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Sports Then and Now

How “Manny” is Manny Ramirez These Days?

Posted on October 16, 2009 by Don Spieles
NLCS Game 1: Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers

Since his return from a 50-game suspension, Manny Ramirez has struggled to regain his offensive form.

Manny Ramirez has had a long strange trip on the way to this year’s postseason.  The question on many lips then is: “Is Manny still Being Manny?”

Boston fans and media coined the phrase “Manny Being Manny” as a gentle, catch-all euphemism many of the things that the slugger did while playing for the Red Sox.  There was his outfield play that sometimes bordered on the comical.  There were is strange behaviors with the press, putting forth a sort of “I’m shy” affect where reporters were concerned.  When he had to answer nature’s call (or a call on his cell phone) he was known to disappear in the Green Monster to… well, do whatever he needed to do.

All of Manny’s quirkiness was tolerated with a smile and a shake of the head for one reason: He hit a ton.

Well, to be specific, he hit a ton when he wanted to. 

His well publicized and acrimonious departure from Boston was a nasty display of what a superstar who feels he is underappreciated can do.  A plate appearance where the bat never left his shoulder.  Walking to first base. an overall dispassionate player who at one point got into a fracas in the dugout because Kevin Youkilis was, according to Manny, a bit over the top on his emotion within the game.  Passion was, however an issue when Manny decked the elderly road manager over a dispute regarding comp tickets.

When all was said and done, Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers.  The Dodgers were certainly happy, as Manny hit 17 homeruns in 53 games at the end of the 2008 season.  He posted an OPS of 1.232, and helped the Dodgers reach the NLCS with his .396 average.

Things began well for Manny and the Dodgers in 2009.  On May 6th, they were 21-8 with a 6.5 game lead in the NL West.

On May 7th, Manny got a 50 game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance.  He did not play again until July 3rd.

It hasn’t stopped Los Angeles.  They continued to stay well ahead in the standings, at least until late in the season when they narrowly beat the Colorado Rockies for the division crown.

After sweeping the seemingly powerful Cardinals in the NLDS, they are now battling the Philadelphia Phillies for the National League Pennant.

Manny Ramirez had a home run in game one of the NLCS, but also had a strike out and went one for five.

Manny Ramirez had a home run in game one of the NLCS, but also had a strike out and went one for five.

These post seasons games, particularly the Game 1 loss to Philadelphia last night, showcase the ways in which Manny is indeed still Manny.  They also spotlight some changes.

Manny went 1-5, with that one hit being a two-run homer.  So yes, Manny can still hit the long ball.  There is a catch, though. The jack came on a low change-up from the Phillies’ Cole Hamels.  After serving Manny a diet almost exclusively consisting of fastballs in the first-two at-bats, even the announcers on TBS were confused as to why he gave him something slow.

The reason for their confusion, and that of many others, was because sticking with fastballs seemed in order.  The truth, seen obviously in those to plate appearances, is that Manny cannot catch up to fastballs, a huge departure from the recent past.

His first at-bat was a wicked strike out that left everyone feeling the breeze from a wildly swinging Ramirez.  His second out was a pop-up, again due to having issue with the speed of Hamels’ 94 mile per hour offering.  The third time up, every pitch was a change-up, each was around 80 miles per hour, the third of which Manny put into the stands.

This is not the Boston Manny, or the 2008 LA Manny, who had literally made a living with a swing that no flamethrower could consistently beat.

Manny fans need not worry about not being able to recognize him; he is not that different.  In fact, that loss of some bat speed is about the only thing that has changed.  Manny is still sporting the super baggy uniform.  He still has the impressive dreadlocks, the pine tar covered helmet and the huge wad of chaw in his right cheek.  More unfortunately, Manny is still showing an almost total lack of enthusiasm for his job.  Absolutely nothing seems to elicit any reaction from Ramirez.  When he strikes out – no reaction.  Ground out, just jog to first – no reaction.  Even when hit nailed the two run dinger to get the Dodgers back to within one run, and in a playoff game no less, still no reaction whatsoever.

We know from some of those negative history points that Ramirez is capable of emotional reaction.  Why is it that the guy who can get excited enough to swing at a teammate of knock a senior citizen flat has such a Rain Man look when in a close, postseason baseball game?

While not every facet of “Boston Manny” can be tested in LA (no Green Monster door,) it seems clear that as age – and perhaps the lack of a drug regimen – is changing him in some way, that age is coming with no altered perspective to make for positive changes in his performance or attitude.

Perhaps the worst part of all is that when you put it all together, it means Manny probably won’t be the guy who gives LA what they need to make it to the World Series.  That is definitely not what “Manny Being Manny” used to mean.

Don Spieles covers baseball for Sports Then and Now.

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