I received a text from a friend the night before the trade deadline when it looked like Manny Ramirez was headed to South Florida to join the Marlins. The text read: “Worried yet?”
My response: “They won’t do it. Not with a dynasty on the line.”
(One of the great sports debates is what constitutes a dynasty. It’s clearly a subjective interpretation of greatness. In this scribe’s opinion a team must win back-to-back titles plus another one within a few years. This is to say that any franchise that wins three out of five championships is worthy of some manifestation of the term “dynasty.” A banner in 2008 would mean three out of five for the Sox.)
So my rationale was that Red Sox brass would not threaten what is at least arguably a potential dynasty in the making, particularly given that David Ortiz spent a significant period of time on the shelf and the team didn’t fade.
Given that Josh Beckett is fixing to turn it up, that Dice-K has been far from the liability most believed he would be this year and that Jon Lester is the second-best lefty in the American League.
Given that Jonathan Papelbon is still the surest thing this side of Mariano Rivera when it comes to closing games in October.
Given that the most prolific offensive tandem since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig was intact again for the first time since it co-slugged its way to a second World Series in four years.
And finally, that cumulatively this team was unequivocally gearing up for another title run.
I didn’t think it would happen because I’ve come to understand the whims of this ownership. John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino have personalized the experience of being a Red Sox fan because they themselves are Red Sox fans—ones who happen to be ridiculously wealthy businessmen who assumed control of the enterprise.
Too often in sports, business and figures detract from what is ultimately best for a team. With Manny’s eight-year, $160 million deal, it was at times a wise business move for the ownership to remove all those dollars from its weighty payroll. Hence irrevocable waivers in 2003, a busted trade for Alex Rodriguez in 2004, and annual deadline talks with the Mets’ Omar Minaya about a Manny move to Flushing.
In all instances, getting rid of Manny was the smart business move, the best for the bottom line. But Theo Epstein—acting on behalf of the trio—abstained from ever pulling the string because of one prevailing reason: the guy was too damn good and too vital to the most important end of winning.
Winning superseded personal relationships. Winning supplanted smart business.
To this ownership, winning mattered most. And in pennant races and pursuits of October glory, Ramirez behind Ortiz gave the Red Sox a decisive inside track to victory.
I’ll be frank: Manny has always been a pain in the rear (to put it gently) through the eyes of ownership and his colleagues. It was just always kept more or less under wraps. Manny, for the most part, squawked privately and off the record, which meant only bits and pieces were divulged.
I’m sorry, but it’s no coincidence that the historically publicly soft-spoken Manny signed with Scott Boras before (essentially) a contract year—the Red Sox held two $20 million club options for 2009 and 2010 on Ramirez—then proceeded to start voicing all the displeasures he’s traditionally voiced behind the scenes directly to the media.
Boras, who’s likely still peeved at the Red Sox for holding him hostage two summers ago over the Dice-K contract, saw the perfect opportunity to turn the tables on the only contingent to have gotten the better of him at the negotiating table.
He knew that unleashing the Manny circus on the public would force the hand of the club. Force them to 1) pay monetarily to get rid of Manny (which they have, $7 million), 2) dispose of him for seventy cents on the dollar (which they did, for Jason Bay), and 3) line Manny up to get shown the money come this offseason (which if I were a betting man…).
Done and done. And just like that the Manny Ramirez era came to a prompt conclusion in Boston.
What truly perplexes me is the fact that lots of fans and writers are on board with the move. Proponents of the trade would point to the fact that Manny’s bullheadedness was tearing the team apart from the inside, that his antics have been far worse this year than in the past.
Manny has always been Manny. To the fans and outside world he was frequently endearing, quirky, and warm. While behind closed doors he was consistently self-centered, obstinate, and vexing. Bottom line is he has forever lived in Manny World, in spite of everyone around him—be it media, teammates or bosses.
(If you’re not convinced, pick up Seth Mnookin’s Feeding the Monster. It is the single most illuminating piece of writing about Manny and the organization.)
Due to that longstanding discord it was obvious that Manny and Boston would part ways after this season. After finishing what unofficially kicked off in 2003, the most prosperous era in Red Sox history.
Like it or not, like him or not, the Red Sox with Manny Ramirez were most sufficiently primed to defend a World Series crown for the first time in nearly a century.
Debating team chemistry, managing motives and money is moot. Through everything that has gone down in the last week, only two facts have emerged: 1) The Red Sox are a decidedly worse team today than they were on the morning of July 31, 2008, and 2) If they should get there, the Red Sox will be a far less intimidating force in October than they were in ‘04 or ‘07.
Don’t believe me?
Just ask any Angels or Yankees fan.