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February 22, 2012

The BP Broadside

Manny Ramirez Through the Wrong End of the Telescope

by Steven Goldman

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He’s a friend of a friend of a relative that I see at family gatherings sometimes, an ex-teacher who is excessively bitter about what seem to me to be his own failings. On holidays, he plays vulture at the table. With dirt caked under his nails, he digs at the serving bowls with his fingers. If he’s before you in the serving order, you will wind up going hungry because he’s fouled the horn of plenty.

When he’s not picking at the food, he picks at his former students. In the greatest statistical anomaly in the history of man, every student he ever had was a total moron. I don’t know where he was teaching—perhaps it was the Secret Kingdom Where Everyone is the Seventh-Generation Product of Inbreeding Between Siblings, in which case maybe he had a point. Otherwise, it seems to me that he suffers from a case of blaming one’s limitations on the supposed limitations of others. It’s not that you can’t teach, but that your students are too dumb to learn.

Knowing this guy, I’m willing to give the students the benefit of the doubt.

I’ve been skipping various family events for years, staying home alone on many holidays while the rest of the nation, almost in a literal sense, gathers to eat poultry, hurl accusations across the table, and watch ancient grudge break to new mutiny. Many of my reasons were professional, including not having the time to go away from various BP books, but part of it is that at my advanced age I just can no longer tolerate being trapped in small rooms with people I dislike.

Oakland has gotten Manny Ramirez’s signature on a minor-league contract, continuing the saga of a player historically significant both for his hitting and his wandering concentration. At nearly 40 years old, and four years removed from his last full campaign, it’s hard to say what he will have left. Yesterday, Billy Beane said, “There was need, and we really couldn't find a reason not to. It's low-risk, high-reward. We've got some time to evaluate him, evaluate the situation with some of the younger guys. There's little to no commitment. It would be foolish not to.”

There was no reason not to gamble on Ramirez’s upside, except for the fact that in the post-Red Sox phase of his career he’s had a habit of letting his team down. The A’s need more hitting that’s for certain—a 3-4-5 combination of Josh Reddick, Seth Smith, and Scott Sizemore is hardly intimidating—and they need a gate attraction, though it’s hard to know how much a 40-year-old DH will cause the turnstiles to spin; winning sells tickets more than a sideshow, no matter how famous, and Oakland’s decrepit ballpark and general lack of enthusiasm has meant the team has rarely drawn well except when it was winning, and sometimes not even then.

If Ramirez doesn’t perform, the A’s don’t have to bring him up to the majors, but what if he does perform, they do bring him up, and he is unable to hit at the old level due to his age and long layoff? Even the greats get old; think of Babe Ruth with the Braves, Hank Aaron with the Brewers, Harmon Killebrew with the Royals, Willie Mays with the Mets. Worse, what if he, for any reason, from another failed test to lack of interest, simply disappears again? The A’s are a team of relatively young players such as Jemile Weeks and Josh Reddick, the latter of whom just escaped from the supposed land of beer and fried chicken. They need proper role models, not a player whom, whatever his prowess at the plate, tended to suffer from lapses in concentration.

Perhaps I am overreacting here; Ramirez has always seemed popular among his teammates until late in his Boston phase. It might be that his reputation derives more from bad press than from bad play. Think of Eddie Murray, a player who could have won a Most Valuable Player award in any of several seasons but never did, perhaps because he lacked league-leading numbers in any season other than 1981, or perhaps because he made a point of disdaining the press. It was always said that he was great teammate, but a lousy interview—well, not lousy, but nonexistent—and that might have cost him some votes.

Murray never failed any drug tests, at least not the kind that were given during his career, and no one ever cited him for calling in sick when he could have played—the guy was good for 150 to 162 games a year until he was almost 40. Heck, he played 152 games at 40. You can’t say the same about Ramirez, and it’s odd that a team with so little to gain and so much to lose in dignity as the A’s would want to risk the potential embarrassment of even a deal with so very little risk. We all believe in forgiveness and second chances, but sometimes you send a more powerful message by not turning the other cheek, which is not to say to strike back, but simply to ignore.

At the risk of seeming like a hypocrite, I know that in a recent column on Josh Hamilton I railed against the Padres for punting recidivist cocaine abuser Alan Wiggins, but I see a difference between an involuntary addiction and a willful disregard of the rules of the game and the welfare of one’s team and one’s teammates. Insofar as we know, there is nothing Ramirez did that he was compelled to do, biologically or otherwise; as with so many other odd decisions in his career, he put himself in a position to be suspended because he felt like it. That kind of thinking, or lack thereof, is an insult to all the hardworking players in the game who show up on time, play hard, and go home with nothing to apologize for except the dirt on their uniforms.

The other day, a family member told me he wanted to invite the whole clan over to his house, but that he couldn’t figure out how not to invite the everyone-but-me-is-stupid fingers-in-the-fruit-salad guy. If he isn’t invited, then the person who brings him won’t come, and then the person who brings her will be insulted and won’t come, which means two other people won’t show up, and things will devolve into a big argument… Which, if you think about it, is a lot like being there but with the advantage that all of the strange action will take place at a distance.

I’ve always enjoyed Manny Ramirez’s ability to hit and found “Manny being Manny” to be amusing for as long as it was harmless, but to turn a famous Elvis Costello construction on its head, while I used to be amused, now I’m disgusted. Old-school writers like to take we statheads to task for supposedly denying the emotional component of the game. That’s a straw man, but in this case, were anyone to advocate for Ramirez purely on the basis of his production, the straw man would fit. Like fingers guy, the safest place for Manny is also “at a distance.”

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

Related Content:  Manny Ramirez,  The Who

27 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Behemoth

Let's not have some form of blacklist here. I can accept that the penalties for repeat PED users should be higher, but once someone has served their time, they should be eligible to play, and clubs should offer them appropriate deals. MLB hardly has a glorious history when a player is miraculously not offered a contract, after all.

Also, I don't really see that it affects the reputation of the A's - if it goes wrong for baseball reasons, they just made a cheap signing that didn't work, and if Manny does something stupid, the world will just see it as Manny being an idiot again.

Feb 22, 2012 04:58 AM
rating: 0
 
GoTribe06

One problem that I still have is understanding how Manny served his time. He is going to serve a 50 game suspension instead of the mandatory 100 game suspension. What did he do to earn this? He retired and walked away from the game rather than face the consequences of his actions.

And I believe that is the point of Mr. Goldman's article. It is not that Manny is too great a risk in financial terms, or even in public perception when he missteps. The risk in bringing Manny on board is the message you send to the young players on your team about the values that are important to your organization. I work in an office environment, and I see the same things. The majority of people will work to the level expected of them (or portrayed to them).

Feb 22, 2012 06:20 AM
rating: 5
 
Kyle E.

I'm curious as to why Ramirez didn't wait 100 games and then "retire" last season.

Feb 22, 2012 10:48 AM
rating: 0
 
Zach Brady

I choose to think of it this way:

Imagine this scenario: Manny was signed with the Rays and the story of his PED test broke. So then the Rays cut him from the team and no other team in baseball wanted to sign him for the entire year. He even approached every team individually and every team still said no. Then, in 2012, the A's decide they want to finally give him a chance. Do you *punish* Manny because he wasn't on a ML roster for the vast majority of the 2011 season?

What I'm trying to get at is that its not fair to automatically say that Manny retired because he didn't want to face the consequences. He retired and was away from baseball for an entire season. Regardless of the circumstances, he was away from baseball.

With that being said, MLB still has to do *something* in response to the failed drug test. I think reducing the suspension in half is a great way to deal with the issue, while not *punishing* a player for missing an entire reason.

Feb 22, 2012 11:38 AM
rating: 4
 
Shaun P.
(676)

I choose to see this through the lens of, "See Commissioner Selig? We're in such dire straits in the current ballpark, we have to risk signing Manny Ramirez to DH. How about letting us move to San Jose already, please?"

I understand your point, Steven, and I think its absolutely valid. Manny signing with the A's doesn't bother me, though. He's a dolt for sure, but dolts can change, and I don't know if Manny is as far down the path of no return as your relative the former teacher, or any of the people I know who are like that. I guess with Manny, we'll find out.

Feb 22, 2012 05:53 AM
rating: 7
 
mpirani

Nice article, but if any of your family are subscribers, you can go ahead and make alternate plans for Thanksgiving.

Feb 22, 2012 07:10 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

I think Steve's point was that he already does.

Feb 22, 2012 10:02 AM
 
HonusCobb

The only thing I'm concerned/interested about is whether or not Manny will hit. I was so excited when the White Sox traded for him but he hit one home run in 88 plate appearances. The only way I'll be bitter is if he hits well for Oakland, having not hit well for the Sox.

Feb 22, 2012 07:59 AM
rating: 0
 
jhardman

The thing that chaps me in seeing the A's sign Ramirez is that they (nor anyone else) has signed Johnny Damon. Or even Vladimir Guerrero. Both of these guys are DH types who have a pedigree of being good guys in the clubhouse, and Damon has always been a guy who does a lot of the little things right when needed. But they obviously won't sell as many tickets as Manny. I'm with Shaun P. above - this is Billy Beane pouring gasoline on the stadium embers. If Frank Francisco throws a chair now, it hits no one. What's next? CJ Wilson voodoo doll night? 81 days of A's bobbleheads?

Feb 22, 2012 08:45 AM
rating: -1
 
Richie

The financial cost of Manny is however much it costs to house and feed a player in spring training. My understanding is that the As don't owe Manny a cent of his salary unless he makes the team, and then still only once his suspension is complete.

So, see if his bat speed is still there, and if so, flip him. If not, or if he acts up at all, out he goes at a cost of room and board for a few weeks.

Feb 22, 2012 08:58 AM
rating: -1
 
Richie

I applaud counting in malcontent costs, especially on Sabrery sites like this. But the problem with clubhouse/office malcontents is not when you can easily get rid of them. It's when you can't or don't really want to lose their individual production, so you start making excuses for them. Pretend they're not really affecting those around them, 'who are adults after all, so it's part of their job to put up with stuff'. Manny's full expendability makes this, also, here a very tiny risk.

Feb 22, 2012 09:04 AM
rating: 0
 
rweiler

The thing that strikes me as really odd is that Beane will take a chance on Manny whereas Bonds, coming off a 270/480/565 season apparently never even got a phone call from anybody. Aside from being widely disliked, Bonds seems to be the appointed martyr sacrificed on the alter of baseball to cleanse other PED users of their sins.

Feb 22, 2012 09:21 AM
rating: 4
 
anome8

Was Bonds going to take a minor league deal for half a mil?

Feb 22, 2012 11:33 AM
rating: 3
 
rweiler

It is highly unlikely that Bonds would have settled for $500K, but it is more than a little odd that he apparently didn't get any inquiries at all. I don't buy that it was a prospective jail sentence that kept bidders away as anybody familiar with the US justice system had to know that a conviction, let alone jail time, was years away.

Feb 22, 2012 11:51 AM
rating: 3
 
Ric Size

Bonds was unsigned by MLB because 1)the PED allegations, and 2)he's perceived as a selfish jerk. As far as a fair salary to offer him at the time, I remember Joe Sheehan writing something like "anything less that $8-10 million would be an insult."

Feb 22, 2012 15:12 PM
rating: 0
 
rweiler

Reason 3 just occurred to me: Nobody wanted to give Bonds a chance to hit another 40 or 50 HR thus leaving the way open for the supposedly clean Alex Rodriguez to eventually pass him as the all time HR leader and thus remove the tainted record from the record books. Despite his recent decline, that could still happen and I suppose everybody will feel good about it because unlike Bonds, Rodriguez is reasonably well liked and he confessed.

Feb 23, 2012 12:03 PM
rating: 0
 
BrewersTT

I agree the situation was odd, but I just can't imagine a GM - sorry, all 30 GMs - deciding to pass up 40 homers or 1.000 OPS so that they could influence who holds a particular record. Compared to winning more games, that has to be way far down his list of priorities.

Feb 24, 2012 09:53 AM
rating: 2
 
kcboomer

I guess it is surprising that Manny is willing to risk delaying the start of his HoF countdown just to get a few at bats for chump change.

Feb 22, 2012 09:23 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

2 failed PED tests = never getting into the hall. May not be right (although I think it is) but it is reality

Feb 22, 2012 10:38 AM
rating: 2
 
Richie

By the time Bonds was willing to play for $500,000, I believe he'd been out for longer than Manny now has been. And getting steadily closer to a 'guilty' verdict, with all the lovely PR effects that would've entailed for the ballclub.

Feb 22, 2012 10:00 AM
rating: -1
 
greendrummer

good suggestion on CJ Wilson voodoo doll night - i'll forward it over (with appropriate credit/citation) to Jim Leahey the A's marketing director, who may just have the toughest job in MLB
as Goldman noted, rare is the old slugger who makes a mark - let alone on the O.Co outfield fences - but does Damon really fit that same profile?
he's on par with Manny defensively (nice arm buddy...) yet has almost no chance of poking one out of right field in Oakland and Billy's not big on the Second Chance Sweepstakes as Johnny roamed CF in oakland once before

and come on guys, who really thinks this signing has any impact on attendance?
by the time he gets there in June the A's will already be trenched 10 games under .500 and the only folks spreading out in the stands actually care about the team anyway
i guess if you're looking at it like 100 extra tickets = 5% of 2000 then maybe.....

Feb 22, 2012 10:23 AM
rating: 0
 
StarkFist

Well come on, we all know that Beane has pursued power bats relentlessly the past two offseasons, and has found that major leaguers who have other options really don't want to play for the Oakland A's. And being that Yoennis C├ęspedes isn't a major leaguer and Manny has no other options, that's who he signed.

Feb 22, 2012 15:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Jack Thomas

The odd thing to me is how he only gets 50 games for the 2nd failed PED test. I have seen no explanation from MBL as to why. I would not think MLB would want to be in the business of making exceptions to it's drug policy.

Feb 22, 2012 15:12 PM
rating: 0
 
chunkstyle

Maybe I'm out to lunch here, but I've never seen Manny as being the clubhouse cancer he's made out to be. His reputation in Cleveland was one of a ballplayer obsessed with hitting. Although he looked and seemed aloof, he spent tons of time watching film and refining his craft. The PED usage is consistent with that dedication to being a better hitter more than poisoning team chemistry. To borrow your line, "Ramirez has always seemed popular among his teammates until late in his Boston phase."

To me, the fact that Oakland stinks makes sense of this. If he's role-modelling the aforementioned dedication to hitting, that's something you'd like the padawans to pick up. If not, kick him to the curb, and right quick - it'll be obvious to the ballclub which Manny they are getting.

After writing all this, I went and looked for some of the news articles from last spring. After signing Manny (and Johnny Damon), Andrew Friedman essentially said the same thing...."It's about how dedicated they are to their craft. And I think given all the homework and conversations that we've had about people, both of these guys are extremely well regarded as teammates, and also the way they prepare. I think that it's something that with our young players, just to watch them; watch the way they get ready to compete."

Feb 22, 2012 22:17 PM
rating: 1
 
onegameref

He is in fact known to be a tireless worker that arrives at the park when no one else is around to work on his conditioning and hitting. This was true in LA and I would guess the other places too. He also was living in an apt not too far from my old office in Pasadena when he played for LA and was occasionally found sitting at a local bar in the same complex as the apt and would gladly chat about baseball with the fellow patrons as long as they didn't draw too much attention to him. I see Manny as a hitter that likes to be left alone when the game is over. The PED use doesn't seem to make sense but I am of the mind that they offer no substantial gain for a player unless they are of the mind to work out anyhow. The signing seems like exactly what Beane stated in that he can only gain and lose little. Of course since the A's have cornered the market on 4th OF's it would seem that a few professional players may be upset that their opportunities may be lessened with the signing; they have selfish reasons.

Feb 22, 2012 22:56 PM
rating: 0
 
diceshooter60

I'm an A's fan and I'm embarrassed. He's a twice caught drug cheat who is a quitter to boot. The whole "Manny being Manny " is excuse making for his selfish behavior. I wonder what prospects in the A's system think about their AB's going to such a signing. I don't see myself at an A's game this year, or as long as Manny's hanging around.

Feb 24, 2012 00:05 AM
rating: -1
 
dodgerken222

How the hell is being a crackhead an "involuntary addiction?"

Feb 24, 2012 12:35 PM
rating: -1
 
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