Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sui Generis

Jayson Stark is seriously bent out of shape about all of the love Manny Ramirez is getting in Los Angeles:

What the heck are you cheering for?

For a man who decided his personal net worth was more important than an entire franchise and all the people who played with him, covered for him, depended on him? Sheez. How sad is that? . . .

. . . Yeah, we know what every Dodgers fan on earth is thinking: "What he did in Boston isn't our problem. He didn't blow up our franchise. So who cares?"

OK, here's why you should care: Because this could easily morph into a giant problem for every franchise; for the entire sport, in fact. If Manny Ramirez wanders into the free-agent market this winter and gets anything close to the four years and $100 million he believes he'll get, think about the message that would send, the precedent that would set.

It would, in effect, be an open invitation to every selfish superstar in baseball to pull a Manny. Act up. Stop hustling. Stop trying. Refuse to play. Make up an injury. Whatever you have to do to get back out there on the free-agent market. It's all worth it.
I think Stark is making way too much of this. I have no problem with him being distressed at Ramirez's behavior -- depending on who you believe, his behavior may be very well have been distressing -- but it is unreasonable to suggest that Manny's behavior is precedent setting.

Why? Because Manny is sui generis. I submit that there is no ballplayer of Manny Ramirez's caliber who is capable of matching (a) Manny's baseball abilities; with (b) Manny's attitude, and still remain a successful ballplayer. No other Hall of Fame talent is going to fake injuries or refuse to play like Manny allegedly did because the things that make them Hall of Fame talents -- things like pride, and obsession, work ethic and even simple image consciousness -- won't allow them to. Do you think Derek Jeter or Albert Pujols are even capable of sandbagging? Do you think Alex Rodriguez -- a guy who is worried about being photographed on his bad side -- would dog it for some contractual advantage?

There are loads of players who have mailed it in or acted like general asses in the past in an attempt to gain some tactical advantage or to punish their club's real or imagined transgressions. None of them, however, have ever really gotten anything out of it. Derek "Operation Shutdown" Bell was a pretty good player for a while and saw his career end the moment he stopped trying and refused to play. Maybe the most famous example was Gary Sheffield, who admitted to intentionally muffing plays while in Milwaukee. Did he cause headaches for his team? Sure he did. But he never managed to hold anyone hostage, and has a surprising number of cities on his resume as a result of his reputation for being difficult. It may even keep him out of Cooperstown.

In baseball, if you dog it, you pay the consequences. Manny Ramirez may stretch that rule to its breaking point, but even if he does get that $100M he's looking for (he won't, but let's say he does) he will not set a precedent vindicating Stark's imaginary horribles. That's because he is unique. He is Manny Ramirez -- a man as lacking in self-awareness and normal human motivation as he is blessed with hitting talent -- and there will never be another one like him, for all of the good and the bad that entails.


Justin Zeth said...

Dear Jayson and baseball GMs:

Then don't put team options in mega-contracts.

Your friend,

Peter said...

What is with all this ESPN self-righteousness over Manny Ramirez? Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Mike Greenberg, now Jason Stark...I've never been one to buy into the "Red Sox bias" stuff, but it's just bizarre to me how they keep beating this dead horse.

Are we to believe that this is the first time a player has lied down before? Or been a jerk? Obviously not, and all these guys are smart enough to know it. What I can't understand is why these guys seem to be taking this so personally.

Sara K said...

Sometimes I wonder if Stark is ESPN's go-to guy for these kind of obvious, fan-fanning stories. Like the one where he called out A-Rod for bowing out of the HRD...kind of pointless stuff that is really only meant to get fans talking. "Troll journalism" if you will.

I hope he doesn't really mean this stuff, anyway.

Levi Stahl said...

I'm with Justin: aside from the points Craig makes, Stark's argument falls apart simply because of the option year. The odds were reasonable that Manny would have hit the free agent market this year anyway, right? It's possible that his $100 million payday would have been postponed a year, but he was gonna get it.

And the GM who says you have to think "logically" rather than "selfishly"? I hope that isn't my team's GM.

Justin Zeth said...

No, I actually think the Red Sox' position, as reported through Peter Gammons, makes perfect sense: Ramirez, under Bora$' advice and wanting one more big payday, was doing everything he could--dogging it, sitting with mysterious injuries, etc.-- to force the Red Sox to decline their $20 million team option on him. They do that, and he can hit free agency and get one more $100 million payday before his skills decline any further. I'm inclined to believe this is, to some extent, what actually happened.

But my point is, if you don't want players doing that, don't put team options in contracts.

searching for bobby crosby said...

Do people go to medical school in order to determine which injuries are real and which are fake? Or is it some innate talent people have that for whatever reason skipped right past my gene pool?

Grady said...

I had the same reaction to Stark's post.
Rarely do we see a guy get vilified so brutally. He's deserved some of it, but I think it's mostly overblown.

For what it's worth, I really enjoy having a Manny to watch in the league.

Anonymous said...

Watching from afar, Boston seems like one of those teams that recruit local writers into their whispering campaigns against their players. Nomar, Damon, Clemens, Pedro, etc. Bad mouthing your guys is the point of arbitration, but to do so on the sly, without attribution is undgnified, even if everything leaked is true. Teams ought to be the adult in these situations.

Like I wanted to tell Kobe before he ran Shaq out of town: just because its true, doesn't mean you have to say it.

Daniel said...

@ Searching... Maybe I misunderstood your post, but the whole faking injuries thing came from several instances where he sat out against tough right-handed pitchers (I know Felix Hernandez was one, I forget the other), citing knee problems. They did some tests on his knee and determined it was perfectly fine. So it's not just people who are claiming he faked injuries - medical staff confirmed that he faked injuries.

As for the indignation, it is overblown, but I think we should stop being surprised that these things get overblown. Guys like Stark have to write their stories, and with the saturation of sports media these days, it's harder to find an original angle. So instead of taking an original angle, you take an existing one and blow it to kingdom come. ESPN and sports talk radio are especially guilty of this.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Dodgers pick up his option (is that even still on the table? I’m not sure, honestly). A one year deal for $20 million for a guy who can still OPS .950 – 1.000? Sure, why not? They can always trade him again at the deadline if he starts loafing.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

Maybe he should be more pissed that he only got one inch of his hair cut. This after being on the team for more than two weeks. This because Manny doesn't want to be treated any differently from anyone else.

Richard Dansky said...

I would humbly offer into evidence Randy Johnson's 1998 season. I seem to recall a whole lot of speculation that Randy was tanking it to get out of Seattle, and at first glance, at least, the numbers would appear to support that notion.

Monahan said...

There is a flaw in Stark's argument... following the the all-star break and prior to the trade, Manny was mashing the ball for Boston.

So, basically, the assertion is that Manny was dogging it (at the behest of Boras) to force a trade, then, before getting said trade, decided to ease up on the pressure by playing hard again? Sure, that sounds like smart bargaining...

Justin Zeth said...

No, the assertion really is... Ramirez has two goals.

1. Get Boston to decline the one-year option.

2. Get a big free agent contract.

If he wants to accomplish the second goal, he has to produce. So, what he (allegedly) did was, produce at a high level but also do everything possible to be such a colossal jackass that Boston won't want to pick up the option.

tadthebad said...

Zeth, good synopsis as that is what I think happened. As for the indignation of the Sox bad-mouthing Manny through the papers, that isn't acting like the "adult"...similar to Manny...fighting fire with fire? I have no problem with that.

rob said...

For all the gnashing of teeth over this option, people seem to forget that in Spring Training, Manny repeated said he wanted the team to pick it up.

As for Stark and his overblown article, remember that his standard column is usually titled: "Useless facts about INSERT_SUBJECT_HERE". I, for one, try not to waste my time reading useless columns. Maybe others feel similarly.

tadthebad said...

I think Manny's style of play, other than his hitting, is frustrating to many. But that is just who he is, and I wonder why few people question whether he would be the hitter he is if he artificially changed his personality.

BTW, Zeth, the option years were included in Manny's contract at his request...he wanted his total contract to be worth $200 million (as opposed to a measly $160 million).

Jason said...

ESPN overreact and self-righteous? Now, THAT's shocking. (I need a towel to mop up the dripping sarcasm)

C'mon guys, this is exactly how they operate. Get everyone in a lather and sell the hell out of it.

Soon we'll have some sort of ESPN mega-poll, over-produced, over-hyped thing like "Title Town" or "Who's Now?" and they can call it "I Sh!t My Team". Early front runners include Favre and Manny.