Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Most Interesting Man(ny) on the South Side

I attended college (and graduated in 2006) at a small liberal-arts college named Holy Cross, which is located in the heart of Redsox Nation.  It was here in Worcester, MA (pronounced wustah), during my junior year, where I was able to witness up-close and personal, the pinnacle of Red Sox fans’ existence, their first World Series victory in 86 years.  While many of my friends were in completely ecstasy and committed themselves to a weeklong celebration full of drunken debauchery and riot-like behavior, I was miserable.  As a Chicagoan and White Sox fanatic who had endured many years of heartbreak, I went to Holy Cross with an open mind about the Red Sox and their long-suffering fan base.  It took me about a week however to realize that my team away from home wasn’t going to be the Sawx, no, I decided to go with the Yankees.

Fame doesn't make you any less annoying
See, I found out the truth about the Red Sox fan base.  They were whiny, they were obnoxious, they were illogical (we’ll get to this later), they were attention whores, they were jealous of the Yankees success (at a Holy Cross basketball game, the entire crowd broke into a “Yankees Suck” chant for no apparent reason), but worst of all, they were just simply annoying.  While good people and great friends of mine, I couldn’t bear the thought of them finally breaking “The Curse”.  (Side Note:  It wasn’t a curse.  If my friend strikes out time and again at a bar, that doesn’t mean he is cursed.  He’s probably just really ugly, really weird, or a combination of both.  Similarly, the Red Sox weren’t cursed, they just weren’t good enough. ).In fact, I was so anti-Red Sox, that one of the greatest sports moments of my life was when the Yankees’ Aaron Boone hit the home run off of Tim Wakefield to win the 2003 ALCS (this moment ranks third behind the 2005 White Sox World Series and the Cub’s Bartman Game of course).  While it may seem malicious to get enjoyment out of watching your friends, grown men mind you, literally cry their sorrows away, if you lived in the Boston area during this time, and were not a Red Sox fan, believe me, you’d understand.

Manny at his best
The one thing that I never got about Red Sox fans was how illogical they were when it came to Manny Ramirez.  During and after the 2003 ALCS, they all were saying that Manny needed to go (not just my friends, but everyone).  In fact, the Red Sox faithful believed that Bill Mueller and Jason Veritek were the only irreplaceables and were the teams' heart and soul.  Makes perfect sense right?  An average defensive third baseman, having a career year and an overrated catcher who drove in 22 less runs, hit 12 fewer homers, and who batted almost fifty points lower than the guy they wanted to run out of town, were untouchable.  Keep in mind, that Manny was the best right-handed hitter in the game and was the baseball clutch equivalent to Michael Jordan.  He was the real heart, the soul, and in retrospect, the syringe that made the Fake Sox go.  Sure his defense was questionable, his antics were a little over the top and his head wasn’t always in the game, but his production was top-notch.  I mean really, does the fact that Bill Clinton liked to have a little extra-marital fun every now and then mean he should be kicked out of office?  Does the fact that Charlie Sheen spends more time in rehab than he does on set, make him dispensable to ‘Two and a Half Men’?  Does the annoyingness of Bono’s repeated political statements mean people are going to stop shelling out hundreds of dollars to see U2?  No, absolutely not.  The same goes for Manny.  You have to take the good (a severe understatement) along with the bad.  If they didn’t want him, I along with all other White Sox fans, were willing to have him.  I’d let them keep their boys Tek and Mueller.  And people wonder why he quit on them in 2008.

With the real Sox having officially acquired Manny on Monday, I may have gotten my long-awaited wish.   With Andrew Jones and Mark Kotsay having unforgettable seasons at DH, filling that spot with someone of Manny’s caliber could be just what the Sox need.  I’m hoping that White Sox fans focus on what Manny brings to the table, and not on the distractions that may come with it.  As Kenny Williams has said, it’s only for one month, so production is all that matters.  To me, a great analogy is the dilemma that a television producer might face when confronted that he or she must boost ratings.   In my opinion, you hire the likes of a Shannon Daugherty in a heartbeat and live with the onset catfights and co-stars threatening to quit as long as she delivers the goods.  Similarly, if the goal for the Sox is to win this year, then you absolutely have to roll the dice and get Manny.  I know Kenny Williams is comfortable with his decision, I just hope that more Sox fans would be as well.

While the knock on Manny is that he is done, we shouldn’t be so quick to believe that.  The guy is batting .313 in limited plate appearances due to an injury-plagued season.  How quickly we forget that many people thought he was done when he headed to the Dodgers, and yet, he had one of the greatest 53 game stretches in baseball history, after the trade, to close out the season.  As Sox fans, we just have to hope that Manny is able use his head or possibly even his pharmacist to summon up the motivation, strength, and desire to prove everyone wrong again.  For God’s sake, if Brittney Spears was able to raise herself from the dead after a bald head and drug problem, I’m pretty sure Manny’s got one last push in him.

Even if he doesn’t produce, daydream with me for a second about the entertainment value that would come from a Manny-Ozzie combination.   I picture a lot of exaggerated man hugs in the dugout, practical jokes galore, awesome joint broken English interviews, and no doubt Ozzie would be seen at least once wearing one of those dreadlock hat things that were so popular when Manny first arrived in LA.  I can even imagine a game of maniacal one-upmanship, as Manny and Ozzie compete at a game of who can out crazy who.  For instance, Ozzie might verbally abuse a female reporter with a few coarse remarks, but Manny might respond the following day by mooning the fans in the left-field bleachers.  Ozzie might counteract that a week later by convincing his son to tweet that he saw Kenny Williams at a local southside brothel, rolling with Bin Laden.  Not to be outdone, Manny might do something like crawl from third to home on his next homer, touching home plate with only his pinkie.  And the game would go on and on until either Ozzie was fired, Manny was suspended indefinitely, or the Sox drew inspiration from the antics to somehow win the World Series.  Either way, we would all be amused and satisfied. 
I could even see the Sox marketing staff getting into the act with something along the lines of a Dos Equis parody.  Cue the sweet background music.  The phrase strike three (pause), does not apply to him…..He prefers to call it (pause), a home walk ….He gets behind in the count (pause), for the thrill of it…. Singles, doubles, and triples (pause), are his version of errors….Speaking English (pause), is a sign of weakness….He swings and misses (pause), to cool the fans off….An XL cup (pause), would be six sizes to small….He is (real dramatic pause now), the most interesting man on the Southside.  Cut to Manny in a club, surrounded by 10 girls.  “I don’t always wear socks, but when I do I prefer they white.  Stay tuned my friends.”

The possibilities are endless, both on and off the field.  He is a perfect fit, in the final year of his contract, and looking to get paid.  The only way he will be able to do that is by producing monster numbers in the final month of the season.  Knowing Manny’s penchant for cash, and for making the previous teams he was on  hate him even more, I believe he will deliver.  If so, my long-distance bill is going to be outrageous, because you better believe, I’ll be asking my buddies from beantown if they still believe Bill Mueller and Jason Veritek were the heart and soul of the Sawx.  I’d think they would say no, but then again, this is Red Sox Nation we’re talking about.  I’m sure we’ll see their true feelings this weekend in Boston.    

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