Ramirez’s next role: The Departed?
BOSTON – The Situation remains fluid.
Of all the euphemisms for a Boston Red Sox front-office man to use Wednesday to describe embattled outfielder Manny Ramirez, the one he chose – “The Situation” – so perfectly encapsulated this entire carnival. The defending World Series champion, the model franchise in baseball, is being held hostage by a nincompoop who for eight years has been enabled because he’s a future Hall of Famer.
So if, in fact, the Red Sox do consummate the proposed three-way trade that would send Ramirez to the Florida Marlins, land them Pirates outfielder Jason Bay and return a plethora of young talent Pittsburgh’s way before Thursday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline – or at least engage in some form of a Ramirez deal – not only has Boston forfeited for the stretch one of its standard bearers, it has broken rule No. 1 in such situations.
Never negotiate with a saboteur. Or a vandal. Whatever the sobriquet, Ramirez, through his continued passive-aggressiveness and a childish streak that runs deeper than the Mariana Trench, has forced the Red Sox to consider what once seemed inconceivable: allowing something – let alone someone – to pressure them into making a move.
“Once we take care of The Situation,” the source said, “we’ll be fine.”
As the night waned and the strength of the rumors increased from whispers to warning sirens, an air of inevitability washed over Fenway Park, where the Red Sox got steamrollered 9-2 by the Los Angeles Angels, finishing a sweep that pushed Boston three games behind first-place Tampa Bay and only one ahead of New York.
Manny may well have played his final game for the Red Sox, No. 1,083 since joining them in 2001. Many were great, some unbearable. He hit 274 home runs, the fourth most in baseball over that period, and dogged it on at least as many groundouts, the unquestionable victor in laziness.
Were Wednesday the denouement of Ramirez’s career in Boston, its foreshadowing started early in the day when he stood in the dugout and poked at the charade by posing with a sign that read: “I’m going to Green Bay for Brett Favre straight up!”
Any sense of humor faded by early evening, when Ramirez told an ESPN Deportes reporter, among other things, that “the Red Sox don’t deserve a player like me.” And if he meant one so selfish, petulant, deluded and narcissistic, well, yeah, he’s got the situation pegged rather well.
What rotates the Red Sox’s world, though, is winning, and Ramirez, flaws aplenty, still gives them the best chance to do so. Which made the scene between 5:30 and 6 p.m. so surreal. Just then, word of the talks between Boston and Florida intensified, and as the breaking-news scroll ran across the TV in Boston’s clubhouse, Ramirez walked underneath. He was oblivious to it, instead fluffing his impressive mane of dreadlocks.
Only when a clubhouse attendant approached Ramirez and told him of the talks did he react. Ramirez looked up at the television. It was very meta, a man watching his own livelihood broken down in high definition.
“Oh, yeah, Marlins,” Ramirez said. “Tax free. Stay at home.”
He’s got a house in South Florida. This seemed to make him happy. Ramirez walked up to Jeff Yamaguchi, the translator for relief pitcher Hideki Okajima, and gave him a faux goodbye hug.
“I’m going to the Marlins,” he said.
Ramirez returned momentarily to his locker, the one that holds the spikes in which he loafed, the glove with which he mangled many a play and the bats with which he won all those games. It was surprisingly neat; on top rested a box with his personal items and a can of Glade spray that his personal coach, Ino Guerrero, uses to sanitize the area. Ramirez, tired of Barry White singing “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love,” tinkered with the iPod that feeds the clubhouse speakers, turned to his song of choice and left the room.
Across the clubhouse sat Jack McCormick, the 64-year-old traveling secretary whom Ramirez knocked to the floor less than a month ago when McCormick said he wasn’t sure he could fill a last-minute ticket request. The downfall of the Ramirez-Red Sox relationship started there. It continued when Ramirez complained about his contract situation, which principal owner John Henry took as a personal affront, worsened when he yanked himself out of the lineup because of a supposed knee injury that proved just fine and might have bought his plane ticket with flapping-gum disease.
Henry, general manager Theo Epstein, manager Terry Francona and the rest of the Red Sox’s top brass met Wednesday to discuss the best way to handle Ramirez. They couldn’t come to a consensus. Trading him certainly would alleviate the tension in the clubhouse, which, Red Sox captain Jason Varitek admitted after the game, festers as badly as ever with Ramirez’s third trade request in four seasons.
“Every year, this is like this,” Varitek said. “This is so out of our hands. And even this year it’s out of our hands. I just think this team needs to take a step past that and focus on playing baseball.
“It’s easy to point a finger that that is the issue. So the issue has to change in here.”
Or as starter Josh Beckett put it so eloquently: “I don’t think we’re planning on any caped crusader coming in here and saving our asses.”
Boston certainly hopes it can find a Batman to replace Ramirez, if he does get shipped. The current parameters of the trade have Bay and reliever John Grabow coming to Boston, Marlins outfielder Jeremy Hermida and two prospects heading to Pittsburgh and Ramirez plus a prospect fortifying Florida.
Before any of this takes place, Ramirez must approve the deal, and that’s the first of many potential snags. He will want the Marlins to guarantee that they won’t pick up the $20 million option for next season, which they gladly will agree to. And Florida, in turn, will want the Red Sox to pay the majority of Ramirez’s salary – which the commissioner’s office must approve – and for him to promise not to accept arbitration in the offseason, guaranteeing the Marlins two compensatory draft choices.
While Bay is back to the .900 on-base-plus-slugging monster of two years ago, and remains under contract for a reasonable $7.5 million next season, the specter of a Boston lineup without Ramirez remains difficult to stomach.
The Angels, baseball’s best team, acquired the biggest bat available, first baseman Mark Teixeira, on Tuesday. In his debut for Los Angeles, he went 0 for 4 Wednesday and the Angels still scored nine runs.
The Yankees, baseball’s hottest team, traded for catcher Pudge Rodriguez on Wednesday, less than a week after sending four prospects to Pittsburgh for outfielder Xavier Nady and left-handed reliever Damaso Marte. So they’re ready for their run.
The Red Sox? For now, they remain in flux.
And when they look around at where they are and what they are and who they are, they begin to look at moments and wonder whether they’re signaling the end of an era, much like the deadline trade of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 did. Was the last play Ramirez made in a Boston uniform his catch of a Gary Matthews Jr. fly ball in the seventh inning? And was his last swing for the Red Sox a high fly ball to center field that Torii Hunter caught on the warning track? And were his last acts at Fenway bantering with the fans in the seats high atop the Green Monster, flipping his glove to himself, playing his usual space cadet?
If so, what an appropriate way for Ramirez to go: his team on the verge of shambles, him to blame, a great situation – a true partnership – collateral damage in the warfare of one man’s idiocy.
“We need to regroup,” Varitek said. “We really do.”
Varitek lifted his right hand and dabbed a spot between his cheek and chin. He had cut himself shaving. He didn’t know how it happened. It wouldn’t stop bleeding. He wasn’t quite sure what to do about it.
Eventually, he gave up.