Manny Ramirez was arrested and charged with domestic battery Monday night, and it was digested perfectly by Peter Gammons in a span of three simple words: "We misunderstood Manny."
That we did, as the playful, lighthearted and carefree slugger we thought we once knew has spent the last three years tearing down and destroying his own legacy. It's really too bad.
Just because it's bad, of course, doesn't mean the man is worthy of any sympathy. He's burned bridges from coast to coast and left the game of baseball in disgraceful fashion this spring after testing positive for a banned substance for the second time in his career. Rather than face the music and accept a 100-game suspension, Ramirez simply disappeared. He walked away from the game, and he hadn't been heard from until his mug shot started spreading around the Internet on Monday night.
As recently as five years ago, the first thing any baseball analyst or expert said about Ramirez was that he was one of the best right-handed hitters in the history of the game. Sure, his defense was a weakness, and his aloofness and quirkiness caused occasional problems, but his hitting made up for this minor inconveniences. It was just Manny being Manny, right?
Now, it's a very different story.
Of course, Ramirez hasn't been convicted of anything. His wife, Juliana, said he slapped her, causing her to hit her head against the headboard of their bed. TMZ reported that she had red swelling on her face and a bruise on her head when police arrived. Manny, however, admits he "grabbed" her but claims that she only hit her head after he "shrugged" her. Whatever that means, it doesn't matter, because he admitted he did in fact put his hands on her, which won't help his case.
Plus, Manny's history has to come into play here. We know that he smacked Kevin Youkilis upside the head in the dugout for, really, no good reason, and we know that he shoved a 64-year-old man for not fulfilling his ticket request in the summer of '08. It was at that point that Ramirez was no longer fun or quirky, and he was shipped out of Boston shortly thereafter.
Since then, he's had some ups but many more downs. He excelled in Los Angeles for the latter part of 2008, and he squeezed a two-year, $45 million deal out of the Dodgers. That marriage didn't last long, though, as he tested positive for a banned substance early in the '09 season and missed 50 games. He was dumped, again, by the Dodgers the next year and was claimed off waivers by the White Sox. Last winter, almost nobody wanted Ramirez, so he settled on a one-year deal with the Rays for short money. He played all of five games before retiring with his reputation in shambles.
Yet somehow, despite the bad rap sheet, Ramirez now has managed to outdo himself. Pushing 64-year-old Jack McCormick to the ground was always his most indefensible moment, until now. Again, he hasn't been convicted, but he admitted there was an altercation and there was enough evidence for misdemeanor battery charges to be filed.
So where does all this lead? Has Ramirez guaranteed that he won't ever find himself enshrined in Cooperstown? Does that even matter anymore?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is more complicated. Ten or 20 years from now, when Ramirez's career is remembered, his off-the-field mistakes may finally be too much to ignore. The 555 homers, the .996 career OPS, the World Series MVP Award and the 2007 postseason walk-off home run were all unforgettable accomplishments, but the transgressions will likely define his legacy.
The worst part of it is that none if it had to happen. We'll never understand why he did what he did and why he demolished a Hall of Fame career when he didn't have to. He didn't need performance-enhancing drugs in 2009 to make the Hall of Fame or make more money. He didn't need to go out of his way to start fights or cause problems. Had he just acted like most people would have acted, his reputation, save for a few idiosyncrasies, would be as good as gold.
But, as we've learned over the past 10 years or so, Manny Ramirez isn't like most people.
There's no question that, as Gammons asserted, we misunderstood Manny, but if you want to get more specific, we all wanted to misunderstand Manny. We knew he wasn't the most mature man on the planet, but some of us tried to convince ourselves that he was harmless, that he was smarter than he got credit for and that when it came down to it, he was a fun-loving, good guy.
It sure seems like we were all very wrong.