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SPORTING EYE
Defending Manny Ramirez
BY AARON SCHATZ

Well, that didnít take long. After about two weeks, our cityís sports columnists and radio hosts have run out of jokes about new Red Sox GM Theo Epsteinís age, and have reverted back to the bandwagon theyíve been riding for over a year now: Manny Ramirez must go.

In a column in Saturdayís Boston Herald, Steve Buckley reported that the Red Sox slugger and his agent, Jeff Moorad, had met with Sox owner John Henry at his house in Florida two weeks ago, and that during that meeting Ramirez asked Henry to trade him. The same day, Gordon Edes and Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe reported just the opposite. Just like that, Manny was back in the news.

Baseball writers, especially Peter Gammons, have often suggested that the quiet Ramirez has been uncomfortable since he arrived in Boston. But whether Manny wants to be traded or not, the question remains: why are the Boston sports pundits ó and so many fans ó fixated on driving this guy out of town?

Most of the hosts on both WEEI and WWZN regard Manny as the albatross that keeps the Red Sox from a title. New England sportswriters have milked plenty of columns out of Ramirezís occasionally lackadaisical attitude and generally spaced-out demeanor. Sean McAdam and Peter Gammons of ESPN have both referred to Mannyís eight-year, $160 million deal as the " most untradeable contract in the game. " But why would they want to trade him at all?

Dislike of Ramirez seems to revolve around five things: he doesnít hustle; heís overpaid; heís a bad fielder; he has goofy hair; and the Red Sox havenít beaten the Yankees since he showed up.

All this hostility might make sense if Ramirezís mental lapses hurt his performance, but when you look at his production it is clear that Ramirez isnít part of the problem. This year Ramirez led the American League in on-base percentage and finished second in slugging percentage behind Jim Thome. He hit 50 points higher against the top six teams in the league and led the league in hitting with runners in scoring position.

In a notorious incident last year, Ramirez grounded out and didnít run to first. Thatís a problem, but nobody has ever accused Ramirez of dogging it in close games. He isnít a great fielder, but he isnít Lonnie Smith out there either. As for his hair, at some point the older members of the Boston media are going to have to learn that the kids arenít all wearing crew cuts these days.

Is Ramirezís salary too high? Probably. But Ramirezís salary is far less out of line with his production than the salaries of many of his teammates. In 2002, the Sox paid 37-year-old John Burkett $5.5 million to be a league-average pitcher. They paid Ugueth Urbina $6.7 million to be a " proven closer " when Anaheim built a champion bullpen out of rookies and minor-league castoffs. Do I even need to say " Tony Clark " ? No team ever lost a championship because the best hitter in the league made a bit too much money.

Callers to sports radio who are eager to ship Ramirez out of town often go on to demand that the current management spend money on a big free agent, in order to prove they are trying to win. Memories in Red Sox nation can be awfully long when it comes to 1918, but awfully short when it comes to 2001. Sox fans cheered the arrival of Ramirez two years ago, and theyíve gotten exactly what was advertised. He was a great hitter in Cleveland, and heís been a great hitter here. He was a space cadet in Cleveland, and heís been a space cadet here. So if he hasnít changed, why is the man we once praised now the scapegoat for all Red Sox sins?

Issue Date: December 12 - 19, 2002
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