Inside the world of Manny being Manny
Red Sox outfielder's stellar postseason continues in Game 1
BOSTON -- Manny was being as Manny as you could get Friday in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against Cleveland.
Top of the first: If you stand on top of the Green Monster and look straight down at him, you will notice that Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez holds his red-and-gray glove in his throwing hand until the last possible split-second before every pitch, puts his left hand in it and then, after a strike or ball, immediately takes it off. He does this pitch after pitch after pitch. I'll use it but I'm not going to keep it on.
Bottom of the first: Indians starter C.C. Sabathia nibbles three times on the outside corner, and then tries to sneak a 96-mph 1-2 fastball past Ramirez high in under the fists. Manny gets on top of it and slaps it to center for an RBI single, tying the score at 1.
Top of the second: Two out, none on, and Manny is playing left-handed hitter Kenny Lofton shallow. Lofton is going opposite field, and he offers at the first 97-mph pitch from Josh Beckett. It's an obvious double to the warning track, but what is this? Manny, with the glove on his left hand, is running backward and snags it over his shoulder like he's, well, Lofton. Fenizens are going crazy. Someone tells Manny he is a "bad man." He is.
Bottom of the second: Manny isn't up yet. He's in the dugout, and you almost miss him until he walks in a big run the next inning. All night long, you are expecting him to do something you will never forget. Like the time ...
"When he went to the bathroom in the Green Monster," says David Rowan of Narragansett, R.I., as he changes from the Red Line to the Green Line at Park Street on the T ride to Fenway before the game. "He's never ready, ever."
"When he signed with the Red Sox," interjects Jim Marsico of Scranton, sitting in the next seat on the train with his son, Nathan, who brought a sign to the game that said, "I'm playing hookie to see the SOX WIN." "It was eight years, $160 million, and it was worth it, because David Ortiz wouldn't be half the hitter he is now. I was skeptical of Manny's defense like everybody else. But I've never seen a guy get to the ground ball out there and throw it in as fast as he can. He's not always paying attention, though."
"When he went to the bathroom," says Don Stoddard of Mathuen, Mass., who has season tickets down the third-base side in the Manny Entertainment Zone. "He's a wicked drama queen. He thinks he's in his own special world, because he knows he's talented. He didn't even call timeout for his pitcher that time."
"When he went in the door of the Green Monster, it was just fun. Manny being Manny," says Elly Doherty of Billerica, Mass. They were almost to the ballpark, in front of the Cask 'n Flagon on Lansdowne, and her son added, "That was wicked."
It is near-unanimous. MLB.com asked fans on the subway to the game and around Fenway for their favorite "Manny Being Manny" memories. Ask one and several others lean in to give their own, and you write as fast as possible. Nine out of every 10 fans interviewed mentioned the most famous bathroom break in baseball.
It was the 2005 season. Ramirez could do whatever he wanted, he had a hall pass and maybe eventually even a Hall pass, because he had been World Series MVP the previous October as the Curse of the Bambino was reversed. Pitching coach Dave Wallace was going out to the mound to chat with Wade Miller, and Ramirez opened the door to the Green Monster behind him, took his break, and returned to his position, just like that.
"I don't think you could top it," says Kyle Zepp of Narragansett, wearing a blue No. 24 T-shirt and waiting at the ticket window next to Gate C.
"That's a classic," says Liz Martin of Newport, R.I., wearing a customized No. 24 Red Sox home jersey and standing in a long line waiting for Gate C to open into paradise on a chilly evening. "They're holding up the game, and then you see him laughing. I was watching on TV. He's just different. He's not like your traditional baseball player. He wouldn't fit in anywhere else but here. Could you imagine him with the Yankees? He'd have to look 'professional.'"
Bottom of the fifth: Sabathia starts off nibbling again. He throws a 93-mph pitch off the outside corner and Manny lays off. Then a 94-mph fastball down Yawkey Way, and it's lined up the middle. Manny is 2-for-2 with a walk, two RBIs and a Gold Glove play.
Red Sox fans have a long and proud tradition of loving their players. You could say the same thing about most every team. Walk through the press box hallways high in Fenway and you see framed black-and-white photos such as the one from Frank Malzone Day in 1960. Behind the third baseman (1955-65) that day on the field was a banner that read: "Best wishes TO THE NICEST GUY IN Baseball."
Teddy Ballgame. Yaz. Johnny Pesky. Tony C. Dom. Pudge. Papi. It's a long line of beloved Bostonians here, the same way they loved JFK, their own unique kind of love. And somewhere along the way, Manuel Aristides (Onelcida) Ramirez, a native Dominican who grew up in New York -- who blossomed as a star with these same Indians now here as guests -- was embraced on a similar level.
When exactly did "Manny Being Manny" become a fixed thread in the Nation's fabric? Ian Browne, MLB.com's Red Sox reporter, said it all started at the end of July in 2005. "He was almost traded to the Mets before the deadline," Browne recalled. "That Sunday, he got a game-winning pinch-hit, followed by a huge ovation. Then he did an on-field interview with NESN after the game. He said, 'What can I say? It's just Manny being Manny.'"
On that Aug. 2, the non-waiver trade deadline having passed, Kevin Millar and other teammates had a poster made that read, "The new episode ... Manny Being Manny." They gave it to a club employee inside the Green Monster. That person passed the sign through the window, and just moments before Tim Wakefield would throw the first pitch of that night's Red Sox-Royals game, Ramirez stood in front of the wall and held up the sign. After that, it would be a succession of examples and a slogan would stick, and any time the Boston media have tried to jump his case, fans jumped in.
Unbeknownst to many fans, Ramirez embraces the distinction so much today that he actually has the monogram stitched into his clothing away from the ballpark. The MBM era is in full stride right now. Everyone has an MBM story.
Bottom of the sixth: Bases loaded, no outs, Sox ahead, 8-2. Aaron Fultz puts Manny in a quick 0-2 hole, but it doesn't matter. Manny takes the next four offspeed pitches for balls and walks in his third RBI of the night.
Top of the eighth: Reliever Javier Lopez is pitching mopup duty for Boston with a 10-2 lead. Casey Blake is on third with one out. Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians lines one to the gap in left-center. The run on third doesn't matter at this point. But Manny gives chase and makes a stunning shoestring catch with a tumble.
Bottom of the eighth: Manny walks. Jacoby Ellsbury runs for him. Total for the night: Five times up, five times on base, two dazzling plays, at least for him. Manny was being Manny at his best.
"I was at that game when he got his citizenship and ran out with the flag," says Adam Morgan of Northfield, Mass. "It was the same summer we won it all."
"You'll see him do the wave whenever it makes its way around the park and gets to left field," says an usher named Evan in the Monster Seats. "I love the guy. All of the fans around here do."
"My favorite Manny Being Manny moment was in 2004," says Danny Flynn of Revere, Mass., enjoying the Monster seats for the second time. "Ball is hit off the wall, Johnny Damon plays it and throws to the cutoff man. Manny cuts it off before it gets to the cutoff. That's my all-time favorite. It's just funny, because it's just stupid. You have to love him."
It is a fabulous postseason so far for Manny Ramirez, nearly a perfect start to this ALCS (OK, maybe he could have caught that Ryan Garko blooper in the seventh), and really a fabulous life right now. He doesn't have to keep his glove on his left hand. He doesn't have to ditch the dreadlocks, wear tight pants, make his locker look as spiffy as his teammates or be the same kind of guy 162 games out of the year.
"He's a really good kid, probably a lot more approachable, a lot more likable than he comes across with the media," Sox manager Terry Francona said before the game when pressed about what kind of guy Ramirez really is. "It's not really your fault, because he doesn't allow people in. But I don't think he cares."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.