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.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.