Friday, October 03, 2008

Be a Man, Manny

As a fellow Red Sox fan like Bill Simmons (ESPN's "The Sports Guy"), I too rooted on Manny Ramirez. I loved him when he was funny. But I also hated him when his jokes weren't so funny. I wrote a couple months ago that with the way Manny disrespected his team-mates, the fans, and the game, I hoped he fell flat on his face in L.A. & went the way of Nomar.

In his really, really ridiculously long article that will headline 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.


Jordan said...

Nice sport's rant, let me see if I can digest the article.

At the beginning of the article he airs some of the stars or teams dirty laundry. I personally don't see a need for this. We all know that our rich superstars aren't perfect, so tell us about their statistics and not their party skills.

Next, I don't think the Manny factor in the clubhouse was just a media conspiracy. Other players were making comments regarding it. Curt Schilling, whom I think we can both respect, said that it was a negative factor. At the time, their sense of team was not that cohesive. If its just media saying it, well take it for what its worth. When players start making comments and it is not isolated, let your ears perk up.

The assumption that Manny would automatically have put up the same numbers in Boston that he did as Dodger is absurd. Does he have the potential? Yes. Does he have an advantage switching leagues? Most certainly. Anytime that a player gets to face pitchers who are not used to him, it helps. Lots of players have honeymoons when they switch leagues. Any assumption of equal stats is preposterous and any baseball person knows that.

Let's not pretend that this is the first time that Boston has traded or flat out dropped a popular, famous, or great player. Johnny Damon and Pedro Martinez stick out. This team is the poster child for the Sabremetric system. This is the successful team that they always comment on as using sophisticated new statistical models to find new players and determine future trends on their own. On Pedro, they let him go a year early probably, but got to miss his last 3 years of injuries and questionable performance. With Damon, they didn't buy high on him and figured that they could replace him for cheaper and younger. Manny is 36, no spry chicken in baseball terms. This could frankly be those pesky newfangled stats and models saying that he is going to decline and not be worth 20+ million a year. I know that you love the system that grew a team that won a couple championships, so don't turn your back on the system just yet. In Jason Bay you get someone 7 years younger with a contract 1/5 the size of Manny's. His stats are pretty good, not great. Don't play this off as the worst swap ever. That swap sounds like Sabremetric talk to me...

The conspiracy that I believe in the most is that there really are very few if any real conspiracies. This management angle that weaves is very diabolical, very anti Red Sox, and not entirely plausable to me.

III said...

Yeah, I'm not at all upset with being on the Jason Bay end of this swap. He's a fine ball player with some pop. Get a team full of those guys (Youk, Pedroia, Ellsbury, etc., put it together with some pitching, and you've got a dangerous-looking team in October.

Mad Rappin EW said...

I enjoyed reading your rant about Manny. Clearly both Manny and Boras are at fault for what happened. I agree with both of you that in the end the Red Sox benefitted from trading away Manny in getting a good player for the future. Manny's numbers will fall off in a couple years as he plays with all the other overpaid past their prime on the New York Yankees starting next year.

I understand overpaid athletes wanting to get paid more but what I don't understand is when people like Manny and Kobe Bryant complain about the team they're on and wanting to elsewhere but eventually re-sign with the team and say it's all good - only to go back to complaining about the team again. If you choose to take the high pay over where you want to be then shutup and play. You made the decision to play there. Manny didn't fit in a baseball crazed city like Boston that overanalyzes everything Manny does - but Manny realized this before he re-signed. It seems crazy to me that players that get paid tens of millions of dollars a year can fake injuries and threaten not to play. They would be penalized more for if it wasn't for the powerful baseball union.

In regards to your comments about deregulation being the villain I would beg to differ. We have seen what happens to socialist leaning state governments like California does for business. It forces companies to suffer and move out and the government goes bankrupt.

The Democrats are paid off by all of the unions in the country and fight for them and what are they doing for our country? Sure they allow better pay for workers. But they also make it impossible for American automakers to compete and near bankruptcy. In baseball the union has prevented salary caps, allowing Scott Boras to do what he does and causing the ticket prices to go up.

You mentioned the Republicans being about de-regulation and allowing greed to prosper. I dislike Republicans for being paid off by big oil companies thus preventing energy independence. The Democrats caused the current financial crisis by being paid off by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and fighting for sub-prime loans to be allowed under the premise of allowing poor people to be able to buy houses when they aren't financially ready for it. Obama received $100k from both companies whereas McCain was one of the most outspoken people in 2005 that tried to regulate them and prevent these unresponsible loans from occuring.

But back to baseball your Red Sox have a good shot to win it all this year though everyone is underestimating Tampa Bay. Sadly for my Cubs... there's always next year.

Dan said...

I'm with Jordan on this one. Just because some circumstantial evidence could be interpreted to suggest that there's a conspiracy somewhere doesn't mean that there is one.

I also despise Boras as a fan. He has no respect for anything but the bottom line. I loved it when A-Rod dumped him and signed an extension with the Yanks on his own. But, to be fair to Boras, he is simply doing his job, which is to get top dollar for his clients. And like you say, the players are all adults (Manny included). The buck ultimately stops with players, not their representative. If Boras is hurting his players, the responsibility rests with those players to dump him, not with the league or the government to create rules to stop Boras from doing nothing wrong.

Also, since you brought regulations up, this article, from 1999, points out that government intervention played a large part in creating the mess the economy is in today: It's almost scary how accurate its predictions were. I'm sure there's plenty of blame to go around, but I'm not convinced that regulations are a cure-all to what ails us, particularly in light of the fact that de facto regulation is such a factor in causing the current situation.

III said...

I appreciate you guys letting my Sox off the hook so easy. :) I don't know if I see it the same way. I'm not saying that I think that there's anything unethical about it; they're just doing what's right by them, IMO. Still, it edges out the little guy to some extent if that's what happening. And it looks like that's what's happening from my seat.

@ EW

On rebutting my poliical regulation rant, TOUCHE! Baseball does have BY FAR the most powerful player union in all of sports. And it is definitely the strength of that union that led to a lot of other ills in baseball (e.g. no steroids testing for so long, still no test for HGH, etc.). Well played, sir, well played.

And sorry 'bout the Cubs, dude. I was all ready to get that 2004 feeling all over again for you guys. Of course, it's not over yet, but it's not looking good. And it stinks that it's Manny that is sticking it to you guys, too.

@ Dan

I did a Ctrl-F for "regulation" in that article and the word wasn't even in there. I'm not sure that that's what it was about.

I think I do see the point being that added government influence -- back when there was that whole push for home ownership -- helped put us in that mess we're in. And we both agree that there's plenty of blame to go around on that.

III said...

BTW, here's a little more of a window into the mind of Simmons in terms of what he had in mind when he wrote that manifesto. From his Friday picks column:

"As for WEEI, that's the local sports radio station back in Boston that (according to various friends and readers) spent most of Thursday ripping apart my Manny Ramirez piece even though it could have been talking about the Angels-Red Sox series. That's fine. I knew that would happen. I hold no grudges with this stuff. But after everything settled down and the callers started weighing in, what unfolded was the very "Who was really to blame: Boras or Manny?" debate that I had been hoping to provoke in the first place. I thought this was funny. Please, guys, keep talking about it and inadvertently proving my point. Knock yourself out."

Chad Billy-Steve Pknicholson said...

Personally, I don't blame crazy, and I'm not sure that Manny is an adult. I think, certifiably, that he needs a legal guardian. And if that guy is Scott Boras, well...

As for BS and his feelings about the Red Sox, didn't he just take off a little bit to write a book? I was under the impression the book had a lot of baseball in it. I don't know, could be wrong about that.

All media is biased in some way and it's always about the money. Depressing.

What if Jason Bay is the greatest playoff baseball player of all time, we just never knew it because he was on the Pirates?

Anonymous said...

"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."

We do not have a free market economy. People seem to be confused about this, somehow. We have the illusion of a free market that is viced between over-regulation on one side and the government-sponsored monopoly of the Federal Reserve on the other. The free market does not reward greed as much as people think. It usually fights against unchecked greed.