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To the end, Manny Ramirez was money

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  April 11, 2011 09:25 AM

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150manny.jpg“That’s for sure. He has a family matter that he has to attend to. It’s a personal thing. It’s something we were aware of and it just happens to be today, and it’s unavoidable. It is unavoidable.” -- Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon last week when asked if Manny Ramirez would be back in the lineup on Friday, April 8 after leaving the team

Maybe the Tampa Bay Rays were just covering for Manny Ramirez, or maybe Manny just told them his grandmother died again. Or maybe it was his grandfather this time. Or maybe it was his cat. But we know for sure now that Manny is not coming back, not this year, not when doing so would require him to think for someone other than himself.

So that is how Ramirez’ career ends. One of the greatest righthanded hitters of all-time failing his team following a second violation of the league’s steroids policy in what could only be described as an act of stupidity, selfishness, or both. We know the story here all too well. The situation intensifies and Manny walks, be it to the Ritz-Carlton for drinks or into the trainer’s room with tightness in his hamstring. Which leg was that again? Left. Right. Left, right, left. Ramairez never really took responsibility for his actions during a 19-year career that produced a .312 average, 555 home runs, and 1,831 RBI. And clearly, he wasn’t about to start now.

If any of this surprises you, shame on you. Ramirez played at least parts of eight seasons with the Red Sox from 2001-2008, and he was the offensive centerpiece around which their lineup was built. He was a maddening and fascinating combination of skill, apathy, and zaniness. And he was a two-time offender of baseball’s drug policy in an age when scientists can clone animals.

Think about that. Either Manny had bad doctors or he’s just plain dumb, and either way the buck stops with him. Suspended for 50 games in 2009 when he tested positive for female fertility drugs – a masking agent for steroid users – Manny got busted again this spring and was dealt a 100-game suspension. The difference this time is that Ramirez was making $2 million a year instead of $20 million, a simple, mathematical truth that explains why he stayed then and bolted now.

In 2009 in Los Angeles, even after missing 50 games, Ramirez still earned $13.83 million with the Dodgers. He subsequently qualified in 2010 for another $25 million. But the Ramirez of 2011 was a on a one-year, $2 million deal that meant he would have played August and September (or thereabout) for a meager $765,432, and we all know that Manny wasn’t going to stick around for chump change like that out of a sheer obligation to his teammates.

No sirree.

We always knew Manny could hit.

Turns out he can also run.

The bat? Oh, it was prolific, albeit during a tainted career in a wildly tainted era. Manny’s best seasons in Cleveland came during his final years there, when free agency was looming. In `08, in 53 games with the Dodgers, he posted a 1.232 OPS when the open market again beckoned. Manny always seemed to have big years when there was more money to be made, and it became clear along the way that he loved money more than he cared for anything else.

Except for maybe himself.

Really, could there have been a more fitting way for Ramirez to leave baseball? The Rays needed him this year. The Rays have slashed their payroll almost in half. Tampa Bay underwent massive renovation during an offseason in which the Rays cut ties with Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Rafael Soriano, Jason Bartlett, and Carlos Pena, among others. The Rays have a collection of good, young starting pitchers and were still eyed by some as a potential contender, but they needed production from people like Johnny Damon and Ramirez if they had true hopes of surprising.

As it turns out, the Rays are now 1-8 as they enter Fenway Park tonight, and Tampa Bay officials must be wondering what kind of year they are in for. Evan Longoria is out. Manny is now gone. The Rays made an enormous mistake the moment they relied on Ramirez for anything, something the player proved to them the moment he learned that he had failed another drug test.

First, Ramirez failed them by failing to play by the rules.

Then he failed them by failing to accept the consequences.

A comeback? Do not bet on it. According to MLB, the terms of Ramirez’ suspension will apply if and when he returns to baseball, ensuring that Manny will remain out of the game. No one is going to pay him anymore and he would hardly play for nothing. Most major leaguers have to be told to call it a career, their decisions frequently forced by teams with better, younger, and cheaper talent. Only a love for the game keeps the aging player in uniform with a shrinking salary and a decreasing role.

Manny? He never cared about the role too much. He was content to sit and cash the checks. But when the money stopped, well, there just wasn’t much of a reason for Manny Ramirez to stick around anymore.

Correction: Because of a reporter's error, an earlier version of this column incorrectly stated the last time the Red Sox had won a playoff game.

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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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