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For Manny, will it be a happy return?

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  June 16, 2010 11:05 AM

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Presumably, you tolerated Manny Ramirez because you had to. You needed him. So you put up with the childishness and the selfishness, the immaturity and irresponsibility. And the Red Sox won a pair of World Series because of it.

But now that Ramirez is a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, one can only wonder how he will be received here on Friday night, when Ramirez makes his return to Fenway Park as one of the most talented, maddening and complex performers ever to have worn a Red Sox uniform.

A word to the fans: choose carefully. Your credibility depends on it.

"I have no idea how this is going to be,’’ Red Sox manager Terry Francona admitted to reporters yesterday when asked of Ramirez’s impending return before a 6-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. "This will be one of the more interesting returns, probably, in the history of the game. It could range anywhere from them throwing a parade to a riot. You just don't know.’’

There is more than just a measure of appropriateness in that reality, of course, if only for the simple reason that Manuel Aristides Ramirez was an enigma to us since the day he set foot here December 2000. Agreeing to an eight-year, $160 million deal, he began a seven-and-a-half year soap opera during which Ramirez played in 1,083 games while batting .312 with 274 homers and 868 RBI, numbers that do not begin to measure the impact he had on the Red Sox and their history or the bratty behavior that accompanied it all.

Tea and crumpets with Enrique Wilson at the Ritz. The disappearances into the left field wall. Operation Shutdown in 2006 and the trade for Alex Rodriguez during the winter of 2003-04. Three called strikes from Mariano Rivera. The left fielder as cutoff man. The hair. The hamstrings. The right knee.

Or was it the left?

"I want to beat New York,’’ Ramirez said upon arriving in Boston nearly 10 years years ago. "That's my main thing. I'm tired of them winning everything. I think we're going to have a good chance.’’

He added: "Coming to Boston, I've got a chance to get a ring. I didn't come here because of the money. The money was the same. I think over here I've got a chance to get a ring. I was tired of being in Cleveland and just winning the division."

How’s that for foreshadowing? I was tired of being in Cleveland and just winning the division. Almost eight years later, after repeated attempts to extricate himself from what became the most successful organization in baseball, Manny had two rings and was nonetheless shooting his way out of Fenway. I was tired of being in Boston and just winning championships. He wanted his money and he got it.

For all of us, this all results in a rather confounding decision, particularly in the wake of a 50-game steroid suspension that puts the final days of Manny’s Red Sox career in even shadier light. (If you think he was using with the Dodgers in the final months of 2008, take a good look at the 2007 postseason, too; furthermore, he is on "The List’’ compiled 2003.) None of that even addresses Manny’s sit-down strike in 2006 or the graceless manner in which he forced his way out of town, his behavior reaching such boorish levels that he shoved Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick over the availability of game tickets.

The bottom line: Manny hardly stood for what any fan would like their star players to represent. Repeatedly, he used his talent as leverage against the team. In Boston, at least, he was the embodiment of the privileged superstar operating with an absurd sense of self-entitlement, something that is not opinion so much as it is fact. Manny was never a clubhouse cancer so much as he was a colossal pain in the pin cushion, and he had no shame in putting himself first. Once, privately, a member of the Red Sox organization referred to Ramirez as "a turd." After Ramirez was traded, Red Sox teammates too long required to defend him acknowledged they were happy he was gone. They all respected his talent. They hardly respected his attitude.

In the world of professional sports, the price of talent long ago became clear. Great players did not merely cost money; frequently, they also required us to sacrifice some of our standards and principles. The home runs and the headaches are a package deal, and many of us have understood that for a long, long time. That is why some of us believe that, despite it all, Ramirez deserves to be cheered on Friday night. After arguing that the Sox should have kept Ramirez at the 2008 trading deadline, to do otherwise would be terribly disingenuous.

As for you, you have your own choice to make. Most of you cheered Ramirez when he was in Boston. To boo him now would be both cowardly and fraudulent. You knew what Manny was about then just as surely as you know what he is about now, and you chose to live with it. You chose to look the other way. You chose to celebrate the man’s talents more than criticize his flaws, and you endorsed productivity at almost all costs.

If you cheered him then, how could you possibly boo him now?

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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