True story: on Sunday afternoon I sat down to write about Manny Ramirez’s apparently imminent departure from the Dodgers and was overtaken by an overwhelming anger that was so close to physically manifesting itself that I had to stop and go to the gym before I started breaking things. One of my Twitter followers suggested I sounded like Woody Allen’s Vincent van Gogh in “If the Impressionists Had Been Dentists,” which gave me a good chuckle and provided a bit of levity:
Will life never treat me decently? I am wracked by despair! My head is pounding. Mrs Sol Schwimmer is suing me because I made her bridge as I felt it and not to fit her ridiculous mouth. That’s right! I can’t work to order like a common tradesman. I decided her bridge should be enormous and billowing and wild, explosive teeth flaring up in every direction like fire! Now she is upset becuase it won’t fit in her mouth! She is so bourgeois and stupid, I want to smash her. I tried forcing the false plate in but it sticks out like a star burst chandelier. Still, I find it beautiful. She claims she can’t chew! What do I care whether she can chew or not! Theo, I can’t go on like this much longer! I asked Cezanne if he would share an office with me but he is old and infirm and unable to hold the instruments and they must be tied to his wrists but then he lacks accuracy and once inside a mouth, he knocks out more teeth than he saves. What to do?
It was hours later before I got back to business, by which time Manny had made a surreal one-pitch appearance in the Dodgers’ loss in Colorado, having been ejected after arguing with home plate umpire Gary Cedarstrom over the strike zone. Not with a bang, but a whimper, as that great sportswriter T.S. Eliot wrote. Shortly after that, the news came that the Dodgers reportedly let Ramirez go to the White Sox via waivers, getting nothing in return but salary relief for the $4.3 $3.8 million dollars they still owed him, most of it deferred.
As I wrote over at Baseball Prospectus, Ramirez’s impending departure has been obvious for weeks:
When the Dodgers placed Ramirez on waivers last Wednesday, it was hardly a surprise, as the move had been telegraphed for nearly a month. While general manager Ned Colletti made himself look busy by making a trio of deals with the Royals, Cubs and Pirates prior to the July 31 trading deadline — acquiring Scott Podsednik, Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, and Octavio Dotel in the process — it was apparent to all but those in rose-tinted glasses that the moves were too little, too late. The Dodgers’ distance from first place had doubled during July as their fifth starters were pulverized (20 runs in 20 innings over four starts), a problem which in turn exposed the bullpen’s lack of depth; at the deadline, they were were seven games out of first place and 4.5 back in the Wild Card, with their Playoff Odds just below 10 percent.
As if to underscore that those trades were just a smokescreen, the team had taken down the “Mannywood” sign in Dodger Stadium’s left field, claiming it was because another buyer had purchased the advertising space. The message was clear: the Dodgers were preparing for the slugger’s inevitable departure. At the time, Ramirez was on the disabled list, serving his third stint of the season, one for a calf strain in late April, another for a hamstring strain in late June, and the final one for yet another calf strain in mid-July, after he’d made just four plate appearances since his previous stint. Why dedicate a cheering section and a promotional package to a player who wasn’t going to be around for much longer?
The final indication that Ramirez was going-going-gone came via Torre, who started him just three times in the eight games since he returned from the DL, and only once since he hit the wire. Claiming that the decision for the benching was his and not that of the front office, and that he was “trying to win games,” Torre shoveled more manure in the space of four days than he had in 13 years at the helm of the Yankees. “This is just my dumb move,” he told Los Angeles Times beat reporter Dylan Hernandez, fumfering disingenuously about getaway days, the big outfield of Coors Field, team chemistry, and the speed of Podsednik. “There’s no reason I can give you that makes sense. A lot of what I do is a feel thing.” Somewhere, Orlando Hudson nodded silently.
Torre was right: there is no earthly reason not to have Ramirez in the lineup, at least not in the service of a playoff race. It’s only slight hyperbole to say that even spouting blood from three missing limbs à la the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, he’d be a better hitter than Podsednik, though admittedly, under such conditions the latter would certainly have an edge afield. Presumably, the manager did Colletti’s dirty work by serving notice that if Ramirez didn’t waive his no-trade clause, forgo his desire for a contract extension and agree to go gentle into that good night, he’d be buried on the bench.
See, my rage at all of this isn’t directed at Ramirez, who’s a piece of fucking work in cleats but also — to borrow a phrase from Bill James about Pedro Guerrero — the best hitter God has made in a long time. Manny hit .322/.433/.580 as a Dodger while providing enough thrills to carry the team to the National League Championship series in back-to-back years. With him in the lineup over the past three years, the Dodgers have won at a .590 clip and scored 5.03 runs per game. Without him, they’ve literally been a .500 team, averaging 4.08 runs per game — yes, nearly a whole run less.
This year, the numbers are even more stark: 31-21, 5.33 runs per game with, 36-43, 3.72 runs per game without. And he hasn’t lost anything as a hitter. Once you adjust for park and league, his work in Dodger blue was actually more productive than his days in Boston and Cleveland; his True Average as a Dodger was .345, elsewhere it was .319. His mark this year (.328) is higher than his career mark (.321), so suggesting he’s in decline when he’s actually got the wood in his hands is folly. As are the bullshit narratives fostered by some of the biggest names in the business, but that’s what happens when you stop feeding the media beast, greeting their requests with “No, gracias.”
Manny Ramirez may have spent more than half the season on the disabled list — he’s a 38 year old with a history of leg problems — but I don’t in the least buy the idea that quit on the Dodgers. There’s nothing in the world the man loves to do more than pulverize a baseball, and the bigger the moment for him to do so, the better. He had every incentive to play as much as possible in order to earn a big-money contract for next year; why on earth would he dodge that?
No, it’s Joe Torre who quit on the Dodgers, which is why I’m so angry. Torre’s braindead mishandling of the bullpen in July and earlier this month already appeared to signal that he’d unplugged from the the team, that at 70 years old, he was too old for the bullshit of dealing with the Dodgers. That promising young players such as Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and James Loney have stalled in their progress on his watch doesn’t speak particularly well of him either, suggesting he’s lost the team — not an uncommon theme among managers past the age of 65.
Torre’s playing of Podsednik over Ramirez, whether for no good reason but his own gut instinct or as the henchman for the higher-ups is both aesthetically distasteful, and antithetical to winning baseball. Podzilla is a slaptastic hitter in the same mold as Juan Pierre. He’s hitting over .300 between KC and LA, but it’s a thin .309/.355/.388, good for a combined .275 TAv. His Marginal Lineup Value Rate (MLVr) — the number of runs per game he adds to an otherwise average lineup is .054. Manny’s is .316, the second-highest among major league left fielders. The theoretical difference is a quarter-run per game; the observed difference, as noted above, is even higher. Pretending otherwise, as Torre did, is a dark day for those of us who still held him in high esteem. As I wrote at BP, his actions feed the moralizers longing for another Juan Pierre, the ones ready to declare the team is much better, more versatile and more gosh-darn likablewith a slappy speedster who knows his place than with a petulant slugger who supposedly quits on his club. Please kill me before I have to read one of those again.
The circus has left town, and it’s a sad day for Dodger fans, as it’s abundantly clear this season will end in ignominious fashion — though we can always hope for the Colletti special outfield of Pierre, Andruw Jones and Ramirez, all still on the Dodger payroll, at some date to be named later on the South Side of Chicago. Manny provided more dazzling moments in his two years in Dodger blue than any of his teammates, save for maybe Andre Ethier, and he’ll rate as one of the most exciting and pivotal players in team history based on their accomplishments during his brief tenure; after all, it had been 20 years since the team had won a single playoff series before he came along, and 31 since they reached back-to-back NLCS. After nearly eight full years of viewing him as the Red Sox villain, I’m glad I got to appreciate his talents while they were still in full flower. The man can fucking hit, and watching him do so as a Dodger was tremendous fun while it lasted.