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.
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."