An Irish wake for Manny Ramirez

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I’m probably in the distinct minority of people who are kind of bummed that Manny Ramirez’s career is over. I mean, yes, I can agree that his time was up whether he was getting suspended or not. I can see now that my preseason optimism about his stint with the Rays was misguided.  Whatever the case, my impulse right now is to have an Irish wake for a career that was an outrageous amount of fun for the most part, even if the guy himself was basically a loon.  I feel like drinking strong drink and telling funny Manny stories.

Jon Heyman helps us out with that a bit today, passing along a Manny Ramirez anecdote that I had never heard before, though I’m guessing has been in general circulation:

When O.J. Simpson had his infamous car chase in June of 1994 and it was being played in the Indians clubhouse that day, Manny wanted to know what was happening. When one of his teammates told him that O.J. was accused of killing his wife, Manny memorably said, “Oh ho, not Ogea! I know his wife.” Ramirez didn’t read newspapers and somehow thought the player meant their Indians teammate Chad Ogea, a pitcher who was not as quite as well known as O.J. Simpson.

I don’t care who you are, that’s funny right there.

Beyond the anecdote I think Heyman gets it mostly right on Manny.  The guy wasn’t dumb, like so many people say. And, yes, selfishness explains a lot more about his career and his quirks than the eccentricity that is so often ascribed to the guy.  And as Heyman suggests — and as HBT commenter/baseball historian Mark Armour explained last week in the comments here — for all of his hitting greatness, Manny was the best example of some really bad baseball.  Station-to-station, defense-free take-and-rake baseball may have been in a team’s best competitive interests for a great many years and was certainly in Ramirez’s financial interest, but it was and still is really hard to watch.

I disagree with one comment Heyman made: that anyone who votes for Ramirez for the Hall of Fame necessarily endorses drug use.  As I’ve explained in the past, I think it’s possible to reconcile a player’s drug use and his worthiness for the Hall of Fame by (a) eliminating the moral component of it; and (b) doing our best to determine if, absent PEDs, would he still have been a Hall of Fame player.  I probably need some time and deep thought about whether Manny Ramirez fits that bill, but my initial impulse is to say he would, and I don’t think saying so makes me an endorser of drug use.

Overall, though: a tough but ultimately accurate account of Manny, I think. Which is what I wish we’d see more of at funerals.

Nationals activate Stephen Strasburg off the disabled list

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The Nationals officially activated Stephen Strasburg off the 10-day disabled list, the team announced Saturday. They’ll pencil him into the starting lineup for their second set against the Padres on Saturday night. Strasburg is expected to assume Max Scherzer‘s roster spot after Scherzer landed on the disabled list with neck inflammation prior to Friday’s series opener. No other roster moves appear to be necessary for the time being.

Strasburg, 28, is finally looking stable after serving a 26-day stint on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement. It’s the first serious injury he’s sustained since last August, when he missed 20 days with inflammation in his right elbow, and one the Nationals are taking seriously as they juggle multiple stints for their elite starters. He’ll enter Saturday’s competition with a 10-3 record in 20 starts, supplemented by a 3.25 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 through 121 2/3 innings.

Elbow issues are nothing to be played around with, but Strasburg’s performance in his lone rehab outing relieved any residual apprehension the Nats might have had about his activation this weekend. He tossed 66 pitches for High-A Potomac, hitting 95 MPH with his heater and logging three hits, one run, one walk and five strikeouts over five innings. Club manager Dusty Baker is hoping for a similarly dominant start against the Padres, and told reporters that he’ll hold Strasburg to a performance count as the righty works his way back to a full-time gig.

MLB umpires will wear white wristbands to protest “escalating verbal attacks”

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The World Umpires Association is dissatisfied with the punishment meted out to Tigers’ second baseman Ian Kinsler following his lengthy criticism of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez on Tuesday. Kinsler’s comments were sparked by a confrontation on Monday night, when the infielder was ejected after arguing balls and strikes with Hernandez in the fifth inning.

“It has to do with changing the game. He’s changing the game. He needs to find another job, he really does,” Kinsler told reporters. “Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore. No one in this game wants you behind the plate any more, none of the players.”

Kinsler was fined an undisclosed amount for the remarks, but did not receive a suspension. Hernandez, meanwhile, returned to cover second base the next day and appeared to resolve the conflict with a brief conversation and a handshake.

Whether or not the comments speak to underlying truths about Major League Baseball’s flawed umpiring system, they clearly got under the skin of the World Umpires Association. The union released a statement Saturday condemning Major League Baseball for choosing to overlook the “escalating attacks” on the men in blue:

This week, a player publicly and harshly impugned the character and integrity of Angel Hernandez – a veteran umpire who has dedicated his career to baseball and the community. The verbal attack on Angel denigrated the entire MLB umpiring staff and is unacceptable.

The Office of the Commissioner has failed to address this and other escalating attacks on umpires. The player who denigrated Hernandez publicly said he thought he would be suspended. Instead got far more lenient treatment – a fine. He shrugged that off and told reporters he has ‘no regrets’ about his offensive statements calling for an end to Hernandez’s career.

The Office of the Commissioner’s lenient treatment to abusive player behavior sends the wrong message to players and managers. It’s ‘open season’ on umpires, and that’s bad for the game.

We are held accountable for our performance at every game. Our most important duty is to protect the integrity of the game, and we will continue to do that job every day. But the Office of the Commissioner must protect our integrity when we are unfairly attacked simply for doing our jobs.

Starting Saturday, umpires will don white wristbands in protest of the Commissioner’s lack of support, and will continue to do so until their concerns are addressed.

Kinsler’s comments may have been in poor taste, but given the established in-game ramifications for challenging an umpire’s decisions, it’s difficult to tell where the union wants MLB to start drawing the line. If players already face ejections for questioning the parameters of a strike zone (often immediate ones, without any room for a productive or non-confrontational discussion), it seems unfair to hit them with suspensions for venting their frustrations after the game. Until Major League Baseball finds a way to start automating calls, however, the “human element” of the game will continue to pose problems for players and umpires alike.