What's up with Manny? Is the goofy slugger in need of some anger management? And why won't the Red Sox publicly sanction their star when he pushes a 64-year-old club executive to the ground?
These are questions swirling around the ball club in the aftermath of a regrettable Saturday episode in Houston (first reported in the Providence Journal) in which Ramírez argued with club traveling secretary Jack McCormick and shoved him to the floor.
It was the second outburst in less then a month for Ramírez. On June 5 at Fenway, the night the Sox brawled with the Tampa Bay Rays, Ramírez slapped Kevin Youkilis in the dugout. The two were separated and it was later leaked that Manny was merely urging Youk to stop throwing so much equipment every time he makes an out.
Nobody bashed Manny after the Youkilis episode. A few teammates apparently agreed that somebody needed to tell Youk to simmer down.
Saturday's incident is different. Manny made a late request for a whopping 16 tickets for that night's game and McCormick indicated it might be difficult to fill the large order. The two argued and Ramírez knocked McCormick down.
"It escalated on his part," McCormick said. "He said something about me not doing my job."
McCormick and Ramírez later met privately, Manny apologized, and McCormick accepted the peace offer (good career move). As ever, Terry Francona said it would be handled internally.
CEO Larry Lucchino yesterday echoed the manager, saying, "It's an internal matter and we'll handle it internally."
E-mail response from John Henry: "Actions have been taken commensurate with what occurred."
Sorry, that just doesn't cut it this time. The Sox promote themselves as a public entity. They sell memberships in Red Sox Nation. When an episode like this goes public, they have some obligation to tell us that it's not OK for a 36-year-old athlete to put his hands on a 64-year-old club executive. On the street, that gets you arrested. In most workplaces, it gets you a suspension at the very least. Not at Fenway Park. Not if you can hit .300 with 35 homers and 120 RBIs. Not if you make $20 million per year.
No one wants to demonize Manny. He's a hitting machine on a par with Jimmie Foxx and a beloved figure in Red Sox Nation. His cartoonish persona entertains the masses and his flaws are always excused by his adoring fans. Most Manny moments are decidedly benign. High-fiving a fan in mid-play is downright funny and we've learned to accept his Cadillacing at home plate, taking a bathroom break inside The Wall, and occasionally dogging it on an infield grounder. Manny is charming and lovable. Most important, he can hit.
Other stuff is more serious. Quitting on your team - which is what Manny did at the end of 2006 - is not OK. That one's difficult to prove, of course, but everyone who was there believes it. Including the manager. Refusing to pinch hit, and insisting on a day off when the club needs you, are also crimes against baseball.
Shoving McCormick to the ground is not OK. Period. But the spineless Sox continue to enable their wacky outfielder. And most fans - the ones who welcomed Manny back like Charles Lindbergh in the spring of '07 after he quit in the fall of '06 - will excuse anything Manny does. Because he can hit. They're the same people who called radio shows yesterday to make excuses for Manny. There's nothing he can do to insult or offend the sycophants.
This is the final year of Ramírez's eight-year contract. Manny rededicated himself over the winter, training at API in Scottsdale and arriving on time in Florida in great shape. He's been more engaged with teammates, fans, and media, perhaps at the suggestion of new agent Scott Boras.
Theo Epstein has never been a big Manny guy. Manny's act flies in the face of everything the general manager believes. Epstein inherited Manny and his contract from the Dan Duquette regime. Epstein put Manny on waivers after the 2003 season, but there were no takers. The Sox have a club option on Ramírez for '09 and '10. On paper, it would make sense to renew him.
Will this latest episode change anything? Doubtful.
It's not like anyone's saying the Sox should dump Manny. But couldn't the ball club demonstrate a little organizational spine and stand up to their superstar slugger? Just once? There are times when it's OK to tell the world you're punishing Manny Ramírez. This is one of those times.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.