EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 27, 2007

Going to bat for Manny

Bill Burt

Bill Burt

Why the drama?

Manny Ramirez surprisingly strolled in Red Sox spring training headquarters in Fort Myers, Fla., yesterday morning and everybody in New England is interested.

Why - six years into this marriage - are we still sweating the small stuff?

I have long since come to the conclusion that you can count on four things in life around here in New England: death, taxes, Manny will finish out his contract with the Red Sox and Manny will periodically do something that makes you want to spank him.

Of course, it isn't politically correct to spank children anymore, so we just move on.

Depending on which way you look at it, Manny was three days late or three days early. If your expectations are that Manny is a leader on and off the field, he is three days late, maybe longer. If your expectations are he is a follower, loner and plays to his own rules, well, then he is three days early.

I subscribe to the latter.

Now that doesn't mean we should condone the "Manny Moments," which happen every two months or so. It just means we know what we got with this guy: a consistent .315 average, 40 HRs and 130 RBIs.

We, as a region of tough guys who allegedly accept nothing but effort, gave Manny a pass a long time ago. And it's too late to start asking or demanding he act like the rest of his teammates.

We sold out ethics and morals to the devil when it comes to Manny because he is a Hall of Famer. And, well, he doesn't really hurt people like Carl Everett did. Plus, his smile is infectious sometimes.

"Manny being Manny" means Manny can do everything short of a felony and we are only to laugh it off.

Let's look at the bright side. These "Manny Moments" are almost over. We only have two more years to go, which means only two more birthdays for his grandmother and two more car shows in New Jersey to deal with.

If this were David Ortiz or Dice-K, I would probably look at this differently. One guy is basically the team leader and the other is a wide-eyed rookie. We have expectations for both of them.

Because of the circumstances of his arrival - Dan Duquette was desperate to make a big move after a bad season and increased ticket prices - Manny always had the Red Sox over a barrel.

If he didn't feel like playing, he didn't have to, be it the Yankees or a ninth-inning pinch-hitting performance. He was never called on the carpet by a manager, GM or even his teammates.

We have always been worried about losing Manny, in the sense that he might "shut it down" if we were too tough on him.

If somebody had the guts to bench him for two weeks after not running out a ball back in 2001 or 2002 and a message was sent immediately, my educated guess, based from the Bill Belichick School of Coaching, was that he would have conformed.

Maybe not. Maybe he would have walked away and had been suspended via some ugly fashion, and the Red Sox would have taken a financial bath in a 50-cents-on-the-dollar trade.

But it's too late for that thinking. It never happened.

So let's stop hooting and hollering. Manny is harmless. He is also a great hitter, maybe the best right-hander in the American League. My guess is with this lineup he has his best year yet.

On behalf of millions of New Englanders, I'd like to personally thank Manny for coming to spring training three days early.

Now let's get on with important stuff, like who is going to be the closer?

Bill Burt is executive sports editor for Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company. You can e-mail him at bburt@eagletribune.com.