Sox fans don't want to hate Manny

BY Ken Rosenthal • June 18, 2010

Now they are going to boo him?

Red Sox fans could have booed Manny Ramirez any number of times during his seven-plus years in Boston.

. . . When he dogged it on grounders or played the outfield seemingly blind-folded.

. . . After he pushed down the team’s 64-year-old traveling secretary in a dispute over tickets.

. . . During the numerous occasions he quit on his teammates, quit on his fans, quit on the organization.

But that’s not how it went down, is it?

Ramirez’s “Manny being Manny” persona was a free pass to forgiveness. The Red Sox, relying on his offensive brilliance, had little choice but to tolerate his idiosyncracies. Fans were alternately entertained and exasperated . . . but mostly entertained.

So this weekend, as Ramirez returns to Boston for the first time in a Dodgers uniform (MLB on FOX, Saturday, 4:10 p.m. ET), it would be just a tad hypocritical for Sox fans to treat ManRam as if he were Kobe Bryant or someone.

Maybe not with the unrestrained enthusiasm they reserve for players who give their heart and soul to the Red Sox and New England.

But with polite, muted acknowledgment for Ramirez’s contributions to two World Series champions in Boston and two other postseason teams.

My colleague, Jon Paul Morosi, who went to college in Boston, vehemently disagrees with me, saying Ramirez will be booed relentlessly from Connecticut to Maine.

Vive la difference!

But here’s the thing: Fenway is not home to a hard-edged, blue-collar crowd. The Red Sox’s average ticket price of $52.32 is second highest in the majors. Malice usually is not on the menu.

Don't get me wrong: I’m not knocking Red Sox fans or telling them how to react. Fans are pretty much the same everywhere, loathing the opponent, embracing their own. That, frankly, is the way it should be.

Booing Ramirez because he is a visitor would be entirely appropriate. Booing him because of his many lapses of integrity in a Red Sox uniform would be appropriate as well.

Still, I’m not sure most Red Sox fans care that Ramirez drove his teammates, coaches and manager Terry Francona nuts with his behavior.

I’m not sure they care what Manny did to Jack McCormick, the team’s traveling secretary, or took terrible offense when Ramirez said, “I was unhappy for eight years in Boston, but still put up great numbers.”

Of course, Sox fans have been merciless with other steroid users in the past, particularly those who played for the Yankees. And some might wonder if the Red Sox’s ’04 and ’07 titles are tainted by the appearances of both Ramirez and David Ortiz on a 2003 list of alleged drug users.

Yet, inevitably for most fans, bitter memories fade and warm memories remain.

Some of Ramirez’s former Red Sox teammates and bosses – privately – hold a more cynical view. Reporters, chronicling the past, recount each and every one of Ramirez’s transgressions.

But fans are fans. Most don’t want to hear the negative. Most don’t want to hate.

Ramirez was the MVP of the 2004 World Series, helping deliver the Red Sox’s first championship in 86 years.

He was part of the greatest comeback in baseball history, helping the Red Sox rally from a three-games-to-none hole to defeat the Yankees in the ‘04 American League Championship Series.

Of course, when the Sox trailed the Indians three games to one in the ’07 ALCS, Ramirez said memorably, “It doesn’t happen, so who cares? There’s always next year. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”

That was – and is – Manny, all happy-go-lucky, almost childish in his world view, at times downright immature. The scrutiny of Red Sox Nation was bound to make him uncomfortable. But his former agent, Jeff Moorad, steered him to Boston on an eight-year, $160 million free-agent contract, and Ramirez sure didn’t turn down the cash.

For all his faults, Ramirez is a hellacious worker, respected by his teammates for his intense preparation as well as his immense hitting skill. He started hot this season, missed time with a right calf strain and now is hot again in June.

His power is not what it was, perhaps because he is 38, perhaps because of the absence of performance-enhancing drugs, if indeed he was a regular user. Ramirez remains a presence, though. Fenway no doubt will stir this weekend for every one of his at-bats.

There is no getting around it; his Red Sox career did not end well. He had a dugout scrap with Kevin Youkilis, the shoving incident with McCormick, the phantom knee injury that “forced” him out of the lineup against the Yankees.

The tension was almost unbearable during his final weekend in Boston, just before his trade to the Dodgers; Francona, in particular, was at wit’s end. Luckily for the Red Sox, general manager Theo Epstein acquired a strong replacement, Jason Bay, and the team reached the postseason each of the next two years. Otherwise, the fans might be truly angry.

Or maybe they truly are angry, angrier than I anticipate.

Bitter memories vs. warm memories, all weekend at Fenway Park.



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