Red Sox fans get their first chance tonight to boo Manny Ramirez for forcing his trade out of Boston in July 2008. It's their right if they wish to ignore seven and a half years of the greatest slugging the franchise ever has known outside of what legends Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx did. They can ignore, too, the two world championships in the span of four seasons, after 85 seasons without even one. Was that one month two years ago really that heinous?
If Ramirez jogged down the line on groundballs and milked a balky knee and frustrated the manager with his day-to-day mood on whether he was good enough to play, nobody condones that as upstanding behavior. The temperament from the clubhouse when he left was "good riddance," a strong indictment from his peers. But was July 2008 so bad as to flush away the years of excitement Ramirez gave the franchise?
And this idea that Ramirez "quit" on the Red Sox or stopped trying? The guy hit .347 in July 2008 with a 1.060 OPS.
Only Williams and Foxx ever posted a better slugging percentage or OPS during their careers in a Red Sox uniform. Ramirez hit 274 homers and drove in 868 runs for Boston. In that time, only Albert Pujols gave one team more homers and only Pujols and Lance Berkman gave one team more RBIs.
In the epic eight-game postseason winning streak of 2004, when the Red Sox went from the brink of being swept by the Yankees in the ALCS to a franchise-altering world title, Ramirez hit .371 and was named the World Series MVP. When they won again in 2007 he hit .348 in the postseason.
Ramirez gave Red Sox fans excitement on a nightly basis, and the memories of a baseball fan's lifetime. He gave them smiles and laughs with the occasional goofiness of his play. Now is their chance to thank him and all it takes is one small moment of appreciation upon his first at-bat, the same way they did for Nomar Garciaparra, who had become, not wholly unlike Ramirez, such an unhappy clubhouse anchor known to miss games that Boston swept him out in a 2004 trade in order to win the World Series. The boos can come later, same as for any opponent at Fenway. But there is one moment tonight for Boston fans to get it right.
Philadelphia's All-Star second baseman is hitting .174 over his last 24 games with no home runs and a .221 slugging percentage in 86 at-bats. He has fewer RBI (26) on the season than Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli (29). Phillies manager Charlie Manuel insisted that Utley is healthy.
"He's getting pitches to hit but he's swinging through them," Manuel said. "And he's been getting out on his front foot and rolling over on some pitches. And it seems when he does hit the ball hard it's not falling for him. He hasn't had much luck."
On Thursday night, Yankees manager Joe Girardi intentionally walked Shane Victorino to pitch to Utley in the seventh inning. (Utley walked.)
It's interesting to note that we saw a spate of surgeries after the 2008 season to repair torn hip labrums, a procedure that had largely been unheard of in baseball: Utley, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell and Alex Gordon. All faced an arduous rehab process and returned, albeit with some decline in slugging in most cases. Now all have declined further, with Gordon in minors, Delgado out of baseball, Lowell out of regular playing time and Rodriguez and Utley slugging at diminished levels.
The Pirates were so proud to have added a year to the contract of GM Neal Huntington and picked up the option year on the contract of manager John Russell that they chose not to tell anybody for nine months. Pirates president Frank Coonelly said he made the moves last October, believing he was better off keeping them secret. He said he instructed his top two baseball lieutenants to play along with such lack of transparency.
And so when and how does he announce the good news? In a statement Thursday during a 10-game losing streak only in response to a Foxsports.com report that Russell's job is in jeopardy. And the translation of the corporate speak went something like this: We can fire the manager at any time, regardless of a contract situation.
Pittsburgh is 14th in defensive efficiency, 15th in ERA and last in runs. If there has been any improvement toward building a mediocre team, not even a winning one, it has been marginal. It's petty thinking like this episode that brings leadership into question more than playing talent.