posted: Aug. 1, 2005  |  Feedback

For any Boston fan hoping for a Manny Ramirez trade, Saturday night provided a sobering glimpse into the future. Minutes before a home game against Minnesota, the Red Sox pulled Manny from the starting lineup. A deal with the Mets seemed imminent. The boys took the field with Olerud batting cleanup, Kapler in right and Millar in left. And maybe the Sox ended up winning the game, but one stat line stood out in the end:

D. Ortiz, DH -- 1 1 0 0

Did he get hurt?

(Nope. Played the whole game.)

Did he have a couple of sacrifice flies?

(Nope. Not a one.)

Was it a low-scoring game?

(Actually, no. Boston banged out 14 hits and scored six runs.)

So what happened? With Renteria on first and one out, the Twins walked Ortiz in the first inning. Third and first, one out in the second … they walked him again. In the fourth, they pitched to Ortiz with two outs and nobody on (he flew out to right). In the sixth, with runners on second and third and one out, they intentionally walked him. In the seventh, with Kapler on second and two outs, they walked Big Papi again.

Sensing a theme here? There are multiple reasons why the Sox never should have considered trading Manny, but here's the biggest one: They weren't just losing a Hall of Fame slugger who still had something in the tank, they were turning Big Papi -- only the premiere clutch hitter in either league -- into a 275-pound, Dominican version of Lu Blue. Without Manny, how many times would teams walk Big Papi in the next two months? 75? 100? 150? No number seemed unrealistic.

Was that why Boston ended up walking away, because of Saturday night's game? Maybe, maybe not. You also have to consider the following things:

1. None of the trades made sense
I know, I know … Manny becomes a 10/5 guy at the end of the season, meaning he could veto any trade and act like a complete doofus in the final three seasons of his extravagant contract. When he stopped running out ground balls two weeks ago and started the whole sad/moody/depressed puppy dog routine, yes, it was somewhat frightening to remember that he's on the hook for another $60 million through 2008. But here were the offers on the table for Manny, according to various reports:

A. Boston gives up Manny and two top prospects for Aubrey Huff, Mike Cameron and a top Mets prospect. Well, Cameron's only real value comes because he's a great center fielder … and we already have Johnny Damon. I like Huff, but he tanked the first half of the season, and he's certainly not stopping anyone from pitching around Big Papi. And it's not like Huff and Cameron are cheap labor -- they're on the hook for a combined $14 million in 2006. So you're getting probably 55 cents on the dollar (and losing a prime prospect) during a season when you still have a chance to defend your title. What's the point?

B. Boston gives up Manny for Mike Cameron and a top Mets prospect, plus the Sox have to pay $15 million of the remaining money on Manny's contract. Basically, they would have been saying, "We give up on the 2005 season."

My theory: I know they offered him around, know they were in intense discussions with the Devil Rays and Mets … but I don't think they ever really wanted to trade him. And why? Because those two aforementioned deals are colossally moronic -- they would have been skewered in every message board, Web site and newspaper. I'm firmly entrenched in the "they wanted to scare the living daylight out of Manny" camp, like when he requested a trade two years ago and they placed him on irrevocable waivers. That same winter, by the time they had conditionally traded him to Texas, Manny was calling Boston owner John Henry and begging him to stay. And last week's fervent trade talk was an extension of that -- they were exploring his value, but more importantly, they were pulling a Vito Corleone, slapping him across the face like Johnny Fontaine and screaming, "You can act like a man!"

Which raises the second point …

2. Manny is completely nuts
Completely. Totally. After his agent agreed to contract terms with Boston five years ago, Manny threw out one final condition -- the Sox also needed to hire the guy who set up the pitching machine for him in Cleveland (trivia answer: Frankie Mancini). So his agent had to go back to Boston GM Dan Duquette, who said, "Yes, we'll hire the pitching machine guy if that makes him happy." Only the pitching machine guy didn't want to leave Cleveland. Manny decided to come, anyway.

Here's the point: He's a lunatic, but in a functional way. Two or three times a year, something sets him off, and it could be anything -- someone borrowed his Aqua Velva without asking, Louisville Slugger forgot to send him a new box of bats, his wife accidentally erased a movie from their TiVo, and so on. And that's it. He's a mess for two weeks. Unlike someone like Bonzi Wells or Terrell Owens, he doesn't antagonize reporters, blast other teammates or swear at his coach. He's not a negative presence. It's almost like having Cuba Gooding from "Radio" around, but without the jukebox and the fake teeth. This is not someone who can derail your entire season.

So what happened this time around? I blame Pedro, who has probably been calling Manny every week for the last nine months, messing with his head and saying stuff like, "I don't want to tell you who said it, but I talked to one of your teammates last week and they said you were a loser, man." Few baseball players are smarter than Pedro -- he knows how Boston works, how Manny works, and he's probably been quietly pouring gasoline on the fire since December (hoping that Manny would crack and the Sox would eventually give him away to the Mets). I have absolutely no proof of this -- it's just a theory -- other than Pedro made it clear that he wanted Manny on the Mets (also, Pedro gleefully interjected himself into last week's soap opera). If you were Pedro, wouldn't you have played it this way? Sure, it's devious and manipulative … but it's the right move. And it almost worked. You know, if he did it.

(Note: I think he did it. Then again, I'm a sucker for conspiracy theories -- I'm a firm believer that Tom Cruise has never even seen Katie Holmes in a towel, much less completely naked. But that's a whole other story.)

Second, just like Jon Lovitz as Harvey Fierstein, I think Manny just wants to be loved. Is that so wrong? Remember, this is a guy who was breast-fed until he was 4 years old. When you forget to coddle him, he takes it personally. This hasn't been the best summer for him -- he started off slowly and became a whipping boy for certain writers and radio hosts (a rehashed version of what happened near the end of the 2002 season), and Big Papi has clearly passed him, both in popularity and productivity. So Manny went into a little funk, and it spiralled, and then the last two weeks happened.

In the past five years, the phrase "Manny being Manny" has been said or written probably two million times; during a NESN interview after yesterday's game, Manny even said it about himself (high comedy, by the way). But you know what that phrase really means? "He's a doofus, he's completely unpredictable, but the dude can hit." And given that we knew all three of these things when he signed with the team, nothing that ever happens with him -- short of his dropping trow in left field -- should come as a surprise.

3. The team has as much of a chance to win the AL as anyone
Not to sound like Hall of Famer Peter Gammons here, but if Schilling can eventually become a starter again, if the flame-throwing rookies (Papelbon and Delcarmen) can give the Sox some bullpen innings, if Foulke can return to form after having his knee scoped (that's the biggest "if"), if Nixon can come back before September, if they can get some life from the bats of Millar or Olerud (they don't even need both), if the starters can stay healthy, and if Manny is happy again, they're absolutely the favorite in the American League again. What other team has two dominant hitters and a leadoff hitter having a career season? Who has more quality starters? Who has an easier schedule down the stretch? In retrospect, that was the biggest reason why the trade didn't happen. When you're competing for another championship, you can't hold a fire sale for a first-ballot Hall of Famer who can carry your team for weeks at a time.

Because that's what everyone forgets about Manny: Strip away all the baggage, and the crazy guy can still hit. In fact, I asked the two most diehard Sox fans I know (my dad and my buddy Hench) what they thought would happen if Manny went to the Mets, and the eventual consensus was that he would hit between .380 and .420, with 14-20 homers and 50-55 RBI. None of us had any doubt. Say what you want about the guy, but he usually rises to the occasion when it matters. You just need to use a cattle prod with him sometimes, that's all.

During Sunday's remarkable game at Fenway (the highlight of the season so far), when Manny strode from the dugout in the eighth inning -- tie game, second and first, two outs -- the fans exploded when they realized that he hadn't been traded. On Friday, they showered him with boos, almost like parents grounding their teenage son. On Sunday, they cheered him, shouting "Man-ny! Man-ny!" and gave him a collective bear hug. And you know what? I would have wagered just about anything on Manny's coming through.

And he did.

And the crowd went three levels beyond crazy.

And Manny took off his helmet and happily pointed to Boston's dugout.

Just like that, everything was cool again. You know the old saying, "Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make?" In this case, the Red Sox did make a trade. Five days of rumors and histrionics eventually led to the following deal: Unhappy Manny straight up for Happy Manny. Sounds like a steal to me.

August 2005