Of the 4,530 times a man has stepped to the plate against Mariano Rivera(notes), 1,044 have ended in strikeouts. And of the 1,044 hitters dispatched by umpire, 190 have been so on three pitches. And of the 190 to have suffered such an indignity, 48 have watched the third strike zoom right by. And of those 48, only three have watched the previous two pitches go by, too, stood idly against a pitcher with immaculate command and not bothered to lift the bat off his shoulder.
The last one came July 6, 2008, in a tie game against the Boston Red Sox. Manny Ramirez(notes) was pinch hitting. Already on the Red Sox's road trip he had shoved the team's 60-something traveling secretary to the ground. For the rest of the month, he would engage in the passive-aggressive malingering at which he so excels. On this particular night, however, Ramirez quit on his team and made it abundantly clear: This relationship was done.
Manny never has done breakups particularly well, from airing every last stinky jockstrap on his way out of Cleveland to forcing a trade from Boston in 2008, to his latest, and perhaps greatest, act of defiance. Getting thrown out of his final game in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform Sunday after one pitch of a pinch-hitting appearance was Manny's one-fingered farewell to the team that embraced him when he was a leper everywhere else, to the city that deified him when he was outed as a steroid user, to everyone who engaged in the symbiotic ugliness.
On Manny goes, dumped by the Dodgers and picked up by the Chicago White Sox, who are merely the latest Father Flanagan convinced they can tame him. And they may well, at least for the remaining month of the season, during which they try to make up a 4½-game deficit against the Minnesota Twins, who play 19 of their final 31 games at home and have 18 of 31 against sub-.500 teams.
Business must be good for White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf to flush $4.3 million down the toilet.
That's the prorated portion of Ramirez's $20 million salary, and it'd be better spent by the Dodgers anywhere else, even on the $150,000 a year Frank and Jamie McCourt spent on haircuts. When Dodgers manager Joe Torre this week benched Ramirez for Scott Podsednik(notes) and his .336 slugging percentage, the implication was obvious: Even if the team somehow happened to claw back into the crowded NL playoff race, it wasn't going to be with Ramirez.
And what a beautiful sight it was, somebody emasculating Manny the way he has done so many others. Because he is among the best right-handed hitters to ever play, and because others have for so long enabled him, Manny forever strutted around without anyone calling him on his nonsense until he was gone. Torre flipped the script.
Remember, he was one of Manny's staunchest allies. During the long offseason of 2009, when Ramirez held out for more than $20 million a year and for some reason was obliged, Torre stood by him. During the steroid revelation, Torre didn't badmouth him, even though Ramirez presumably was juiced while playing for Boston against Torre's Yankees. The Dodgers even perpetuated the nonsense that Manny was a good influence on their young players.
If abdication of responsibility and selfishness are virtues the Dodgers expect their kids to embody, sure, Manny taught the graduate-level course. The Dodgers wanted to believe Ramirez could leave with class. Los Angeles wanted to believe he could give his all. How quickly home runs turn us myopic.
Never was it going to end any other way. Manny is 38 going on 3, and when the little guy doesn't get what he wants, he turns petulant. He watched umpire Gary Cederstrom call a borderline pitch from Matt Reynolds(notes) a strike. It was outside, by a fraction, the sort of pitch Ramirez knows can go either way. The immediate spectacle he made – turning, mouthing off, getting booted – was so obvious, so pitiable, so very, very Manny.
On, then, he goes to Chicago, which has one hell of a flashback in store for Ramirez. First, the White Sox go to Cleveland for a three-game series. Then it's off to Boston for three more. His present will be terrorized by his past, and his future may depend on which Manny shows up in September.
If it's the same Ramirez who rocketed the Dodgers toward the playoffs after Boston dealt him in '08, he'll get another year somewhere if he wants it. Toxic though he may be, he's not Barry Bonds, and in between three disabled-list stints this season, Ramirez has hit .311, gotten on base at a .405 clip and slugged .510.
And if not … well, you'd like to think teams have learned their lesson: No matter how great his swing is, the distractions Manny Ramirez is capable of providing simply aren't worth it. Yet the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays reportedly also claimed Ramirez off waivers. His bat is too blinding, his talent too tantalizing.
Just one word of advice for those who fall for the biggest baby in baseball: Make sure to get a good divorce lawyer.
- Manny Ramirez