Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
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Folksie
2008-10-02 19:42
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.
 Man or Myth?

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Over at ESPN.com, Bill Simmons has a long, rambling, often entertaining and insightful piece on Manny Ramirez.  You have to wade through a lot of words to get the nuggets of gold, but they are there.  I like how Simmons writes from the perspective of a fan, and I admire that he's not afraid to criticize ESPN personalities like Peter Gammons.  He is a conversational writer, not lean or succint.  But part of the fun in reading him are the tangents, to see how he ties it all together.  He's like a late-night underground FM DJ from another era--he riffs:

How much does Manny understand in general? He's dumb enough to leave uncashed paychecks sitting around and smart enough to earn those checks in the first place. Dumb enough to get seduced by Boras, smart enough to heed his advice. Dumb enough to burn bridges in Boston, smart enough to get what he wanted in the end. Dumb enough to betray his old team, smart enough to embrace his new one. He's unredeeming in every way until you add up every little moment that made you like him in the first place. Then he's not so bad. (I swear, this makes sense if you're me.) And so I refuse to blame him for what happened.39 The one thing I learned from 2001 to 2008 was that Manny judged life by simple things: hits, home runs, salaries, fancy cars, even the efficient way someone set up a pitching machine. When he's unhappy, he can't hide it. When he's happy, he can't hide it. He could never fathom spending $20 million a year, but he knows it's the number he should make. He didn't take it personally that the Red Sox never picked up his 2009 option, just that they didn't care whether he stayed or left. He moved from a one-bedroom condo to a presidential suite at the fanciest hotel in town, liked living in both places ... and if that doesn't tell you everything you need to know, then I give up.

So, how will this play out? I see Manny leading the Dodgers to the 2008 World Series, breaking their hearts and donning pinstripes next season. He won't feel bad, because he's Manny. The L.A. fans will feel bad. I will feel worse. It will be the single most painful sports transaction of my lifetime. It will make me question why I follow sports at all, why we spend so much time caring about people who don't care about us. I don't want to hear Manny booed at Fenway. I don't want to root against him. I don't want to hold a grudge. I don't want to hear the "Mah-knee! Mah-knee!" chant echoing through the new Stadium. I am not ready for any of it. You love sports most when you're 16, then you love it a little bit less every year. And it happens because of things like this. Like Manny breaking the hearts of everyone in Boston because his agent wanted to get paid, then Manny landing in New York because the Yanks offered the most money.

And when it happens, his new teammates will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure him out. They will like him. They will make fun of him. They will ride his hot streaks for weeks at a time. Within a few months, they might even swipe his credit card for a night on the town, planning to charge drinks to their idiot teammate all night. Someone else will get stuck with the bill. Manny will drink for free. Everyone will have a good laugh, and they will never underestimate Manny Ramirez again.

And while we are talking baseball legends, let's go back to Scott Raab, writing about Don Zimmer in Esquire circa 2001:

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Zimmer managed Tom Yawkey's Red Sox from 1976 to 1980. Between parties, the Boston media and fans roasted him without mercy.

"Every day," Zim says. "I left the ballpark one night, and sittin' right by the dugout is my wife and my daughter--she lives up in New Hampshire, but it's only, like, forty-five minutes north, and I'm drivin' her up to her house. My wife's sittin' in the front, and my daughter's in the back and she's cryin'. I turned around and said, 'What's wrong with you?' She said, 'Daddy, I'm so tired of people booin' you in this town, and I'm worried that yer gonna get fired.'

"I said, 'Don't go to the game no more. Stay home. If it's gonna bother ya, stay home.'

"Don't tell me it didn't hurt--day after day, hour after hour, the same shit. It's gotta bother ya. But it's baseball. If you don't like it, get out. Get a job. That's the way I looked at it. And that's the way it was."

There is old school as a slogan of self-advertisement and then there is old school as the baseball way of life Zimmer still loves too much to leave behind.

And here's the beauty part:

Zimmer's anything but bitter about his playing days, and he will wave you off if you dare accuse him of courage. Still, despite--or because of--the head-hunting he survived, Zim has no pity for new-school batters who get concussed and then kvetch.

Particularly Mike Piazza of the Mets, who caught a Roger Clemens heater with his head last summer. We're at dinner at a little Italian place near the dog track when I ask Zimmer about it.

"When Piazza said that in his mind, 'No doubt he threw at me,' that stinks. Is Piazza the only sumbitch in America ever got hit in the head with a ball? That's what burned my ass. There's only one man in the world that knows--the guy who threw it. This guy"--Zim's talking about Clemens--"he's mean. He'll pitch inside like you're supposed ta pitch. The other guys are pussyfoot--they don't wanna pitch inside. Piazza made a little man out of himself. Fuckin' cry. I don't care who knows it, I lost a little respect for Piazza. I got hit in the head, and I know the cocksucker threw at me--fuckin' buried me. The Dodgers wanted me to say that, and so did the press. But even though in my heart I knew, I'd never say that. The prick never called me, never sent a get-well card, nothin'. I was in the hospital twenty fuckin' days, I never heard from him. But I'd still never say that he threw at me purposely. Even though everybody knew this was a nasty cocksucker--there's always the one chance that he didn't, that the ball got away."

Manny and Zim: bona fide originals.

Comments
2008-10-02 20:48:37
1.   Shaun P
I really enjoyed Simmons' piece, because it was classic Simmons. You described him perfectly, Alex.

I think he's right about Manny coming to NYC, but he's got the wrong place. To me, there is no doubt that Manny ends up on the Mets, not the Yanks. Outside of CC, it would be the biggest splash Minaya could make. And nothing erases the heartbreak of last year's collapse than a new big name player, right Johan Santana and Mets' fans?

Cash isn't about the make the oldest offense in baseball even older by signing a going-to-be 37 Manny to a deal. Minaya will have no such qualms.

2008-10-02 22:18:21
2.   Max
I only read Simmons these days when he's talking about the NBA -- his schtick and cult of celebrity has gotten a bit too heavy for me the past couple of years, and the success of the Boston teams has only made it worse. He's impressively prolific, but just as frequently on autopilot with the pop culture references and observations about Boston fans' psyche.

Having said that, I did see this piece earlier today and admit that I found it extremely entertaining, and very true to my own impressions of Manny. No matter how much I hate the Red Sox, I have found it very difficult to hate Manny, even in the heat of battle with the Yankees. I always wondered why I found him so endearing, even when he did childish/obnoxious things like preen for homers and hold up that sign about Jeter during the WS parade.

Simmons' piece was good because he seems genuinely conflicted about his fandom and suspicious about the usual press and old school player bromides about "playing the game the right way". To what degree does a genuinely flaky personality and amazing performance on the field excuse peculiar behaviors and an occasional lack of effort? This might be one of the best pieces Simmons has written.

I don't know if Manny will become a Yankee, but I am loving his resurgence as a Dodger, and look forward to the highlights after their games since he joined the team. Whatever you think of him, he is a force of nature with his bat.

2008-10-02 22:22:01
3.   underdog
I usually don't read Simmons any more, as a Laker fan I got turned off beyond belief at his potshots during the finals last season. But I read this piece and agree, it's rambling as hell, but really fascinating and insightful in places. It gives perspective on the Manny saga that I really hadn't seen anywhere previously.

Btw, don't be shocked if Manny stays in LA. If they can at all afford it, they will find a way. It's a good fit for him (and obviously he's at least enjoying it for now).

2008-10-02 23:47:33
4.   Mr OK Jazz TOKYO
3 I loved the article too. Don't know much abotu Simmons celeb status now from this end (is he on tv or something?), but he still talks like a fan. Like his NBA columns too, but skip the football stuff..

Manny..just a real interesting cat! Though I hope he stays in LA...

2008-10-03 04:48:12
5.   ms october
yeah i read this piece earlier too.
i also have gotten turned off simmons the last few years as well.
however it was an interesting raed for the most part, and i am also glad he called out theo as well as gammons.
but with that said my places of contention:
- his whole not wanting to hang out with athletes has eveolved over time - he was supposed to hang out with tom brady after the superbowl - maybe this was how bill thought earlier in his tenure at espn.com, but it has definitely changed and it is phony to pretend that he still maintains that stance
- he hates boras and always has. it is easier to give manny a pass in order to attack who he really wants to go after.
- the whole how much does manny understand angle and repeatedly calling him dumb enought to... even when trying to balance it with smart enough to... is distasteful to me. how does he know manny is dumb? becuase manny's not doing what his prep school educated self would do? he just made a big deal of saying he avoided athletes socially so it would not cloud his judgment, yet he somehow knows manny is dumb.
one of the main things that also turned me off from simmons besides the obnoxiousness related to boston teams and his own growing celebrity is his subtle racism. it's in the majority of his columns - and is best illustrated with last years comparisons of moss and welker.
and one last thing about simmons - he himself got made at espn for their control over his content and basically went on a type of strike himself - so he is allowed to get mad at his employer and not work for months and trot out a few columns that are well below his typical standard, but manny (or other professional athletes) is not allowed to do so?
2008-10-03 06:11:10
6.   jonnystrongleg
I supported signing Manny back in the winter of 2000. I had the same lack of concern for the Yanks payroll then that I do now, and was disappointed the Yanks did not end up with both Manny and Mussina.

My father-in-law, a die-hard fan of all Boston sports teams, claims the real turning point in the Yanks' fortunes came when the Yanks did not claim Manny off waivers when the Red Sox dangled him (2003 I think?). The Yanks could have had him for nothing except his salary and the Sox could not pull him back. It would have been the balliest in your face move ever, and likely might have resulted in Arod landing elsewhere - possibly Boston. But man, that is a great "What if?" to play with when you're trying to distract yourself from the lack of Yankee postseason baseball.

Alex, were you rockin' a White Sox Jacket on the 1 train last night?

2008-10-03 06:13:12
7.   Sliced Bread
I'm not saying he's unqualified, but it troubles me that Manny is a heartbeat away from the presidency.
2008-10-03 06:52:47
8.   Alex Belth
Dude, you bet I was rocking a Sox jacket. That's one of my favorite items, a varsity jacket from Eight Men Out that was given to me by Jeannie Atkins who was the apprentice film editor on that.

During my first summer in the movie business, 1988, they were just finishing post on that movie, and I worked on a Sunday--running answer prints of "The Last Temptation of Christ" back and forth from Magno to Sound One--and for coming in on a weekend, my boss gave me his flannel Sox cap, given as a crew gift. Damn hat was too small but I forced it on my head for a few years before I gave it away. But the jacket has been a keeper. I've spent money getting it fixed and fixed again. LOL. I won't let it die.

Bro, if you ever spot me again, say hello for sure.

2008-10-03 07:03:56
9.   jonnystrongleg
You bet. I only realized it was you after I got off on 59th - next time for sure.

That's a long ride for you on the 1, but maybe you can grab a seat after 116?

2008-10-03 07:07:21
10.   jonnystrongleg
And that jacket is awesome - definitely keep it alive as long as possible.
2008-10-03 07:33:45
11.   Alex Belth
I will. I actually have to bring it back to the tailor. It will never die! LOL.
2008-10-03 07:55:13
12.   Schteeve
Simmons is a professional frat boy.

Manny in my opinion is the kind of character baseball needs more of. Insanely talented and insanely, brazenly himself. No corporate polish, no concern for preseving endorsement deals.

I'd like Jeter even more if he'd let his guard down sometimes and display his humanity.

That also points out why I like A-Rod, despite his attempts at polish, he comes across as a very human guy, he's neurotic and insecure, and I wish he could embrace that side of him more.

2008-10-03 09:12:52
13.   JL25and3
12 I saw Manny's Yankee Stadium debut - his second major-league game. The stands were packed with friends and relations from Washington Heights, and Manny put on quite the show for them: two homers and a double. I've liked him ever since.

My two favorite Manny moments:

Earlier this year, when Manny caught a fly, high-fived a fan, then threw the ball in. He didn't waste time in the process, so it didn't affect the play - it just looked like pure spontaneous fun.

A couple of years ago the CF was making a routine throw in to the cutoff man. Manny - not all that far in front of him - made a sudden, leaping, diving stab to cut off the cutoff throw. It was really a spectacular play, probably as good a play as he's ever made, except that it was completely inexplicable. I have no idea what he might have been thinking.

2008-10-03 09:23:08
14.   ms october
13 maybe not so inexplicable - damon was in cf - maybe manny was tired of damon's lame throws and figured he had a better chance of getting the ball in. and it was a spectacular catch of the throw.
2008-10-03 09:38:50
15.   Raf
I thought the clip of him rubbing Tavarez's head was pretty funny

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