I was married on May 31, 2008, the same day Manny Ramirez clubbed his 500th home run at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
For that reason, it’s one of those baseball moments forever ingrained in my mind, as the replay was still dancing across the televisions in the hotel bar as our wedding party meandered in.
That historic feat took place in the same stadium that, barely more than two weeks earlier, Ramirez high-fived a fan sitting beyond the left field wall.
While turning a double play.
And that, in a nutshell, is the Manny Ramirez era in Boston, a bizarre blend of the superlative and the surreal. He was equal parts maniac and megastar, terrorizing opposing pitchers in one moment and terrorizing a dizzy Red Sox fan base in the next.
It’s no wonder, then, that Manny’s reception when he returns to Fenway Park for the first time since being traded in 2008 is the topic of much discussion. Ramirez will take the field as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight, and the polarizing outfielder will likely hear loudly from both those he endeared himself to and those he turned off.
It was different when Johnny Damon came back. He had traded in his Sox for the evil pinstripes of the hated Yankees, an inexcusable offense in the eyes of Red Sox Nation. It was different, too, when Nomar returned last summer, as he was the homegrown star returning to his roots to bury the hatchet.
But nobody’s quite sure what Manny’s here to do. Take a bathroom break in the leftfield wall again, perhaps? Cutoff a throw from the centerfielder standing no more than 20 feet away? Stuff a water bottle in his back pocket, you know, just in case?
The entire Manny Ramirez saga was truly enthralling, a tale that spans two ownerships, two General Managers and two World Series titles. He’s both a World Series MVP and an accused steroid user, leading many to wonder which came first and where those paths may have intersected.
There’s no question the Red Sox would still be chasing the Curse of the Bambino had Ramirez never donned the uniform. But there’s also no question many around Boston would have fewer gray hairs.
The relationship, of course, did not end well. Manny’s distractions grew to be intolerable during 2008, when Boston decided it was better off shipping him to L.A. before an off-season in which his contract options would have been a hot button topic.
And Ramirez was often a malcontent, showing up late for Spring Training or failing to run out a ground ball or coming down with a mysterious and undiagnosable hamstring injury. His act was easier to swallow when he was good for 45 homers and 135 RBI a year; it became more grating when he was more of a 30-100 guy.
But Manny, along with Pedro, shifted the course of Red Sox history. That pair was the core of a team that turned the fate of the frustrated franchise forever, a feared bat and a transcendent hurler that made the Red Sox a joke no longer.
He also deserves credit for building David Ortiz—considered largely the opposite of Ramirez in terms of personality—into the hitter he was. It should also be noted that Big Papi has never truly regained the form he held when Manny was batting either in front of or behind him.
The bottom line is: there’s plenty to cheer about from the Manny Ramirez era. And there’s certainly enough to remain angry about. For that reason I expect something of a mixed reception on Friday, though if I had to place a bet, I’d put money on more cheers than boos.
Of course, we’re dealing with a man who once put his friend’s grill up for auction on eBay and made a cell phone call from inside the Green Monster during a pitching change.
So perhaps the question we should all be pondering isn’t how the fans are going to greet Manny so much as how Manny is going to greet the fans.
This storry was originally posted at 4sportboston.com.
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