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December 6, 2011

The BP Broadside

The Singular Love of Manny Ramirez

by Steven Goldman

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As a foolish youth, envisioning life as a swashbuckling adventure akin to an Errol Flynn film rather than days of drudgery punctuated by bouts of physical and emotional constipation only occasionally relieved by moments of elation and release, I imagined that love was caring about someone more than you cared about yourself. My lady, I will do anything for you: take that bullet, throw my body in front of that train, and go to the store to buy you tampons at 3 AM.

This attitude tended to bring me into relationships with the wrong kind of women, specifically the ones who would let me do all of those things. They were beautiful, intelligent, witty—all wonderful things that draw me like a moth to a supernova to this very day—but they were also entirely willing to accept my extraordinary exertions on their behalf, radiating small doses of noncommittal affection and praise in return. There was always one more superhuman feat for me to perform—“Fetch me the singular lotus blossom that grows on the frozen top of Mons Olympus"—before I could receive the ultimate reward, which in this case was not sex (though that could be part of it), but the full expression and permanent possession of their love.

I never did get there. The insurmountable obstacle, I eventually realized, was that I was always competing with a rival I could never defeat, someone she would always love more than she loved me: herself. Thus, to go along with one of my cardinal rules of existence:

  1. DO NOT ARGUE WITH A CRAZY PERSON. YOU CANNOT WIN.

I now had another key rule of self-preservation:

  1. DO NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH A NARCISSIST; SHE'S ALREADY TAKEN.

Love does not need to be a suicide pact. My initial formulation, love is caring about someone more than you care about yourself, was flat wrong and only led one into frustrating cycles of unrewarded self-sacrifice. The correct and healthy version is this: love is caring about someone as much as you care about yourself—and even that had damned well better be reciprocal from day one, communicated in hundreds of tiny and seemingly insignificant gestures that say, “You may have had to cross the street for me today, but I will cross the street for you tomorrow. You have bent for me today, but you will not always need to be the flexible one. I will do for you as often as you do for me.”

Having realized this one tortured night when I was about 20, I walked out of the house, stood under a beautiful, starlit sky, and shouted unto Heaven, “That's it, God! No more crazy women!” From that moment on, my life got better. Like any recovering addict, I have slipped a time or two since, always with painful results; recalling my vow and rule #2 helped lead me back to the light.

Each of us has a list of qualities that attracts us to a romantic partner that is unique to ourselves. For many people I have known well enough to meet their parents, a major component seems to be that they want to marry a girl like dear old mom (or dad, for women). There are certain physical qualities that stimulate each of us, of course, but I speak mainly of psychological components. For me, intelligence, humor, intellectual curiosity, and wide-ranging knowledge and tastes are what initially attract me. It took years for me to understand that other qualities, such as loyalty, consistency, compassion, and the simple ability to give of oneself in an unconditional way were so much more important, and if you didn't have those things, you might as well not worry about all those other qualities. In computer parlance, caring is the basic system, a sense of humor is an app.

General managers and other baseball decision-makers are often like I was as an infatuated youth, falling in love with players who will never reward them. They see speed and don't think about on-base percentage. They see power and don't think about defense. They see playing skills and are willing to overlook personality.

Manny Ramirez wants back into baseball. There are many obvious reasons why teams should not risk even an NRI on him, mainly his age and a skill set that was already limited to hitting when last we saw him play regularly, as well as the typical degradation of skills that is seen when a player of his age misses so much time. Those old muscles lose some of the snap they had left when they have been idle for too long.

Forget all of that. The main reason not to bother with Manny, even if he can still hit, is that he is who he is. “Manny being Manny” was always a way of laughing off the man's essential narcissism. Somehow, the man's self-serving nature was made to seem cute. It wasn't, but his ability to hit was so great that teams were forced to put a pretty face on someone who had so little interest in the teamwork aspect of the game. His failed drug tests are the ultimate expression of his narcissism, as he committed acts which would deprive his team of his services if he was caught. He didn't fail himself; he failed those who had been foolish enough to count on him.

People like Manny are not cute, they're toxic, deadly to your well-being at any time but when they are standing at home plate. There was a time when Manny offered enough that this was worth tolerating, but that time has passed. He will never love the GM or manager who takes a chance on him as much as he loves himself. That is a relationship of enduring, permanent commitment. Whoever tries to take the place of his true love will soon reap the inevitable rewards—a few spring training home runs followed by a quick trip to the disabled list for amorphous reasons or another failed test. There are better ways to spend money and your daily allotment of tolerable stress.

“It's just Manny being Manny” always should have been, “It's just Manny loving Manny.” If you want to give him his heart's desire, get him a honeymoon suite and a mirror, not a baseball uniform.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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