Unwanted: Here's where Favre, Manny, Bonds, Marbury belong
Does your department need a ringer for the next company softball game? Barry Bonds is available, and from what we hear, he's willing to work cheap. If you need someone to throw passes to your kids in the backyard when your arm gets tired, Brett Favre just might be your man. At last check he had a job with the Green Bay Packers, but something tells us they would be willing to give him all the time off he needs.
Once considered priceless, Favre and Bonds are finding themselves about as valuable as a couple of lamps at a yard sale these days. Along with Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez and New York Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury, they make up a quartet of stars (OK, maybe Marbury doesn't quite live up to that billing) who are now unwanted by their teams or, in the case of Bonds, by his entire sport. Almost all athletes wear out their welcome eventually, but rarely have four such recognizable names been declared so dispensable all at the same time.
There is a place for everyone, though, even if it sometimes takes a bit of creative thinking to determine what it is. All these players want is to be wanted (and perhaps a contract extension), after all. Here is the recommended solution to their problems.
Let us start with Favre, because he is by far the easiest case and because, frankly, we can't wait to get his tiresome indecision out of the news. Give the man back his number 4 Packers jersey and his starting job. This is a no-brainer, unless the Packers brass has decided that putting the best possible team on the field is no longer a priority. Favre is, until he proves otherwise, a better option at quarterback than his understudy of the past three years, Aaron Rodgers, so if he wants to continue to play, the Packers ought to be happy to have him.
There are only two things that are not crystal clear about this situation. One is why would someone who loves the game as deeply as Favre does (as we are so often told) agonize so much over whether to play every year? But we've given up getting an answer to that question. The other is why Green Bay seems so desperate to give the QB job to Rodgers, who has shown some nice flashes but is still essentially unproven.
It would be different if this were the aging and injury-prone Joe Montana holding back the clearly ready-for-stardom Steve Young. But there is no evidence to suggest Green Bay would be as good a team next season with Rodgers as it would be with Favre, who was mostly terrific in leading Green Bay to the NFC Championship game a year ago. So why the rush to Rodgers?
Green Bay should simply allow Favre to return as the No. 1 quarterback and wait for one of two things to happen. Either Favre will play quite well, as he usually does, making it likely that the Packers will win more games than they otherwise would, which is, you know, kind of the point. Or Favre won't be as effective and Green Bay will be justified, somewhere around midseason, in giving Rodgers a less pressurized chance to take over. Can someone explain why this is supposed to be so complicated?
Marbury's situation is almost exactly the opposite. Unlike Favre, Ramirez or Bonds, he is almost completely unfamiliar with the concept of winning, at least as a pro. Marbury once perfectly summed up his priorities thusly: "If I didn't play the way I played [read: selfishly] I wouldn't have gotten a max contract. One plus one is two, all day long. And that's factorial."
The only reason the Knicks haven't bought out the final $21 million season of that max contract by now is because they're the Knicks, and smart decisions just aren't in their nature. The team would be doing him a favor by cutting him loose, however, because the NBA clearly is not the place for him. And although he has hinted at playing overseas, perhaps in Italy, after his contract expires, most Italian teams would probably say a quick arrivederci as soon as they got a good look at his game.
Marbury doesn't need a passport to find the perfect home. The Knicks should free him to go back to the place he once excelled -- the playgrounds of New York City. Players there don't concern themselves with championships or defensive rotations or being coachable. The asphalt game is all about individual play, about getting yours. Marbury should take his millions and head back to the place where his game was meant to be, where he would be hailed as a hero and be remembered as a playground legend. He would be happier, and Knicks fans would be ecstatic.
Like Marbury, Ramirez is miscast in his current job description. Ramirez is eccentric, or a total flake, depending on your point of view. It's not every player who ducks into the Green Monster scoreboard to take a bathroom break -- during the game -- or who makes a running catch near the wall, reaches up to high-five a fan, and then gets the ball back to the infield with a runner on base. Ramirez doesn't just think outside the box, he's apparently unaware there even is a box.
Manny, is, in short, a showman, even if unintentionally so. An original thinker like the late Bill Veeck, the one-of-a-kind baseball owner/promoter, would no doubt have loved him, which is why Ramirez should follow in the Veeck tradition of creating quirky, entertaining baseball. Imagine Manny as not just a player but as an owner, putting together a barnstorming team of like-minded cutups -- a baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters. He could round up kooky players of the past, like Mark "Bird" Fidrych, Steve "Psycho" Lyons and Bill "Spaceman" Lee, basically anyone who carries a nickname in quotation marks. What would you rather watch, a team of unpredictable players like that, or the Washington Nationals? Thought so.
Unfortunately for baseball's exiled home run king, he wouldn't even be welcome on Manny's team of misfits, even if he changed his name to Barry "Flaxseed Oil" Bonds. Forget the legal issues, the prickly personality and the steroid suspicions. No one wants Bonds because he's just too much of a downer. The best place for him is right where he is, at home, sitting by a phone that refuses to ring. By staying there he is providing perhaps the greatest service he could offer his fellow athletes -- a reminder that no matter how talented they might be, they should prepare themselves for the day when they, too, will be unwanted, because that day will inevitably come. And that's factorial.