Titans of Reality

by Ryan

No one wants to hear what I have to say about Manny Ramirez.

By now everyone has beaten this to death from every angle possible, and once Bill Plaschke calls someone a “knucklehead” that’s pretty much the final word on these things. However, tonight Manny Ramirez can play major league baseball again, and I think there’s something to say for that.

battingpracticeIf you’ve been around here long enough, you know that Manny Ramirez meant a lot to me as a baseball fan. Not only is he one of the best players I’ve ever seen take the field, but he brought my team to the promised land. No matter how bitter an end, he will always be a part of my two favorite baseball teams of all time. Always.

So when Manny got caught, it didn’t affect my team. All it meant was that I couldn’t watch him play for a while, and that maybe the Sox cut ties just in time. It was no consolation to the fact that he wasn’t in left field every day, but Jason Bay was hitting everything and things didn’t look so bad.

A few weeks ago I was having a discussion with a writer at a Bisons game about steroids. We were talking about the Raul Ibanez situation and he mentioned that people should be more suspicious of numbers dropping than a sudden increase simply because of increased testing. He mentioned names like David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez, who at the time were slumping mightily, and said they were the sort of guys to look at.

Without thinking, I agreed with him and the conversation continued without a pause.

That kind of story is the impact Manny Ramirez’s suspension has had on me as a baseball fan. I mean, David Ortiz is up there on the list of “Ryan’s favorite players”, and I didn’t even try to defend him in this conversation. Since Manny, my perception of baseball players has shifted from giving the benefit of doubt to begrudgingly accepting the reality that a huge number of players have done steroids.

Bill Simmons talked about this in a great column post-Mannygate, but I really think Manny has snapped a lot of baseball fans to reality. I can’t help but look back at those Red Sox teams and wonder just what the hell was going on. Bill Mueller won the AL batting title in 2003? From the eight hole? And no one batted an eye?

seeThat 2003 team absolutely hit the cover off the ball, and at the time all we talked about was how they stacked up to the ’27 Yankees. There were no whispers, no questions, and clearly no testing. Even when these players dropped into the refuse bin in the years to come, it was hard to find people pointing fingers.

Now there are casual mentions in conversation, followed by mutual nods.

Hindsight always provides a different perspective on things, but if this conversation happens in February I never consider Mueller’s fade into oblivion, and I certainly try to defend Ortiz. Today those options certainly are there, but they seem less and less likely.

The strange thing is that I don’t think this realization is about hindsight as much as it is bringing ourselves closer to reality. As fans we are inclined to provide excuses for our players while casting harsh light on theirs. It’s only habit, and part of the perks package you get when you make the Mudville nine. Now it seems those perks are getting a bit duller.

Of course, there could be other explanaitons. Mueller’s Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was pretty high back in ’03, so maybe there was more luck involved there than I think. Besides, irresponsible speculation is what this whole thing started with, and that’s really not the point here.

The point is this: perception matters with these things, and because of Manny perception is clearly changing. Perhaps the paradigm shift is much larger because of what Manny means to me, but the more situations like this we have, the further we will go. It’s not the end of days, and it’s not the end of baseball, but sometimes I wonder just how much reality is necessary for fans.

Every hero has a flaw. Sometimes keeping those flaws hidden is the most important part of the job.