trade to the baseball wilderness of Texas being the most notorious – we as fans never seemed to fully believe the import of these stories.
Moreso than even David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez was the face of the Red Sox, and we were happy with this scenario. At least I certainly was. Heck, there’s an orange-and-white feline with an attitude that stalks my house and answers – when he feels like it – to “Manny.”
How did we let this man fool us so?
The evidence was there, even before 2008, that Ramirez cared little for the Red Sox and their fans, none at all for Boston and its culture. When John Henry met Ramirez in 2002, the first thing he heard was a trade request. When Grady Little, a man whose surname speaks to his accomplishments in a Red Sox uniform, benched Ramirez for refusing to pinch hit during a ninth-inning rally in 2003, Henry and Larry Lucchino were approached a second time about a trade.
It all happened again in 2005, and it seemed the fans had enough. Ramirez was booed at the plate that July, as his trade demands and lollygagging to first reached team-distraction proportions. But when the trade deadline expired – a three-team deal having fallen through – Ramirez seemed to renew himself to Boston, receiving a standing ovation in his first at-bat back and telling anyone who would listen that he wanted to win another World Series with the Red Sox.
Frustration turned to rejoicing, and we took Ramirez at his word. When he sat the final month of the lost 2006 season and stories began to crop up alleging he had quit on the team, I rejected these rumors. No proof, I said. No evidence.
Things seemed rosier than ever after the second championship in 2007. Ramirez began talking to the press again after his tremendous ALDS walk-off home run off Francisco Rodriguez, he began reading “The Secret,” he told the sportswriters he wanted to stay in Boston, and he expressed ambivalence about when or whether the Sox picked up his two options after the season.
With Ramirez still productive, his $20 million options no longer seemed excessive. It seemed impossible to imagine a future without the suddenly happy, suddenly affordable Manny Ramirez. He still had his moments, but there were those other moments, too – the mid-double-play high-five with a fan, the trips into the Green Monster. They were goofy. They weren’t always appreciated, but they were the kind of antics that make the game fun, that make you believe some guys aren’t out there thinking only about the money.
Perhaps that was why it was so easy for some of us to accept the mythos of Manny being Manny. The talented hitter who wanted to do nothing more than hit. Not an idiot – I always rejected that slur – but simply happy and secure in his own world. One could understand why he didn’t like the microscope of Boston, and his brilliance with the bat couldn’t help but smooth over the rough patches over the years.
Then he hired Scott Boras.
I don’t know whether Boras put Ramirez up to the things he did once the 2008 season began. For that matter, I don’t even know what exactly Ramirez did and what he’s merely suspected of doing. All I know is what’s been said, but that it fits closely with what we know has actually occurred.
We know Ramirez shoved traveling secretary Jack McCormick. We know he got into an in-game dugout scuffle with fan- and organization-favorite Kevin Youkilis. We know he suddenly demanded the Red Sox pick up his first option, and that he considered any sign of caution or prudence on Boston’s part to be disrespectful.
I watched these goings-on with dismay. What happened? Ramirez was having the as-expected rebound season from his subpar 2007. It shouldn’t have surprised me that he changed his mind, but it did nonetheless. For some reason, I kept hoping that this time he meant it. This time would be different. This time Ramirez cared. Turns out it wasn’t. Turns out he didn’t.
July was the worst yet. He sat in back-to-back games against the Yankees, complaining of a sore knee. When the Red Sox sent him to get an MRI, he couldn’t remember which one was sore. When he pinch-hit against Mariano Rivera on what was supposed to be a day off, he never swung the bat in taking three straight strikes.
It might have been the most controversial single plate appearance of 2008 in Red Sox Nation. Was Ramirez fooled by three devastating cutters from a Hall-of-Fame pitcher – two of which were borderline strikes? Or was he making a statement about his intentions if the Red Sox failed to trade him by the July 31 deadline? The maddening thing is we’ll never know. Again, I found myself defending Ramirez.
But the end was coming. Apparently, the Red Sox threatened a suspension – a threat made more believable by Boras’ inability to deny it. He made comments too ridiculous to laugh off, alleging the Red Sox lied to their players, telling the press he was “tired” of the team. He wanted out. He was clearly doing everything possible to ensure that would happen.
At the time, I wrote:
I may be tired of him. I may not love him anymore. I don't think I even particularly like him after the events of this weekend. But he's still our Manny. For better or worse, he's wearing the laundry, and that means we root for him. Just like we'd root for Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez if they wound up in red and white.
That was three days before Ramirez was sent to LA in a three-way trade with the Pirates for Jason Bay. The Red Sox turned around their flatlining season and played baseball in October after all. Ramirez got what he wanted. The Red Sox, after their seemingly annual attempts to be rid of him, finally got what they wanted.
So why do I feel so unhappy?
Much ink has been spilled, many megabytes filled about the Manny Ramirez saga – his time in Boston, the trade that sent him west, his resurgence at Chavez Ravine. I have no interest in further repeating the many words said on the matter, many by his own teammates. I can only offer one fan’s perspective – one that renders me incapable of seeing things in the stark rhetoric many have employed to vilify Ramirez or, alternately, the Red Sox organization.
It seems clear that Ramirez through his actions was the aggressor here, for reasons perhaps only he knows. Yet it’s difficult to harbor resentment for what certainly appears to be a clear case of a player attempting to hold a team hostage – and receiving all that he demanded.
He gave us so much, after all. Ask any group of Red Sox fans for their favorite Manny moments, and you’re not likely to leave any time soon. There’s the simple magnitude of the numbers he posted – statistics that likely will ensure his induction into the Hall of Fame with a “B” on his cap. There’s the two rings, the World Series MVP, his place as half the greatest 3/4 combination of our generation.
Others may be able to push all that aside and demonize the slugger, dismiss his time in Boston and turn away without glancing back as he heads toward mega dollars this offseason. I cannot. He was our Manny. We were his hostages.
Paul Anthony is a native Connecticutian transplanted to Texas, where he covers politics for a daily newspaper. His (unpaid) night job is as a co-blogger at YFSF, which has provided a peaceful coexistence for Red Sox and Yankee fans since 2003. While there, he has compiled a list of the Top 50 individual Red Sox seasons of all time.