Fame, I’ve realized, is a funny thing. That’s something that fans like myself may never really understand, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Fame is so unusual and different from the lives that so many of us live.
My mother is a teacher. My father is an accountant. My friends are students and no one that I’ve ever really gotten to know has ever reached the status that the word "fame" conveys. It’s a foreign concept for our comprehension, and an alien idea in regards to each of the lives that many of us lead.
Like many of you, I’m a sports fan. I’m a junkie in a world that revolves around celebrity culture. I spend April to October interacting daily with the game of baseball; over the course of 162 games I hear stories and I connect and I ride the emotional roller coaster that the course of a season has in store for me. I live and I learn and I watch. I feel like I get to know the players that are at the forefront of the game. Soon, the Derek Jeters of the sport begin to feel like family.
Yet at the end of the day, I’ve never had a single conversation with any of them.
What I know about these athletes comes directly from the opinions of the media via athlete interviews and fourth hand stories that I hear from announcers like Vin Scully.
The pressure that these athletes face is incredible. As celebrities and cultural icons, they have entirely different standards and expectations from the rest of their society. At the end of the day, each of their actions are judged under a microscope and taken at something far beyond face value. We feel like we know these athletes, but the truth of the matter is that we actually do not.
If there were a scientific social study of this in contemporary baseball, the case study would be given to Manny Ramirez.
Ramirez played professional baseball in the MLB from 1993 until the beginning of this season. He is 39 years old, ended his career with 555 home runs, and made the All-Star team twelve times. He won the World Series twice, and took World Series MVP honors in 2004. He helped the Red Sox rejuvenate a culture of baseball success in Boston, and helped the Dodgers become a relevant team once more when he joined the club in 2008.
These are all facts. The rest of the verdict on Manny Ramirez is rooted largely in opinion.
Ramirez, who was suspended from the MLB for violating drug policies in 2009, has been accused of being a juicer, a cheater, lazy, unlikable, outlandish, immoral, and an idiot. The majority of these allegations come from people who have never met Manny Ramirez.
Yet the most common phrase attached to Manny Ramirez is that he’s just “Manny being Manny.”
What do we actually know about Manny Ramirez? What will we ever actually know about the majority of the athletes in a world where much of the information from our cultural icons comes from 140-character Tweets and limited interview access?
We feel connected to Manny Ramirez because we are. Our ticket prices and cable packages help pay his contract, and when we watch him play over the course of 2300+ professional games his antics become a staple in our own lives.
Manny Ramirez, however, is an athlete. That’s what he was when he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians with their first pick in the 1991 MLB Draft. They asked him to play baseball.
No one asked Ramirez to raise his or her kids, and no one asked Ramirez to lead by example. They had expected him, as a citizen, to obey the law while doing so. The rest is a matter of baseball.
We’ve seen that Manny Ramirez, the Dominican born athlete raised in Washington Heights, New York, is carefree and a little bit outrageous. We’re talking about a guy who kept a water bottle in his pocket while he played, would occasionally disappear into the Green Monster, threw a ball into the stands because he thought it was the third out, and put his grill on eBay. We may never understand the man, but he always entertained us.
Reports show that he likely has a temper, as many athletes might. The recent trouble that he has been in was not the first case of such issues.
Ramirez, who requested a trade away from the Red Sox in 2005 after helping them break their championship curse in 2004, had been involved in shoving matches with teammate Kevin Youkilis in 2008. He had also thrown 62-year old Red Sox secretary Jack McCormick to the ground following an altercation. He’s known for quotes like, “The Red Sox don't deserve a player like me” and for being at the forefront of controversy season after season.
When he was ultimately traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, my fandom began. I was a high school student and baseball fan living in Los Angeles—a city, it seemed, to be henceforth known as Mannywood.
I devoted my Facebook statuses to each Ramirez home run, and giggled politely at the phase of young white children wearing Manny’s famed dreadlocks to the games. As his power began, you could count me and countless others aboard the Ramirez bandwagon. He hit nine home runs, batted .415, and earned NL Player of the Month in August, his first month with the club.
Early in the 2009 season, I vividly remember the morning that news broke of his 50 game drug suspension; one that soured many Red Sox fans' memories of their first World Series victory in 86 years.
I was on my phone reading sports articles on ESPN, which was how I spent biology class. When news broke of the suspension, I immediately texted all of my Los Angeles baseball friends. They were in disbelief.
Many, afraid of being hurt again, never came back to becoming his fan and his last awkward stretch with the Dodgers was tense and forced; a splitting manifestation of a franchise in distress. Once he left the Dodgers for the White Sox, he was out of the city’s memory.
Manny has always had a different way of looking at the world, and often clashed with bigger personalities ahead of him.
In April of 2011, when he suddenly retired from the MLB five games into the season rather than face another drug suspension, he exited the lives of baseball fans.
When news surfaced of his recent arrest, it was an interesting reminder of an old player’s fame. Domestic abuse is indeed nothing to make light of, and something far more serious than “Manny being Manny.”
Still, we know nothing of the actual details that surrounded the evening and events leading up to the altercation. I stand here by no means defending Manny Ramirez. His actions are beyond disappointing, and he should be punished accordingly.
It’s fascinating to see a star dip and fall to a low like this one, and it’s a constant reminder of the dehumanization that we put onto our top players. How could we forget that Manny, really, never was more than just Manny?
In the days after his arrest, it is my hope that he and his family have the strength to figure out what went wrong as well as execute a proper and safe solution. This is a personal matter that is hopefully resolved as soon as humanly possible. Websites and media outlets like TMZ have now put an unfair burden on Manny Ramirez’s wife, and this is a situation that would be better left to their own accord.
I will be thinking of Manny Ramirez, and wish him and his family nothing but support in the tumultuous coming days to recovery.