Those who contend that Manny Ramirez isn't smart completely miss the point. In his own way, he was a genius.
How else does a high school dropout who was a two-tool baseball player walk away -- slink away? -- from a game with nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in career earnings?
Ramirez wound up making more money playing baseball than everybody but Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter even though, unlike those two, he didn't have anything close to an all-around game. Ramirez was a great hitter, fueled by terrific natural talent, hard work and, yes, a paucity of ethics.
He is the only player to have failed three drugs tests. He consistently quit on teams. And while he worked hard, it was only on his terms.
"Everyone always said what a hard worker Manny is. That is true, but only on his hitting,'' one former coach of Ramirez's said. "Do you think he worked on his defense? No. His baserunning? No. He didn't work on anything but hitting.''
Everything Ramirez did seemed to be with an eye only on himself and his bottom line. He stopped playing hard in Boston because the Red Sox held the options on his contract, never mind that they were for a whopping $20 million. He quit on the Dodgers last season. And ultimately, he quit on the Rays, who heard about his sudden retirement after a failed drug test from major League Baseball. Ramirez had a warped set of values. He embodied selfishness. Manny-being-Manny took on a more and more nefarious connotation as his career drew on.
Manny surely was fun and entertaining in the good times, before MLB adopted testing. Who knows when Ramirez started using? It's certainly a stretch to think he started when testing began, isn't it? Nobody would do that.
In all, Ramirez failed three drug tests: a survey test in 2003, one with the Dodgers in 2009 where he was caught with a fertility drug that is banned since it is also used as a masking agent, and now this one. Manny was prepared to argue that this new penalty should be only for 50 games, like the last one, because his '09 test didn't come from an anabolic steroid. But MLB was saying it would be 100 games. Manny was hitting .059 this year, and was said to be having very little fun, so he quit. (Of course it's not much fun to have a drug failure hanging over your head while you're also sporting the worst batting average in the league.)
There was suspicion on the part of some baseball people who know Ramirez about his decision to train this past winter in Toronto when he lives in Pembroke Pines, outside Miami, where a lot of players train in wintertime. He told folks he wanted to play in Tampa or Toronto. Tampa he explained by saying it wasn't far from Pembroke Pines (maybe five hours). But Toronto? A few eyebrows were raised.
One thing is certain: He isn't going to the Hall of Fame now. Steroid guys have gotten a smattering of votes, but no known steroid user has come close to being elected. Ramirez is so connected to PEDs that anyone who votes for Ramirez would have to be considered an endorser of drug use.
It was clearly a mistake for Ramirez to come back this year and think he could beat the system. He certainly didn't need the paltry $2 million he was to make this year that represented an almost unprecedented 90 percent pay cut from last season.
The Rays hoped he might regain the power he had lost last season, when he hit just nine home runs, including one after his August trade to the White Sox. But apparently Manny thought he needed help to do so.
A lot of folks have tried to make the point that Ramirez is an idiot to have been caught twice after penalties were attached to failures. For an alleged dummy, he was awfully calculating. That he often avoided reporters or even refused to talk when asked now seems like part of a plan of secrecy more than rudeness. When Ramirez was dealt to Chicago, he pulled the ol' Sammy Sosa gag, where he feigned an inability to speak English. The smartest thing he did, though, was to dedicate himself to the craft of hitting. Early on, he understood that's where the money was.
He was no dummy but he was a giant goofball who cared only about himself. While with the Red Sox he pushed down a traveling secretary when he wasn't getting his way on free tickets, which led to his being traded out of Boston in 2008. He never did anything that wasn't intended to benefit him.
He did do memorably funny things. Once, while playing leftfield, he cut off a throw from centerfielder Johnny Damon, as an outfielder himself. He walked through the Green Monster to relieve himself in mid-inning. He once got off the plane for Triple-A but left his luggage at the airport and was unavailable to play that day.
When O.J. Simpson had his infamous car chase in June of 1994 and it was being played in the Indians clubhouse that day, Manny wanted to know what was happening. When one of his teammates told him that O.J. was accused of killing his wife, Manny memorably said, "Oh ho, not Ogea! I know his wife.'' Ramirez didn't read newspapers and somehow thought the player meant their Indians teammate Chad Ogea, a pitcher who was not as quite as well known as O.J. Simpson.
One time, before Ramirez was making ridiculous money, he decided he wanted a special Harley Davidson motorcycle that he said cost $60,000. So who did he ask for the money? A couple Cleveland sportswriters, Sheldon Ocker and Paul Hoynes. Needless to say, Manny had to wait on the Harley.
Eventually, he could afford anything he wanted.
But now it all seems ill-gotten.
• There is a growing suspicion around the game that if the Mets are out of it at mid-year, they will look to trade several veterans, possibly including Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Francisco Rodriguez. But there is a belief now that Mike Pelfrey, a much younger veteran, might also make it to the trade block, a possibility that was first speculated by John Harper in the New York Daily News.
• The Mets' winter signing of Chris Young (1-0. 1.46 ERA) to a $1.1 million base looks like the best signing of the winter. It seemed to take months to get that deal done, but in the end it was worth it.
• Mets people believe the addition of veteran reliever Jason Isringhausen to the team will be a help in the clubhouse.
• Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said their roving pitching instructor, Spin Williams, told him Oliver Perez is throwing 91 mph for them in Florida. This would be disconcerting to the Mets, who saw Perez throw only 84-87 mph since he signed for $36 million over three years before the 2009 season. "As soon as he signed, we never saw the same pitcher (as before),'' one Mets official said. Whatever Perez is throwing now, it's still not in a game, and the Mets can't have any regrets about cutting him loose.
• The Yankees' signing of Carlos Silva might seem like a reach. But it's at a good cost (only the major league minimum for when he's in the bigs) for a team concerned about its rotation. Their concern has grown with the troubles of Phil Hughes, who has had velocity problems beginning in spring. The Yankees say Hughes isn't hurt but it's still troubling for them to see the pitcher who regularly pitched in the 92-94 mph range as a starter (and 96 plus as a reliever) rarely crack 90 mph. New Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild's connection to Silva (who was 10-6 for the Cubs last year when Rothschild was the pitching coach) was another key to the Yankees' interest.
• The Red Sox's seem to agree with Jim Thome that Clay Buchholz will be a big star. They signed him to a four-year deal for a reported $30.5 million that includes two team options. Thome said last week he believed Buchholz would one day win the Cy Young award.
• The Red Sox' quick moves, including the promotion of Alfredo Aceves and top prospect Felix Doubront, suggested a bit of panic. But Aceves should be a help.
• The Yankees' signing of red-hot Russell Martin is looking better by the day. He admittedly lost focus his last two years with the Dodgers, when he was a shadow of his former self. The Dodgers still made him an offer of about $4.4 million to return. But Martin declined it, and wound up signing for $4 million with the Yankees. They are reluctant to use their backup, Gustavo Molina, who hasn't played yet, or Jorge Posada, who has won four rings as their main catcher but who they won't use under almost any circumstance.
• MLB rejected Frank McCourt's request to have Fox advance him $200 million on a new TV deal, which would enable him to pay off ex-wife Jamie and perhaps enable him to keep the Dodgers. McCourt's representatives were meeting with MLB folks this week to try other ideas to keep him afloat as owner. He may have an uphill battle because he has lost support from fellow owners due to negative revelations that surfaced during his divorce trial.
• Aaron Harang (2-0, 1.50 ERA) looks like a bargain so far for the Padres.
• Angels starter Jered Weaver, who rarely cracks 92 mph, continues to amaze. He had 15 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings in a 3-1 win over the Blue Jays, meaning 15 of his 23 outs came via the strikeout.
• Seattle's Chone Figgins is hitting .135, and worse, his on base percentage is .154. Mariners people hoped his move back to third base would help. But so far, nothing. Meanwhile, second base has been a mess for the Mariners. Much has been made about Jack Wilson, a decade-long shortstop, removing himself from a game at second base after a two-error inning cost ace Felix Hernandez in a three-run inning against the powerful Rangers. New Mariners manager Eric Wedge called Wilson's request to leave the game "unspeakable,'' and while Wedge benched him for three straight games the manager continued to say Wilson remains the second baseman.
• Wedge, meanwhile, said he isn't bothered by Milton Bradley's recent use of ear plugs. Me, I'd say that's unspeakable. Bradley needs to learn to face the music. Too many people have served as an enabler for Bradley, beginning but not ending with his agents, who should have told him long ago to shape up. It would have been only fitting for Bradley to be released the same day Silva was. But alas, it was not to be. Bradley endures, somehow.
• Don't look now, but the amazing Indians are on a seven-game winning streak. The last three wins came against the Mariners and Wedge, an ex-Indians manager. Righthander Josh Tomlin (2-0, 2.13 ERA) also became the first Indians pitcher to throw at least five innings in his first 14 appearances.
• Rays manager Joe Maddon had a strong reaction to Tampa Bay infielder Felipe Lopez, who has a spotty reputation in the clubhouse, flipping his bat following a home run. Curiously, his reaction wasn't as strong to Ramirez failing a drug test, then quitting on the team without telling them.