By SEAN RAPOSA
Sometimes things in life just don’t make sense, like Lost’s plotline or John Madden’s commentary. What’s puzzling this writer at the moment - besides “Who the heck is John Locke?” - is the absence of last year’s National League MVP-that-wasn’t at spring training. The peculiarity surrounding this chapter of the Manny Ramirez Adventure is not that he’s aging backwards a la Mr. Benjamin Button (though I’m certain super-agent Scott Boras has tried that sell in negotiations) or the fact that he’ll be tardy to spring training … again. It’s that no excuse is necessary this go-around, for the 12-time All-Star, 2002 American League batting champ, 2004 World Series MVP and 500-home run club member has no place to be on time to.
The press sees Ramirez returning to the Dodgers as a foregone conclusion but things remain on hold after Ramirez and Boras turned their noses up at LA’s re-offer of a two-year, $45 million deal. If the 36-year-old signs on the dotted line, he knows he’s never going to get that last big contract. On the other hand, if he signs a one-year deal, hits the crap out of the ball (he will) and the economy recovers as President Obama has promised, he could have that chance entering next year. As Boras asserted a few weeks back, negotiations between Manny and the Dodgers have turned into a high-stakes game of chicken.
Two things really have my head spinning over the current situation. First, I don’t understand why the Dodgers wouldn’t give Manny a contract that would allow him to retire in Dodger blue. Sure, he’s 36, but the guy is a hitting machine and a huge draw. Did Ned Coletti forget that number 99 reinvigorated an entire fan base and took what had been a .500 team before his arrival from Boston to the N.L. Championship Series a mere four months ago? His 2008 line of .332-37-121 and .520 post-season batting average certainly don’t scream out “washed-up slugger” and you can’t underestimate the value of giving your squad a window of opportunity - see: “2009 Milwaukee Brewers” for clarification. A long-term deal makes the most sense for both parties.
Secondly, the persistent perception is that no other teams are seriously interested. Really? How can this be? Try these names on for size: Ted Williams, Frank Robinson, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. What is the significance of the list? These are the players whom, by statistical analysis done by Baseball-Reference.com using Bill James’ concepts from the book The Politics of Glory, are the most similar to Manuel Aristides Ramirez. I know we are constantly reminded of his “uniqueness” and the difficulties that Manny can bring to a clubhouse just by being Manny, but that sure is some pretty good company for an out-of-work left fielder to be keeping. Only Williams, Mays, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and, yes, Ramirez can claim membership in the 500-homer, 1,700-RBI, 500 double and .300-plus career average club! So, no takers, huh? Is Boras trapped in his Scrooge McDuck-vault of gold unable to reach a phone?
There is a rare opportunity present here that somebody - anybody - should capitalize on. Life in sports is no different for the owners and general managers than it is for the players. You get respect - and dollars - when you win. According to bizofbaseball.com, the A.L. champion Tampa Bay Rays enjoyed the largest jump in attendance last year at 28.2 percent. Coincidence? I think not. Ramirez’ teams have made the playoffs five of the last six years and have captured two World Series titles. Coincidence? Definitely not. Sure, it’s going to cost a few bucks, but these franchise owners aren’t sweating the mortgage payment or waiting out the soup line. Who wants to win? The St. Louis Cardinals appear to be trending towards the middle of the NL pack despite their $100 million payroll. Now add $25 mil for the next three years and team Manny with Albert Pujols. Can you say perennial front-runner? I know the New York tandem is tight with their money (cough, cough) but no offer at all, not even a bluff? Inexplicable.
Bringing Manny into the fold makes business sense even for teams not expected to contend in 2009. How often to you have the chance to sign a player of this caliber to a one-year deal while he is still performing at peak levels? Padres owner John Moores’ attempt to sell his team might draw more bidders carrying an asset like Ramirez - not to mention, bring more fans to the park and provide hope for the future that the current plan of trading ace Jake Peavy certainly would not. Why wouldn’t Cleveland have at least some interest in pulling off a Griffey-like reunion? Heck, even Kansas City could become a sports hotbed for one summer, and possibly generate the momentum necessary to return to relevance for good. With all the money that is thrown around in a league that generated 6.5 billion dollars in revenue last year, Manny seems like quite the safe investment to me. The apparent lack of interest in the services of this future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer is nothing short of mind-boggling and I think the cause of this conundrum is the three greediest words in sports, “agent Scott Boras.”
Sean Raposa is a frequent contributor to National Pastime. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by the Associated Press