I was driving home late in the last afternoon of the Manny Ramirez Era in Boston, listening to the local ESPN radio outlet, when, suddenly, it seemed that the two hosts had decided that what the situation called for was the opinion of Margaret Hamilton's character from The Wizard of Oz.
… disgrace to the game ... I get sick of people in Boston adoring a guy who didn't play hard. ... blackmailed the Red Sox ... an affront and an embarrassment ... What about the integrity of playing the game right? ... When it comes to the Hall of Fame, there will be a lot of people who have a lot more questions about Manny Ramirez than they do about Mark McGwire.
And his mangy little dog, too, one supposes. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of the sources of this particularly violent magma displacement was ESPN's Peter Gammons. This is like being heckled by one of the heads on Mount Rushmore. It's also gloriously unmoored from reality. Gammons' own record on covering the Steroid Era is a decidedly mixed one. Not that I care, because that cause was never my frenzy of choice, either.
But, glorioski, it's transcendentally silly to argue that Manny Ramirez has done more palpable damage to the game of baseball than Mark McGwire did simply because McGwire dragged his well-perforated ass to the plate every time he was asked. Anybody who casts a vote for the Hall of Fame on that basis, or who counsels someone else to do so, not only should be kept far away from the process, but probably shouldn't be allowed to handle their own money, either. (Can we please, finally, pry the ballot out of the hands of the Baseball Writers' Association of America and hand it to somebody less self-important, like the College of Cardinals?)
Nevertheless, Gammons' outburst was the perfect coda to a symphonic performance of local hysteria that had been building for at least a month and that will now continue for a while. How long will depend entirely on how the trade works out. The more Ramirez hits in Los Angeles, or the worse Jason Bay plays in Boston, the more stories will come filtering out of the Red Sox establishment about what a schlub Ramirez was, although, admittedly, the bar's already set fairly high. (The gist of a column in today's Boston Herald: Manny hates kids with cancer.)
For the nearly eight seasons he was with the Red Sox, Ramirez was as essential as he was infuriating, something he shares historically with two other Red Sox left fielders, Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams. Yastrzemski was accused of dogging it in the field for most of his early career, and Williams was eight kinds of strange on the most normal day he ever lived.