We have a tremendous amount of baseball cards in our house, but only two of them are mine: the rookie cards of Omar Vizquel and Manny Ramirez, my all-time favorite baseball players.
I know what you're going to say, because I've heard it for almost 20 years: Manny was dumber than a box of rocks. Manny didn't care. Manny had an ego the size of Municipal Stadium. Manny didn't pay attention. Manny didn't run the bases hard enough. Manny worried too much about Manny. Later, worse accusations: Manny sabotaged his team's chances of winning. Manny violated MLB's drug policy by taking steroids. Manny didn't respect baseball. For so long, I wouldn't hear it, because even still when I close my eyes and think about the perfect swing at the plate, it is his. Every time. I can see his stance, I can see his gaze, I can see the swing itself. It was (and is) the definition of batting perfection. That swing was connected to feelings of hope, that one day the team I inherited through genetics and geography would finally win a World Series directly traceable to his signature grand-slam. The strength of that swing might have been fueled with illegal substances, but the form of that swing was fueled by natural-born talent.
I've defended Manny for years—even after he left Cleveland for Boston (pleh) and later for Los Angeles (pleh pleh). You can bet I was cheering for Boston to beat the Yankees in 2004 and make it to the World Series, and you can bet I was cheering for Manny when they actually won. I felt vindicated for my years of believing in him every time he made the cover of Sports Illustrated. I still have one my favorites (July 5, 2004) in our bookshelf:
The feature pointed out all the reasons why Manny was better than people gave him credit for; times were good for him then. No one had figured out the real reason for his magical powers, I suppose—the magical powers that eventually led to a 50 game suspension and after that, an early retirement to avoid a 100 game suspension. You don't retire at 39 when you're as good as Manny unless you don't respect baseball. My heartbreak was mixed with the worst kind of disappointment and disdain. Yet when I closed my eyes, I could still see that swing and forget about all the bad stuff. Eyes open: reality. Eyes closed: 2,574 hits.
Then yesterday, an arrest for domestic battery against his wife in Broward County, Florida made the news. I understand that I am hypocritical, that I listen to musicians and watch actors in movies who are arrested for all sorts and kinds of things, willingly and without heartbreak—right or wrong, I admit to cultivating a certain level of ignorance in such matters. But to a hopeless Manny loyalist for nearly 20 years, the situation is different. I believed in him. There is only so much heartbreak one can take before there is nothing left.
Shame on you, Manny. For all of it. I can only hope you'll wake up and figure out a way to set things right. If not for baseball, at least for yourself.