TORONTO -- In 2011, when Manny Ramírez will be 39 years old, he will start to receive the first installment in 16 years of deferred payments. The checks that year will total slightly less than $2 million, and by the year 2026, when Ramírez will be 54 and the checks are scheduled to amount to $2.043 million, Ramírez will have collected close to $32 million in deferred payments, or twice the current payroll of the Florida Marlins.
Do you suppose that 20 years from now, Ramírez will feel even the slightest bit of remorse for the way he quit on his Red Sox teammates in 2006, refusing to honor the code that is an article of faith for Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell, Curt Schilling and Coco Crisp, Trot Nixon and Alex Gonzalez, and Mark Loretta -- even the now-departed fat man, David Wells -- that you do all within your power to play hurt.
Barring a midlife conversion experience, I doubt it.
While the Red Sox crumbled when Ramírez went on hiatus -- last night was the 22d game out of 30 Ramírez has missed since taking himself out of the last game of the Yankee massacre Aug. 21, during which he has been paid $1.918 million (calculated on his base salary of $15 million this season) -- he had the audacity this week, through agent Greg Genske, to reiterate to the Red Sox his desire to be traded this winter.
Oh, Manny may play again this season -- the most recent MRI on his right knee was clean, he's taken batting practice in each of the last two days and yesterday he was running down fly balls during BP, which suggests he could be back in the lineup as soon as this afternoon. Of course, Terry Francona, who has been Ramírez's biggest defender (enabler?), will be the last to know, helpless to write Ramírez's name on his lineup card until the player tells him he's good and ready.
When that day comes, Ramírez is less likely to be moved by an obligation to the paying customers -- feel free to insert belly laugh here -- than by the belief that it will probably help his chances to get traded if he shows prospective employers that he's a go again.
While Crisp played with a refractured finger, and Loretta with a quadriceps muscle swollen twice its normal size, and Nixon and Varitek worked tirelessly to recover from a strained right biceps and torn knee cartilage, respectively, and Gonzalez wrapped his strained side muscles and played shortstop and Kevin Youkilis insisted his name be written in the lineup despite a constant variety of aches and pains, Ramírez showed a colossal indifference to the collective welfare of his team.
The eight games he did play in, Ramírez had two hits in 22 at-bats, an .091 average. You could cut off one of David Ortiz's legs and he'd do better than that, or keep coming back until he did. The difference, of course, is that Ortiz cares. Ramírez, by any barometer, does not.
So why hasn't anyone called out Ramírez? Sox management, bedazzled by his performance when he does play and afraid they'll lose him forever if they do raise objections to his behavior (see Tampa Bay last July), instead cover for him, and in so doing diminish Francona every time he does so, compromising principles that have guided him through a lifetime in baseball. His teammates? You have to distinguish what is said about him publicly and to him behind closed doors. There have been teammates who have challenged Ramírez in the clubhouse, and his response has been studied indifference. As one player told me, what's the point of calling him out publicly? What would get accomplished? Embarrass him? Please.
There's also a reluctance, whether it is a teammate, a manager, or a media member -- to publicly question a player who is hurt. Who can speak for another man's pain? But the flip side of that question is in professional sports, everyone is hurt to one degree or another, and a measure of a player's commitment often revolves around his willingness to deal with that pain. Some players admittedly take that to extremes, like a pitcher who hides an injury until he blows out an elbow. There are others, who fly in the face of all reason, limp to the plate on two bad knees and hit unforgettable home runs. Thank you, Kirk Gibson.
Ramírez has two years left on his contract with the Red Sox after this season. He does not want to be here. You could make the argument that he didn't want to be here this season, either, and put up the numbers -- but those numbers stopped, and at a critical time. Losing Ramírez leaves an enormous hole in the lineup behind Ortiz, but one that can be filled. Maybe not with a future Hall of Famer, but with a winner.
The Red Sox have tried to move Ramírez before, with owner John W. Henry perhaps the management figure most reluctant to cut ties with the slugger. The Sox are not talking publicly about this, and I suspect they won't, but I sense this time there is a collective resolve to move him, even though it is likely to spark a fierce debate among Sox fans, many of whom look at the numbers and consider him indispensable.
He's not. Let Manny be Manny somewhere else.