Manny’s complicated return to Boston
BOSTON – When he poked his head from the wrong dugout, when he tugged at the wrong colored jersey, when he waved his bat in the wrong half inning, they stood and cheered, they sat and booed, they jumped and waved their signs.
The truth flops around like a stray braided strand, along for the ride on a standup double. Reality rides with ambivalence.
And so on a Friday night at Fenway Park, the Nation scattered itself along the Manny timeline. The Now I Can Die in Peace (and mean it) faction celebrated the hitter who, if not the best in Red Sox history, certainly is in the carpool. The rest buried the man who reputedly all but lay down to escape them.
It’s complicated. Loud, and complicated.
Ramirez arrived in late afternoon draped in plaid, flanked by a pair of white-shirted security guards (one built for power, the other for speed), and wearing a slightly crooked grin.
He walked the old ballpark’s brick-and-steel concourse, having arrived by team bus. He nodded at folks he may have been thinking he probably should have remembered but didn’t.
He found the clubhouse crowded, seeing as most of his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates had come over on the first bus, seeing as dozens of reporters mingled, seeing as the place is about the size of an on-deck circle.
“We’re going to have a meeting at 4:30!” Manny shouted, hoping for some elbow room. “Media! Out!”
On the field for batting practice, he went straight to David Ortiz(notes) for a laugh and a man-hug and, maybe, some comfort. Allies, dressed in red, were few. Mike Cameron(notes) stopped to say hello. So did Adrian Beltre(notes). The rest of the Red Sox, the ones he actually played with, went about their work. Dustin Pedroia(notes) did give him a little poke. Otherwise, Ortiz circled back between his rounds in the batting cage.
When his own time in the cage came, Manny swung hard, and the people booed until the ball cleared the Green Monster and then they cheered, and wasn’t that perfect? They’d love him as long as he hit, and when he didn’t they’d have had enough of the petulance and indifference.
In their uniform, he was special. He was misunderstood. He was a three-run inning waiting to happen, and one long-awaited championship, then another championship, and the promise for more. He was, perhaps, the most talented right-handed hitter of their generation. They’d take the breathtaking (and the RBIs) with the bad.
“I don’t think without Manny,” Joe Torre said, “they would have hung those two banners.”
Out of it, he was a trouble-making, half-hearted ingrate. He’d gone Hollywood, of all things. He’d gotten himself suspended. Shortly before his arrival here, a report in the New York Times said Manny had tried to top off his testosterone levels in time for last season’s playoffs.
(On Friday, a source close to Ramirez called the report “erroneous.” Also, a club source said that if indeed Ramirez sought a therapeutic use exemption to boost his testosterone, the Dodgers did not know about it and certainly did not get out in front of it.)
But that’s Manny’s world now. This is him, living with the decisions he made. This is his path, cleared by the barrel of his bat and the emotion of the day. And this is what he left behind, starting when Red Sox GM Theo Epstein called Dodgers GM Ned Colletti going on two years ago and confessed he had to – had to, right now – move Manny.
When Manny packed up and waved farewell, there were few candles lit in the Red Sox clubhouse. Generally, it was agreed, the relationship had run its course. It was time for Manny to go.
The schedule brought him back. He had a single, a strikeout and two fly balls in his first four at-bats. He came to the plate a final time in the ninth inning, down four, two runners on, two out, fans leaning toward the exits, pausing just in case. “Beat L.A.,” hollow considering the prior 24 hours, nevertheless rung from the bleachers.
The Dodgers’ owner, Frank McCourt, watched from a dugout box. Roger Clemens watched from the front row atop the Monster. Rhianna, the center fielder’s girlfriend, watched from a field-level seat.
The Nation was no longer conflicted.
The count was two balls, two strikes. Manny primed for the fastball. He swept his bat back. How many times this corner of baseball had seen this. How many times it knew the result before it came.
Bard threw a slider.
Manny didn’t swing. It was strike three. He turned to leave. As he shuffled toward the wrong dugout, wearing the wrong jersey, he had to have heard. Once torn, the Nation had chosen its path.