Say this for the 2+ years Manny Ramirez spent in Dodger blue: it was never boring. He was, at various points, both the most beloved Dodger we’ve seen in years (late 2008, when everyone had Manny-branded blue dreadlocks) and the most reviled (mid-2009, when he was suspended for PEDs and every self-righteous twit with a media pass fell over themselves to vilify him). It’s hard, if not impossible, to recall another Dodger who ran the spectrum of emotions quite like he did.
When the trade was made, we were ecstatic. (Personally, I remember exactly the moment I heard: I was on tour with a band I was playing with, and we were eating at a floating restaurant in the middle of the river between Cincinnati and Kentucky. I received a text message saying the Dodgers had acquired Manny but the return was unsure, and I replied with “Great! Don’t be Kemp Don’t be Kemp Don’t be Kemp”.)
Bill Plaschke status: not a huge fan of the trade right when it was made.
It wasn’t Kemp, of course; it was Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris. That seemed like a pretty good deal at the time, as LaRoche had yet to prove himself and Morris was injured. It seems like a steal now, since LaRoche has just a .641 OPS in parts of three seasons in Pittsburgh and Morris has only made it to AA for the first time this season. Meanwhile, Manny was a king; his ridiculous 1.232 OPS to finish 2008 with the Dodgers was only the 6th best season by OPS+ (minimum 225 plate appearances) in the history of the National League. In the playoffs, he hit over .500 with 4 homers as the Dodgers went to the NLCS.
As good as that was, it seemed even better to us coming as it did immediately after the crushing failures of Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre. Manny was a hero in Los Angeles that fall, and here’s how we felt about him at the time, in our 2008 season in review:
Manny was simply everything we could have hoped for and so much more. He had the best offensive stretch in Dodger history and it’s kind of ironic and twisted that one of the other reasons we were able to land him was due to our center fielder having the worst stretch in Dodger history. But even if Manny doesn’t come back and jettisons to another team, I will always be thankful to the man for what he brought to the team, to the city, and to all of us. Unforgettable.
Manny was a free agent after 2008, and if that had been that, our lives might all have been different right now. But the thought of seeing him over a full season was too much; after what he’d done in a partial year in 2008, couldn’t he hit about 120 homers over a full year?
Bill Plaschke status, last week of the 2008 season: don’t resign Manny.
So the Dodgers, intoxicated by Manny’s production, couldn’t let him move on, and for all of his bluster, Scott Boras wasn’t going to take Manny away from a place where he’d rebuilt his image after his ugly exit from Boston. Anyone remember how painful that process was? Here’s what I said when he finally signed in March of 2009:
In November, the Dodgers offered 2/$45. He wanted 5 or 6 years at $100m+. Not only did Boras not even get them to meet in the middle, he ended up settling for… 2/$45m. While getting that much annual salary in this economy is still a feat, it’s still far less than he’d originally demanded.
Sure, it’s all worth adding a hitter like Manny to the lineup, and when he’s pummeling homers in May we won’t care. But there’s only one thing worse than watching millionaires argue with millionaires in the face of a terrible economy… and that’s watching them do it for four months only to end up with nearly the exact same terms that were on the table in November. This whole process was completely brutal for all of us.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “damn, I don’t miss that entire winter of watching Boras and the Dodgers go back and forth. But wasn’t there something else that made it especially painful?” Oh, that’s right. Jamie McCourt had to help matters and open her big mouth with gems like these:
“If you bring somebody in to play and pay them, pick a number, $30 million, does that seem a little weird to you?” Jamie McCourt asked in an interview at the Evergreen Recreation Center in East Los Angeles. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out. We’re really trying to see it through the eyes of our fans. We’re really trying to understand, would they rather have the 50 fields?”
Seriously, I read that post of mine for the first time since then, and it made my blood boil again. Remember, Dodger fans: Jamie McCourt says that if you want your team to sign free agents, you hate children.
Bill Plaschke status, during negotiations: don’t sign Manny, get an “ace” like Jake Peavy.
2009 finally began, and Manny got off to a roll. On May 6, he was hitting .348/.492/.641, better than his career averages. Then, on May 7… disaster struck, and I need not remind you why. I’m not going to waste time defending Manny here; he did what he did, he got found out, and he has no one to blame for that but himself. Just like Andy Pettitte, just like Guillermo Mota, just like countless other players. But other than Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who were hammered for various other reasons as well, Manny was hit far more viciously than just about anyone else caught up in the steroid era.
No, I don’t think it’s going too far to say that many mainstream columnists had it out for Manny, and could barely contain their glee when he was suspended. Like, for example, here. And here. And here. Really, that’s what bothered me more than anything. You want to get on Manny for cheating and letting the team down? Sure, that’s fair. I did. But some of these jokers crossed that line by about a thousand miles, as though Manny had set fire to a school of orphans. Who were holding puppies. Adorable puppies.
Bill Plaschke status: practically having a seizure of self-righteousness.
It got worse, though, the longer Manny was out. Juan Pierre stepped in, and was admittedly great… for the first 40% of Manny’s suspension. Then he was worse than ever for the last 60%, but that didn’t seem to matter. Manny was a cheater. Juan played hard. Manny was lazy, and wouldn’t talk to the media. Juan got the most out of his god-given talent. Manny’s numbers couldn’t be trusted. Juan’s numbers didn’t matter, because he had “heart”.
God, I hate the media sometimes.
Then Manny returned, and he was a shell of himself from the moment he returned, clearly affected by not being on the juice. That is what happened, right? That’s how I remember the news being reported. What’s that, the facts don’t exactly match the narrative you’ve come up with? Screw it! We’ve got a story to stick to.
Well, not quite. Despite the fact that I could link to a million stories claiming that Manny was useless after his return, that’s not exactly how it went down. In fact, I broke it down after the season:
1) Opening Day (4/6) -> Suspension (5/6): .348/.492/.641 1.133
Vintage Manny. Better than his career average, actually, so pretty damned good. I can already hear the squawking that “he was still on the juice!”, but don’t forget: he failed his test in Spring Training – and that for a masking agent, not the actual thing - so while he may have still been on the ride at this point, he was hardly shooting up before games.
2) Suspension (5/7 -> 7/2)
Dick. No question about it. Dick. Not only for “letting us down”, if you feel personally offended, but by robbing the team of its best bat for six weeks – and by adding insult to injury by subjecting us to Juan Pierre during that time. Dick.
3) Return (7/3) -> HBP from Homer Bailey (7/21): .333/.429/.688 1.116
His slightly lower OBP was offset by a bump in SLG, equaling nearly the same OPS as he had before the suspension. I don’t remember anyone complaining that he was no good clean during these two weeks, right?
4) Playing with injured hand (7/22 -> 8/28): .264/.366/.400 .766
Despite constant refusals to admit that taking Bailey’s mid-90s heater off his hand was an issue, Manny was clearly not the same player here. Still, no player ever admits that they’re injured, and if this was related to the juice, he’d have been playing like this as soon as he returned, right? Besides, once he’d had a few weeks since the HBP, presumably healing his hand…
5) End of season stretch (8/29 -> 10/3): .241/.400/.517 .917
…his OBP and SLG perked right up. Granted, the batting average isn’t great. Fortunately, we all know better than to rely on batting average as any sort of indicator, and a .917 OPS is still top 20 if he’d put that up over the entire season.
As you can see, when he wasn’t thrilling the crowd with Bobbleslams, Manny was doing just fine until he got hit in the hand by Homer Bailey. The demonization of Manny for the rest of 2009 came from A) writers with personal vendettas against him, B) everyone who valued Juan Pierre the player far too much because they liked Juan Pierre the person, and C) everyone who doesn’t understand that a .241 batting average can still be pretty damned good if it gets you a .917 OPS. It’s that kind of media fail which lead to posts like this, wondering why so many fans preferred Pierre to Manny despite overwhelming evidence that he’s a far lesser player.
Heading into 2010, expectations were high. The expected controversy over whether Manny would exercise his opt-out clause never came, as he quietly acknowledged he wouldn’t be passing up his guaranteed 2010 payday on November 6. With that out of the way, conditions were ripe for a comeback. Manny had had the entire winter to rest his hand, he was in a contract year, and if the thought of playing for his next payday didn’t motivate him, the embarrassment he’d suffered in 2009 certainly would.
Well, it didn’t work out exactly like that. Manny landed on the disabled list with leg issues three separate times, and played just 65 games with the Dodgers, the fewest in his career other than a cup of coffee as a 21-year-old with the 1993 Indians. Eight homers, 232 plate appearances, months on the disabled list, and far more Scott Podsednik and Garret Anderson in left field than we ever could have dreamed. That’s not exactly what we’d hoped for, I’ll grant you.
Classic Manny? Clearly not.
But again, nor was it the post-steroid disaster that the media liked to portray it as. Manny’s .915 OPS was 13th in MLB, among players with at least 225 PA. That’s higher than players like Adrian Gonzalez, Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Ryan Zimmerman, and Evan Longoria. Remember, PED suspension or not, we’re still talking about a guy who’s 38 years old. A .915 OPS is 91% of his career average 1.000 OPS; for a 38-year-old to get that close to matching his usual Hall-of-Fame level is impressive. In fact, it was the 21st highest OPS+ of any ballplayer 38 or older (220 PA or more) in history, and the list above is littered with names like Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Ty Cobb.
Bill Plaschke status: writing sob stories about the removal of Mannywood.
I’m not saying he was worth every penny this year; it’s hard to do so with how much time he missed. But to keep up the facade that he could no longer produce is just wrong. If the numbers above aren’t convincing proof of that, how about the fact that they’ve scored more than 5 runs per game with him in the lineup, and fewer than 4 without him? If he’s not classic, “in his Boston prime” Manny, or superpowered “just got to LA” Manny, he’s still an effective force in the lineup, one the Dodgers have proven they cannot win without.
Manny ended his Dodger career with a bizarre ejection after just one pitch while pinch-hitting with the bases loaded, which is oddly appropriate. He also ended his Dodger career atop the team’s all-time leaderboards in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ (minimum 500 at-bats), all in exchange for a failed third baseman, a mid-level pitching prospect, and a ton of heartburn. Now, he’s gone, dropped onto the White Sox for nothing but salary relief, and no matter how you feel about Manny’s time in LA, there’s not much argument we got exactly what we signed up for. Dominant offensive performance, more than a little controversy, and a less-than-glorious exit? Yeah, that sounds about right.
Well worth the trouble, I say. So long, Manny. You’re a petulant child, and I don’t mourn your loss. But few players who have ever put on the Dodger uniform have provided us with as much excitement and production.