In his really, really ridiculously long article that will headline ESPN.com this weekend, Simmons argued that Manny shouldn't take the blame. He had put up great numbers, he was still putting up great numbers, he was going to put up great numbers -- what wasn't there to love? And any culpability for a poor attitude, lack of hustle, faking injuries & ducking games, intentional strikeouts, and being a bad team-mate in general should be laid at the doorstep of Manny's agent, Scott Boras. I personally think Simmons overstates his case. But did he have good reason to do so?
The Sports Guy stops just short of overtly alleging the existence of a cabal between the Red Sox front office, the Boston print media, the Boston sports talk machine, ESPN analyst Peter Gammons, and -- The Great Satan himself -- Scott Boras. He essentially assassinates Gammons in terms of him having any journalistic integrity or objective voice of his own anymore.
Not to mention that he takes swipes at current Red Sox GM Theo Epstein's integrity in holding Manny to a standard he himself allegedly did not keep. He compares Epstein not being re-signed & let go at the end of the '05 season to Manny quitting on his team mid-season for no apparent reason. I'm not sure how solid those comparisons are.
And, on top of all that, The Sports Guy even makes veiled accusations of racism. There is a long-standing history of sports racism in Boston (with both the Celtics and the Red Sox). Simmons patently implies the Red Sox front office of preserving this long-time Boston sports pastime of sorts by referring to the current product on the field as "lily-white" & akin to looking like a prep school athletics squad.
My first reaction was that Simmons must not be a Sox fan anymore. I mean, seriously: the guy never writes about them anymore. He spills endless amounts of ink over football lines and on baskeball; but he barely acknowledges baseball anymore. And when he FINALLY decides to grace us with his thoughts on baseball by talking about the Manny divorce, he basically slanders his favorite team? One of my major gut reactions was that Simmons just needs to go buy a Dodger blue #99 jersey & make it official. If it's Manny you're loyal to, then be up front about it. But don't claim Red Sox fanhood if you're not into it anymore.
I'll give Simmons credit where he deserves it, though. He doesn't throw darts without hitting a few targets.
The strongest part of Simmons' article is probably his critique of the widely-loved Peter Gammons. It is indeed puzzling that Gammons never once blamed Boras, but only spoke noble words of him. Even I recognized it to be pretty clear (in my write-up two months ago) that it felt like Gammons was the mouth-piece for the Red Sox administrative arm. For Gammons to not even say a single ill word about Boras, though -- a man universally recognized in baseball circles as the media's version of the protector of the integrity of the game -- is really bad. Even Curt Schilling fingered the obvious villain when interviewed at the trade deadline:
On Scott Boras’s involvement:
“I think absolutely he’s absolutely had a hand in this … I think he absolutely has a piece of this. Scott Boras stands to make zero dollars if the Red Sox pick up Manny’s options the next two years. Manny’s not 1- years from retirement, he’s maybe four obviously, that’s where he’s at. So does Scott Boras want to get a two year-deal for Manny or a four-year deal for Manny? At the end of the day it falls on the player because Manny’s an adult… I can’t fathom Scott hasn’t had some… you read his comments, he just has no ability to answer a question short, tactfully, and straightforward. It’s a 12 paragraph way to say 19 syllable words that you just can’t figure out what the hell he’s saying.”
There does appear to be an attempt by the Red Sox front office to control spin & to establish relationships that are ultimately beneficial for their own self-preservation & advancement. Think about who benefits. Gammons gets first dibs at any scoop coming out of the Red Sox front office, not to mention other probable fringe benefits at Fenway Park when watching his self-disclosed favorite team. The Red Sox watch Boras drive up prices on all the mid- & low-market franchises -- a development that plays into their hands with their massive fan base and, thus, money pool. On top of that, though, the Red Sox help establish a gentler view of Boras & a kind relationship with an agent who is vilified everywhere else in order to perhaps receive favorable treatment with Boras' long list of clients (cough, cough -- J.D. Drew). And, of course, Boras gets paid.
This article by Simmons even brought back fresh to my memory an interview I remember seeing Theo doing four years ago after the Red Sox re-signed Varitek but had let Pedro go. Varitek is, of course, represented by Boras. When Theo was asked about Boras' cut-throat, blood-sucking reputation, he succinctly & directly responded, "Well, Scott always gets top dollar for his clients." I remember being shocked by that answer. It was sort of a relentlessly positive way of looking at a really, really awful person in terms of what a scourge he is on baseball in general. I like the way Simmons referred to him: "one of the worst human beings in America who hasn't actually committed a crime."
I want to make this clear: I detest Scott Boras. He himself is a huge reason why a baseball game is so expensive to go watch in person right now. He encourages and openly fosters disloyalty to the "home team" (he basically fundamentally opposes one of the first principles from the National Anthem of Baseball, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"), which completely spits in the face of baseball fans everywhere. And he does all this to increase his own bottom line.
And you know what else, my Republican readers? I want to say to you that this is what unchecked free market enterprise produces. So everytime you praise Republicans for their common sense and demean Democrats for how "wrong" they are, I want you to remember that you are giving a tacit endorsement to the reckless & utterly insensitive greed of The Great Satan himself.
And as I wag my finger on that point, I can't help but be almost completely ashamed of my Red Sox fanhood now. I've been a fan for a long time. I don't know if these revelations will change that overnight. But the Red Sox look more & more like the Yankees at every turn. It's disillusioning, to be sure.
Back to Simmons, though... one thing I think that he completely overlooks is the fact that it wasn't a guarantee that Manny was not going to quit on this team that was defending a title. Manny had already done just that when he sat out for five weeks at the end of the '06 season for some mysterious, probably non-existent injury. Manny could have shut himself down for as long as he wanted. He didn't care. And if the '08 Red Sox were going to make a run at defending their title, it was clear that Manny wasn't going to be a part of that effort. It was clear enough that he had other selfish interests in mind, and Manny's not one to juggle more than one task at a time.
At the end of the day, though, the man who is speaking the most truth here is Curt Schilling. (Why is it always the jerks & the blow-hards? Canseco was the truth-teller on steroids. Now it's Schilling on Manny.) He was absolutely correct when he said, "At the end of the day it falls on the player because Manny’s an adult." Simmons can call Manny an "idiot savant" all he wants, and portray him as the ignorant puppet in Boras' puppet-master scheme. But Manny ultimately chose this path when he chose Boras & acted out like a petulant child. I don't see God absolving everyone, both sheep & goats, on Judgment Day just because that Satan was one persuasive cat. That's just not how it works -- at least not in my worldview.
Manny made his bed. Now he's lying in it. And I'm still hoping that it has some uncomfortable lumps so that Manny will go the way of Nomar. My hope is still that Manny falls on his face to the extent that whenever a future athlete thinks of acting out and being selfish, he will think of the cautionary tale that is Manny Ramirez.