The Ethics of Booing Manny Ramirez

As it so often does, the world of sport is presenting us with a clear ethical conflict tomorrow night—one of those times when we have to prioritize ethical values, and decide which is more important in our culture, because if we meet one, we violate another.

Manny Ramirez will be returning to Boston’s Fenway Park in a Dodger uniform, as Boston hosts Los Angeles in an inter-league contest. Ramirez played left field for the Red Sox for a decade, and was probably the best right-handed slugger in the team’s history. The Red Sox won two World Series championships with Manny in the middle of the line-up; he was the MVP of the first one, in 2004, when the team ended an excruciating 86 year World Series draught. Boston fans have long memories and a keen appreciation of team history. Former players, even those who left under a cloud, usually get a fan salute when they return to Fenway. When former Sox icon Nomar Garciaparra came to the plate as a member of the Oakland A’s last season, for his first time back in the city since his 2004 trade, he received a standing ovation that moved him to tears. Carlton Fisk…Dwight Evans…Fred Lynn….Pedro Martinez…Jim Lonborg…and many others who had important roles in Red Sox lore have received similar gracious treatment from the fans upon their return, as well as lesser lights, like my personal favorite, “Steady Eddie” Bressoud. Based on his undeniable contributions to the team’s success and his spectacular batting exploits during his decade in Boston, Manny Ramirez would seem to have earned the Nomar reception, and and maybe more.

Manny, however, is a special, perplexing and complicated case. Alternately referred to as a man-child, a mental defective, a buffoon and a cartoon character by his critics, Ramirez never showed any particular affection or loyalty for the team or the city, demanding to be traded every other year, and openly talking of playing for the hated Yankees some day. Worse than that, he was a repeat malingerer who could not be counted on the play hard every day, only when the spirit moved him. The two flaws combined explosively in mid-2008, when Ramirez became convinced that he could make more money if the Red Sox released him from the team’s options for 2009 and 2010. He fought with a teammate in the dugout, pushed the team’s road secretary to the ground, and faked a leg injury to avoid games while the Red Sox were in a tight pennant race. After he was threatened with a suspension, he played, but barely. His already sub-par fielding became lackadaisical. He loafed to first base on ground balls, allowing easy double plays. In one infamous incident, many observers (including me) believed that he intentionally struck out in a crucial at bat in a game against the New York Yankees. This was the equivalent of throwing a game, a cardinal sin. It is the ultimate betrayal of team, teammates and fans. When the Red Sox were forced to trade Ramirez to salvage their season, few were sorry to see him go.

That wasn’t all. Last season, Ramirez was suspended for 50 games when he tested positive for a banned substance, a drug typically used by steroid abusers. That provoked some commentators, writers and Yankee fans to argue that the Red Sox championships in 2004 and 2007 were tainted, the product of cheating. Even in Los Angeles, Ramirez had brought shame to Boston.

The question being asked in Boston and elsewhere is “Will the Red Sox fans boo Manny?” That’s an easy one: of course they will. The jeers will drive out the cheers. The proof is Johnny Damon, another Boston hero in 2004 who, unlike Ramirez, played his heart out every time he stepped on the field. His sin, however, was false loyalty: after stating publicly that he would never play for the hated Yankees, Damon eagerly signed with them as a free agent because New York offered him more years and money. Ever since, he has been booed mercilessly in Boston—not for signing with New York, but for lying about his values. Damon’s “crime” pales next to what Manny Ramirez did. If the fans boo Johnny Damon, they will rage at Ramirez.

For a long time, I felt that raging was what Manny deserved. I enjoyed watching Manny bat, and I certainly enjoyed the results. I never respected him, however. He is the ultimate example of that bane of all organizations, the star performer who exploits his special talents to force employers to tolerate conduct they forbid from everyone else. This ruptures organizational integrity, destroys staff morale, and makes discipline and management difficult, if not impossible. Manny Ramirez is an anti-professional, with no respect for his craft, his team, or anyone, really, besides himself. He is habitually dishonest, doesn’t care about his commitments, and cannot be trusted, even to make his best effort when he is being paid 20 million dollars a year. It seemed to me that to cheer Manny Ramirez was to validate his despicable conduct, and to send the message to him and other players, including Little Leaguers, that behaving like Manny is acceptable. It isn’t acceptable. It’s wrong.

Yet ingratitude is also wrong.  I think fans can cheer Manny for the good he did in Boston, the championships he helped win, the thrills and laughs he provided, without endorsing his dark side and unprofessional actions. It is all symbolic anyway, because Manny won’t care one way or the other. He may be a sociopath, or he may be an idiot, but one thing is certain: nothing bothers Manny except not being paid. Boos won’t faze him; cheers won’t encourage him. Whether to boo or cheer,then, is really a statement of cultural values. Do we opt for loyalty, sportsmanship, diligence and respect, and boo Manny because he has always rejected all of these virtues? Or do we choose gratitude, and recognize the huge contribution this incredibly flawed—but undeniably great–athlete made to the city of Boston?

Professional sports are about winning and character—but winning is the bottom line. The fair, kind and ethical way for fans to welcome Manny Ramirez back to Boston is to cheer him for what he achieved. It won’t mean they like him, respect him or even forgive him. In the final analysis, it is just time to say “thank you.”


Update: Manny Ramirez came to bat to lead off the second inning. The Boston fan reaction seemed evenly divided among those fans who stood and cheered, those who booed, and those who did nothing at all. For those who maintain Manny was genuine in his past statements of fondness for Boston fans, I only would note that he made no gesture of appreciation or recognition at all, at least that I saw. Johnny Damon, in contrast, who was booed by almost everyone in attendance upon his return (as a Yankee) in 2006, nonetheless raised his cap high in what appeared to be a genuinely graceful salute.

17 thoughts on “The Ethics of Booing Manny Ramirez

  1. Personally, given Ramirez’ record, I can’t blame the Boston fans- or any MLB fans anywhere- for giving him the razz in public. The shame is Baseball’s for allowing someone as morally compromised as he for even taking to the field. That, alone, is a betrayal of young people. Baseball is supposed to be a character builder and its highest ranked professionals should be of the best character themselves. The fans understand this, even if the commissioner doesn’t. By refusing to remain silent about this outrage (if, that is, it’s limited to boos and “go home” catcalls) they’re sending a needed message; both to Baseball and to young people.

    • You know I can’t really disagree—this was my private and public opinion for years, and I still think the Red Sox and the Commissioner should have suspended Ramirez for long periods. Fans, however, were by far the least of his victims. If I was a teammate, I wouldn’t shake his hand; if I were a sportswriter, I wouldn’t vote for him to enter the Hall of Fame. But he did what he did, and the city benefited overall. One night of graciousness isn’t too much, do you think? Even if Manny doesn’t know what that is.

  2. Jack:

    Your third paragraph presents opinions, conjecture, and gross distortions of reality about Manny Ramirez dressed up as fact.

    Ramirez absolutely showed affection for Boston and Red Sox fans — many, many, many times. There is no possible way you do not know this.

    One that springs immediately to mind is after his game-winning single against the Twins at the 2005 trade deadline: “This is the place to be!” Those words were broadcast over the Fenway Park PA system.

    He told reporters that same day: “My situation with Tito is perfect, man. I don’t have no problems with nobody here. … Man, this is the best town in the world. They want to win, I want to win.”

    Just because he expressed frustration at other times does not nullify his positive statements.

    His one sentence about playing for the Yankees referred to when he was no longer under contract with the Red Sox. I would imagine any player not ready to hang up his spikes would consider playing for *any* other major league team if the only alternative was retirement.

    Manny did not fight with a teammate in the dugout. It was a minute scuffle; there was a slap. And it was reported the next day that Manny had expressed the same annoyance many teammates had been harbouring for weeks about Kevin Youkilis’s post-AB antics.

    The incident with Jack McCormick (the travelling secretary) was not witnessed by any member of the media and McCormick has never spoken about their argument. No fan can claim to know exactly what happened.

    You also have no way of knowing whether Ramirez “faked a leg injury to avoid games”. Even a team doctor could not say for sure. And if you are referring to the “Manny forgot which knee hurt” story from 2008, I have shown (definitively, in my opinion) on my blog that there is no evidence in the public record to show it ever happened. It is a pure fiction.

    Ramirez runs slowly to first base no more and no less than most players in major league baseball. Watch any baseball game and you will see most players — even Red Sox team captain Jason Varitek — not running at top speed on every play. For whatever reason, Manny is the only player the media talks about when it comes to this.

    And saying Manny has no respect for his craft? Believing that is quite possibly an exact definition of insanity. You can find detailed stories from throughout his 18-year career that Ramirez works his ass off on his hitting. And in Boston, he was serious about his fielding, too, though it often looked otherwise.

    As far as the “intentional” strikeout, the idea that Mariano Rivera could freeze a big league hitter and strike him out on three pitches is not beyond the realm of possibility. At least you note that it is merely your opinion.

    Your comments about Damon are similarly false. Damon is ABSOLUTELY booed for signing with the Yankees. It has nothing to do with “lying about his values”. No other ex-Red Sox player from 2004 has ever been booed in Boston when playing for another team and Damon is the only one that joined the hated Yankees.

    There are many more statements in your post offered as fact that are clearly your opinion.

    What troubles me is that a non-baseball fan reading your post would unknowingly be getting blatant misinformation and assume it is to uncontested fact.

    You should separate what can be documented publicly (with the appropriate links) from what is merely your opinion as a Red Sox fan. That would seem to be de rigueur for a blog about ethics.

    • For those who don’t know Allan, he writes a lovely blog called “Joy of Sox,” and he is resolutely immune to any rational discourse about Manny Ramirez—why, I have never been able to tell. I argued this issue with him so much, and with so little effect, that I finally gave up. Allan is conspiratorially-minded, and proud of it: he believes that the Bush Administration was involved in the 9-11 bombing (or did–I refuse to argue that topic) for example, so he also believes that the Boston media and team was in cahoots to drive their best hitter out of town. I think that is self-evident nonsense, though not as much nonsense as the 9-11 nonsense.

      To address his objections, which are bizarrely at odds with the vast, vast majority of the media, baseball historians, and fans’ perception of the matter:

      1) Manny asked to be traded, by my count, four times during his tenure–I know of no other player in Boston history that came close (he was traded, briefly, for Alex Rodriguez, but the trade didn’t “take.”). He has said, at various times, that he loved the city and also that he was never comfortable there. Manny likes playing baseball. I observed no particular affection for the team, city or fans, and unlike Allan, I consider saying you want to play for a team’s arch-rival while you are still under contract to that team for several years shows a rather weak connection; no other player in my time following the game has done such a thing. Then there’s the res ipsa loquitur argument. If Manny cared about the fans, he wouldn’t have acted so abominably.

      2) Manny slapped Kevin Youkilis in plain view. You don’t like “fight”? OK, call it a “scuffle.” It’s still misbehavior.

      3) Nobody but Allan disbelieves the multiple media reports that Ramirez was angry that the elderly Sox road secretary wouldn’t or couldn’t get Manny the tickets he wanted and shoved him to the ground. It’s a conspiracy, I guess.

      4) Manny said his knee hurt, and when he was asked which one, couldn’t say. The Sox then had both knees X-rayed, and found nothing. I’m comfortable with the accuracy of “faked a leg injury”—let’s have a show of hands. I didn’t mention 2005, when Ramirez sat out most of the last two months of the season with a dubious injury despite the team being desperate for outfielders and sliding fast in the standings. The overwhelming majority of sports reporters were of the opinion, based on discussions with team members, that Ramirez had quit on the team, because there seemed to be nothing wrong with him. Yeah, I don’t believe they were lying.

      5) The running to first base issue shows just how passionately biased Allan is regarding Manny. Nobody who watched Ramirez play after his trade to LA in 2008 could fail to be amazed (or furious) at how hard he was suddenly running the bases—a complete contrast with his slug-like jogs in Boston. This, of course, also proves the faked injury. I had almost forgotten my shock at seeing Manny suddenly acting like he cared in L.A. Thanks Allan: I may have to change my vote to “Boo.” I had forgotten about this. Now I’m mad all over again.

      6) Manny works and worked hard at the game and the skill of hitting—nobody denies that. Maybe craft is the wrong word for what he doesn’t respect—what’s the right one? He has no respect for the game? Baseball? His profession? All of the above?

      7) As time has gone by, my immediate feeling that Manny had whiffed intentionally (ridiculed by you, Allan, in 2008) has become pretty much accepted except by die-hard Manny-enablers. Watch the YouTube video, and then watch him in any other at bat. He doesn’t get ready, he doesn’t cock, he doesn’t really take the bat off his shoulder. He stands there, blankly, as three strikes go by. Rivera said it was strange, if I recall. I was certainly not looking for an intentional whiff on called strikes—I had never seen one before. But it was clear that that was what was happening. I’ve looked for any similar K by Manny, against Rivera or anyone. Nothing even comes close. It is both unprovable and obvious.The ultimate “up yours” ever delivered from a player to a team.

      8) As for Damon—no, Allan YOU are wrong. Other players, notably Louis Tiant, the beloved team ace of the 70’s, have moved from the Sox to the Yankees. Tiant did it at an even more bitter period between the teams, after the ’78 Yankees beat the Red Sox in a one game play-off for the Eastern Division Championship—the Bucky Dent game. I was in the stands when Looie returned, and he got barely a jeer, and a standing ovation. Why was Damon treated differently? For exactly the reason I stated.

      Allan, your assessment of Manny Ramirez is and has always been fantasy. My description of his history with the team is well documented and not really in dispute by anyone except by you, and you assume a Boston-wide conspiracy between team management and the press to explain away the parts of the story that don’t jibe with your script, while just ignoring the obvious in other areas, like Manny’s sudden attack of speed in LA. I don’t doubt your sincerity, but you are, on this topic, deluded, inconvincing, and irrational.

      • I am a Manny fan and not really interested in debating all the off the field stuff raised here. But I do want to point out that Allan specifically referred only to former Sox players from 2004 in reference to the booing only of Damon on his return. Tiant was NOT on the 2004 team, so you, Jack, are wrong to say that Allan was wrong. No other player from the 2004 team has been greeted with anything but cheers and ovations: Mueller, Millar, Nomar, Pedro, etc.

        • Hi Amy—I remember you. I don’t have to accept Allan’s arbitrary limitation on the time for assessing Sox fan psychology. I really don’t think it changes. Damon was the only 2004 player to go to the Yankees; he was also the only one to specifically promise he would NOT sign with the Yankees, other than Curt Schilling, who, unlike Damon, meant what he said. It was the combination of the pledge and the betrayal. Allan is wrong to conclude that Damon’s proclaimed loyalty wasn’t a key factor. Would he have been booed if he simply told the press he would go where the money was? Some. But he would not have been a permanent villain.

          • I can’t read the fans’ minds and neither can you. My only point was to correct your misreading of Allan’s point. He referred only to 2004 players, and you said he was wrong by referring to Tiant. Whether things were the same or different 25 or so years earlier is irrelevant and not responsive to his point.

        • Also: the booing of Damon, as both the only recent player to jump from the Sox to the Yankees AND the only one who pledged loyalty to the Sox before doing so, can’t by itself prove either proposition. I was looking for “comps” for Damon, and Tiant is the best by far. Another good one is Roger Clemens, who was booed pretty lustily (in contrast to Tiant) for jumping to the Blue Jays after saying that the only places he would ever play baseball were Boston or in Texas, to be near his family. I think Allan undervalues the fairness and intelligence of fans here. Most of them aren’t fools—most would would sympathize with a player who said, “Look—the Yankees offered me job security and money that nobody else would,” if he didn’t lie about putting loyalty first. False loyalty is worse than no loyalty at all.

  3. Isn’t the “varsity” answer to this question to have the fans keep their normal noise level when he first comes up, treating him like a non-star player? I have odd perceptions, I know, but to me this would communicate the message that we can’t really cheer for you because you were a sleaze, a goof-off, a psychopath, and a cheat, but we won’t boo you either because you did help the team a lot in honest ways. Being both a star and a scumbag obliterates the right, or the need, to be treated as either. If Manny doesn’t care what the fans do, why should they?

    Let’s see now. The chances of the Boston fans actually doing this are point-zero-zero-zero- … oops! The right end of my calculator screen just warped into hyperspace.

    • I was just going to suggest this…but in more of a “Mystery, Alaska” sort of way. I love that scene where the New York Rangers come on to the ice and every single person in the crowd is quiet as a mouse and reading a newspaper.

  4. 9/11? You’re mentioning **9/11**? Does anyone, outside of Dan Shaughnessy, believe Manny Ramirez was involved in 9/11? No. And CHB ain’t here. So why bring it up? I find it amazing that you cannot stay focused on your own topic.

    I said my piece. You disagree. Others can investigate what I said and weigh it against your statements if they choose. That’s how the world works.

    Best of luck.

    • I must say, I like the idea of implicating Manny in 9/11.

      The relevance was, I think obviously, that those of us who are inclined towards conspiracy theories sometimes see conspiracies that aren’t there. There was no conspiracy against Manny Ramirez.

  5. Red Sox game was starting early, at 6, so I was rushing around. Forgot to add (and hope you post):

    Your readers can likely spot the classic diversionary tactic at the start of your response. “Here is some stuff I think I know about this guy to show you he is a kook. Therefore, *everything* he says is kooky. So my original post is totally true.”

    I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth re Manny, but surely, your debating skills are sharper than this.

    • But Allan—I never said you were a kook, nor do I believe that. I’m sorry if that is the impression that opening leaves. I think you are pretty close to brilliant, actually, except on this one issue (OK, two issues) on which you are, I believe, inexplicably
      off the wall. I have some topics like that myself. So far, they haven’t come up in public, for which I consider myself lucky.

      Back to the game.

  6. Pingback: New York Times: Ramirez has requested an exemption for drugs – CBS Sports | Fertility Blog

  7. Can the fans boo if they create a hilarious t-shirt like the one for Damon when he left to be a Yankee?

    “Looks like Jesus, throws like Mary, acts like Judas” or something to that effect. That was hilarious.

    Reminds me of when Chuck Knoblauch came back to the Metrodome (may it soon be destroyed) as a left fielder and fans booed him and threw garbage at him. While not as talented as Manny, he was a Rookie of the Year and helped the Twins win the championship as a rookie in ’91. Yet we just had to hate him.
    Same goes for A.J. Pierzynski. We traded him (he didn’t ask to leave) and we still rip him when the Sox (White) come to town.

    So much for Minnesota nice. Fan is short for fanatic, and emotions often override courtesy.

  8. Can I just say that all of this is bullshit? Manny — IQ 80 or not — only cares about Manny. Just because he was important to a couple of long-awaited Red Sox World Series wins doesn’t mean he WON those Series.

    The Red Sox are a TEAM, and just because the occasional prima donna makes key contributions at key times does not make him a hero. There is a wonderful, if peculiar, culture in the Red Sox: Manny Ramirez didn’t see it, didn’t care about it, and it got him booted from the team, performance and performance-enhancing drugs nothwithstanding.

    I think Fuller’s suggested response would have been a killer: absolute silence. “You are unimportant to us. Period”.

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