"Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned but heaven hath no sweetness like a sports fan vindicated." - Samcat

Friday, August 01, 2008

Gone, Baby, Gone

(Photo from Boston.com)

And Manny washes his hands of Boston...

I don't know. Maybe I should have more to say about this. Several thousand other people already have, most more eloquently than I ever could. Maybe I should be more upset, or questioning the motives behind the trade or wondering how Manny will fare under Joe Torre but honestly, I reacted to the whole thing with a shrug. It's like I said yesterday, in the relationship between Manny, the Red Sox and the fans of Boston, it feels like we've been breaking up for years. This just makes it official.

Honestly, I didn't think they were gonna trade him this time either. I figured a team in the midst of a playoff race which, frankly, has been stinking it up of late, wouldn't trade a future Hall of Famer just because of some chemistry issues. It seems I underestimated the depth of those issues. And if that's the reason? Then I applaud the team. If this truly becomes a matter of addition by subtraction, then good for them.

Because the bottom line is that none of us know Manny Ramirez. We think we do because we assume he's the carefree manchild who high-fives fans in the middle of double plays and lovingly strokes Julian Tavarez's head in the dugout. But really, none of us know him. He might be every bit the harmless, tiny flag-waving, overgrown kid we assume. But I suspect he's much pricklier than that. And that the situation was more complicated than we, as fans are ever going to know.

Which is why this is hard. Because how does a team justify to its fan base, pulling off a trade like this? Honestly, I'm not sure they have to. The Boston Red Sox, for all intents and purposes, are one of the role model franchises for Major League Baseball. They have money, sure, and they can afford hired mercenaries when they need to. But they also have an impressive farm system which has, over the course of recent seasons, netted us such players as Pedroia, Ellsbury, Papelbon, Lester and Buchholz. Players without which, we would have never won a World Series last year. So it's a combination. And because of their financial clout, the Sox are often able to absorb the hit of a trade or signing gone bad (Eric Gagne, BK Kim), and soldier on, relying on the lesser know and less expensive players to step up.

Of course, through it all, there's been Manny.

Or, more accurately, there has and there hasn't. Because sometimes, Manny wasn't there. You don't need me to reiterate instances of Manny failing to act as part of the team. If you think about it, you can remember them without too much effort. And that is part of the problem.

I learned a long time ago that wins and losses and championships are always going to mean more to the fans than to the team. By necessity, they have to, otherwise the players would never get out of bed the morning after a devastating loss. But as fans, we still want to know that our players care. It's why we loved guys like Trot Nixon. It's why I still miss Kevin Millar. It's why, frankly, I'm sad about seeing Brandon Moss go. Manny never really had that.

I am quite certain that Manny loves playing baseball and I have defended his carefree attitude before by saying that he probably doesn't understand what people get so worked up about seeing as how baseball is a game and games are supposed to be fun. And there's some validity to that. There is truth in it. These men play a little boy's game for a living and they do it for insane amounts of money, fame and adoration. They should absolutely have fun. But with that fun comes the responsibility to your fans, your teammates and your own legacy to the game. You have to respect it.

Despite being relatively young, I'm a baseball purist. I don't like sushi at the ballpark and I want Fenway Park to stand forever. But I also want my players to know what it means to me, personally, to watch them hustle out an easy grounder. I want them to understand, on some fundamental level, that their performance affects my mood. I want them to know - when their pitching and offense and defense and timely hits and talent and luck come together to result in a championship - how that feels for me, as a fan. I want them to understand how heartbroken and devastated I am after a playoff loss. That's their responsibility and it's perhaps a burden to some. But it should be an honor.

I would never claim that Manny Ramirez isn't anything other than a fantastic baseball player. He absolutely is. But there is a reason I never fell in love with him like I did with Jason Varitek or Trot Nixon or David Ortiz. Those guys felt like they belong(ed) to us. Manny felt like he thought we belonged to him. And when you do things like tell the fans they don't deserve you and react like a spoiled child when someone doesn't get you the tickets you need (that act particularly really soured me on Manny of late because of my soft spot for older people, especially old baseball men), you are not treating us right. Because people in Boston love the Red Sox. Before it became everyone's favorite bandwagon to love to hate, Red Sox Nation was a real thing with real fans who would sell everything they owned to see the Sox win. It still matters that much to some people. Those are the people who deserve the respect of their players. Those are the people who someone like Manny, in his current incarnation, doesn't deserve.

So that's that. The trade's done and we move on. Jason Bay - an All-Star in his own right - comes to Boston and I'm choosing to focus on what the Sox have gained rather than what they gave up. Because they always tell us that professional sports is a business first and foremost, and, as a fan, that's often hard to swallow. But the Red Sox have their reasons. I am choosing to respect them.

Maybe the fact that I am not all worked up about this means I'm a bad fan. Maybe I'm just done with the drama and am anxious to get back to fundamental baseball, wins and losses, double plays and strike outs. Or maybe this will hit me in a few months and I'll decide it's the worst thing the Red Sox have ever done. I doubt it, but I doubted they'd ever trade Manny. Stranger things have happened.

So, like we do after every Sox loss, we move on. We go forward with a new left fielder and a new perspective. No one is above the game and no one should be bigger than it. You don't get the Hall of Fame named after you, you get to be part of it. Our parts are just changing.

Apparently, I did have something to say after all.