Being Like Manny

There was much ado over the comments of Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez this past week. As I write this, the Sox are preparing for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, down three games to two to the Cleveland Indians, their backs against the wall. If Manny comes through at the plate as he’s done throughout most of the post-season, indeed most of the entire season, the Sox have more than a fighting chance. That is, if his mates choose to follow his lead, of course.

I don’t know if Manny’s talking today, but earlier in the week, after the game in which he followed up a homerun in what is his usual self-congratulatory manner – dropping his bat, raising his arms, staring at his image on the “jumbotron”, and eventually taking his trot around the bases (no slow motion needed to capture this feat) – he decided to share a few thoughts with the media. When asked about posing after a homerun that merely got the Sox within four runs of the eventual winning Indians, Manny gave the insane (inane?) machine that IS Red Sox Nation, along with every other sports outlet across the country and every fan of the game, reason to shout. And mildly put, the shouts were anything but cheers.

Paraphrasing, Manny basically said that it doesn’t really matter if the Sox win or lose this series, or if they go on to the World Series and win or lose that, either. I don’t even know if it really matters to him what the team’s record is following the regular season. He noted that the world goes on regardless, and in all truthfulness, I agree with him. There are plenty more pressing things in this world than a baseball game. He said that, when all is said and done, he simply believes in having fun.

The trouble, as some see it, is that he gets paid handsomely to have all this so-called fun. This is the notion that seems to have fed the fire of most sports columnists and commentators, and the many folks who call and email into the sports radio talk shows. It simply seems inconceivable to most that someone making millions of dollars a year to play baseball doesn’t care. There must be a positive correlation between paycheck and caring, so the argument goes. It’s a faulty argument, of course, but one that was made over and over and over and over again in the days that followed Manny’s comments.

Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan, the man with a face ideal for radio (my pot shot at him for his pot shot at “homely librarians” in a separate column this week), opined rather astutely when he stated “they just don’t get it” – the fans don’t get players and players don’t get fans. And in the midst of listening and reading all of this, I determined there’s only really one thing that I don’t get at all… I don’t get the principle behind any of it.

I just keep waiting – waiting for what seems like eternity – for just ONE professional athlete to display some set of values that fits in the larger world of which we’re all a part. I am convinced there must be one. Just one. I’m not talking about playing hard or caring even harder because you make a million dollars playing a game. I’m waiting for the one player who possesses the values, the ethic, and the moral foundation that prevents him (or even her) from accepting such a salary in the first place for playing a game. For doing ANYTHING for that matter! Isn’t there just one person out there in these arenas who believes making a good living at something is a good thing, but that making an obscene amount of money for doing anything is well… obscene?

In addition to the “they should work harder because they’re paid so much” incessancy of the week, came another much talked about, and somewhat related, story – Alex Rodriguez’ contract for next season. All reports suggest that the Yankees’ third baseman will likely make roughly 30 million dollars next year, wherever he ends up playing. Next year alone.

Now, do I think Alex Rodriguez’ contract is the reason our tunnels are falling in and our bridges falling down? Do I believe it’s the cause of our faltering healthcare system and our failing schools? Do I think it’s at the root of the mortgage crisis? In a word, no. The 30 million dollars he’ll be paid could surely be put to good use to relieve any one of these troubles, but the fact that the money is going into the Rodriguez’ bank account instead of a school system budget isn’t exactly the problem. More rightly, it’s the facts behind what such a contract indicates. The clear sign of what we value most in our society – fame and fortune and the pure bliss of being entertained.

We love the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Cowboys, the Giants, the Celtics, and the Lakers. We love every last one of them that suits up or straps ‘em on. We dress like them, eat like them, drink like them, everything but exercise like (some) of them. We pay extra for digital cable and HD TV to watch their games. We give a day’s salary to see them swing a bat or throw a pitch in person. Talk about “who cares?” What does it matter that they likely make more taking that one strike than we take home in a week? We love, love, love ‘em. “Do what you love and the money will follow”, the old saying goes, and it’s certainly true here. We love our little bands of entertainers, and our money follows them right down the road.

So let’s all just put our collective wagging finger away and give Manny a break. (And Alex, too.) He’s just having fun – the origin of entertainment, the impetus for it. He’s entertaining himself and all of the rest of us who follow what’s become the big business of professional sports. This is what we value most. Just stand back and enjoy it. Just like Manny.

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