Sports Nut

Manny Ramirez, as Himself

How Boston’s amazing left fielder led the Red Sox to another World Series.

Manny Ramirez, Jonathan Papelbon, and Jason Varitek of the Red Sox celebrate defeating the Cleveland Indians

All right, then, be it resolved: Manny Ramirez knows more about baseball than you do.

And be it further resolved: Manny Ramirez knows more about baseball than anyone else does.

And I mean you, the baseball historians and the baseball romantics, and a distressing number of the latter are actual historians in their day jobs, so they probably should know better than to worship the forms of the game instead of its soul. Manny knows more about it than they do. And he knows more about it than do those grim, icy faces that glower down from America’s press boxes and pass judgment on the game’s etiquette like the last Victorian scolds rummaging through the Cheapside docks. And he knows more about it than do the figure filberts and the SABR dancers, many of whom have come to run the front offices of baseball teams—most notably, the front office of the baseball team that Manny Ramirez now has led into its second World Series in four seasons because he knows more about baseball than anyone else does.

That means you, too, Selena Roberts, who said on ESPN’s Sports Reporters on the very morning of the seventh game of the American League Championship Series that the problem with the whole Manny-being-Manny thing is that it lacks “accountability.” Of course, here in the Commonwealth—God save it!—we gave up on the stocks years ago, so I’m not sure what Roberts would have us do. Apparently, this has something to do with turning 390-foot fly balls into singles, and posing after mammoth home runs as though you’d come right off Stan Lee’s drawing boards. To which fate, and whatever free radicals in the universe combine to create a unique human being who plays baseball, deliver last night the profound reply: So Freaking What?

For the second time in four seasons, the Boston Red Sox came out from under a whopping deficit to win the pennant. There are those who believe that the momentum swung in this series when Josh Beckett stood the Indians on their heads in Game 5, forcing a return to Fenway Park, and prompting some ominous quotes from out of the Cleveland clubhouse about how much they were going to miss their home field support staff, as though there were no chance that they’d be coming back there to tip them a World Series share. Quite simply, the Cleveland Indians came to Boston wrapped so tightly they made Mitt Romney look like Wavy Gravy. They played that way last night; the third-base line at Fenway might as well have been the Bermuda Triangle. (I think several Cleveland infielders may never be seen again.) And that’s why the true turning point came last week, when Manny Ramirez spoke the truth about baseball.

It came at the end of a lengthy chat with the media, a rare enough occurrence over the past two seasons in which Ramirez has frozen them out. Already he had said that he would trade all his records for a chance at another World Series, which is exactly the right kind of thing to say to people who judge your dedication by the kind of dumbshow you perform in front of the camera. Then, he said that, if Boston were to lose the ALCS, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Which is exactly the wrong thing to say to those same people. He stood accused, on the front pages of America’s finer tabloid newspapers, and all across the sporting airwaves, in between commercials for auto glass and male-enhancement nostrums, of insufficient grit, of Non-Moxie in the third degree, of Conspiracy To Convince America’s Fans To Lighten the Hell Up. Guilty on all counts.

However, it was impossible to watch the Red Sox over these last three games and not see Ramirez’s words in vivid action. Boston did not play an inning of baseball in which the team was not cool, and loose, and utterly in command of the circumstances. Not even when the double plays killed rally after rally last night, and a 3-2 lead that should have been 9-2 took God’s own time to get to the 11-2 final. You had Dustin Pedroia, swinging from his heels—or swinging from Dave Kingman’s heels, judging from the ferocity of the contact—and the vividly swift Jacoby Ellsbury, a little afterburner at the bottom of the lineup, and Kevin Youkilis bombing the coup de grace off the giant Coke bottles above the leftfield wall. Even the final out, which Coco Crisp ran down a millisecond before getting a face full of wall in centerfield, was a recklessly obtained one. This was a team that realized that losing wasn’t the end of the world, and therefore, losing was nothing of which to be afraid. Manny saw that first and brought the rest of them along.

He knocked in the first run with a wicked topspin grounder that ate up Cleveland shortstop Jhonny Peralta. He then contributed the defensive play of the night, fielding a line drive that Indians leftfielder Kenny Lofton whacked off the wall and making such a quick throw to second base that it fooled the umpire, who called Lofton out. (It also fooled Lofton, who had a legitimate beef, but who walked meekly back to the dugout.) That play cut the heart out of what might have been the last chance Cleveland had to even the score before the deluge struck in the last two innings. Ramirez was as central to the baseball played last night as he was central to the spirit that made last night’s game possible at all.

It’s in all of them now. Ramirez is even being taxed for the pole position as team eccentric by young closer Jonathan Papelbon, who celebrated the division series win over the Angels by dancing on the infield with goggles on his head. Unburdened of their history, the Boston Red Sox are in another World Series with Manny Ramirez in left field. Manny’s unburdened of everything, hitting .400 in the postseason, and sharing his secret knowledge with the wider world, which is as blind and deaf to genius as it ever was.