Inside the mess with the Marlins
Marlins people say it isn't the first time Fredi Gonzalez covered for Hanley Ramirez
Sources say Ramirez's Marlins teammates have little use for him personally
Mets manager Jerry Manuel is being evaluated by his bosses
Marlins star shortstop Hanley Ramirez loafed after a ball, earning an embarrassing removal from Monday's game for lack of hustle. But Ramirez managed to make things much worse with his words by turning on his manager and teammates. One day after that passive play, Ramirez turned aggressive, mocking his gutsy manager Fredi Gonzalez, his manager's words and even his own teammates. In the process, Ramirez may have exposed himself as perhaps the prime example of the selfish, spoiled, egotistical ballplayer.
We can only guess as to how many times Gonzalez has covered for his petulant star before, but Marlins people say it has happened quite frequently. "It seems to be an annual thing with him," said one Marlins-connected person.
Ramirez's maturity level is said by people around the team to be nowhere near even his 25 years, and he's earned their disrespect through previous misdeeds, many of which were cagily obscured by Gonzalez. Team sources say he has on occasion made a spectacle of himself on team flights. Only snippets of clubhouse discord have come out before, including the time late last year when teammate Dan Uggla called out Ramirez for removing himself from a game when Braves pitcher Tim Hudson was dominating. Ramirez cited a hamstring issue, but Uggla and other teammates suspected the batting race Ramirez eventually won might have played a role in his opting out of that game.
Ramirez's agent, Andy Mota, didn't return a phone call seeking comment.
Gonzalez is all about his integrity, and he couldn't live with himself if he let this latest incident pass. This time, after Ramirez failed to hustle after a ball he accidentally kicked into the left-field corner as two runners scored in a 5-1 Diamondbacks victory and then failed to apologize, Gonzalez made no excuses for Ramirez.
A day later, after the apology Gonzalez requested still wasn't forthcoming from Ramirez, the star shortstop chose an opposite approach instead. He took a couple public potshots at his manager and one at his less talented teammates, who also are said in the past to have resisted revealing their negative feelings regarding the team's best player. According to other Marlins people, Gonzalez was especially incensed about Ramirez's attacks on the teammates, characterizing the situation to other people as Ramirez "throwing his teammates under the bus.''
Ramirez bolted out of the clubhouse on Monday. But the next day, in response to whether he intended to apologize for failing to hustle, Ramirez said to Marlins writers, "For what? We've got a lot of people dogging it after ground balls, and they don't apologize.''
Things worsened from there, believe it or not, as he issued what seemed to be a sarcastic challenge to the rest of the team. An apology now may require a lot more time, as Ramirez appeared to suggest that his teammates are not in his league. True or not, that's not something a good teammate should say aloud.
Playing off Gonzalez's remark from a day earlier about the Marlins having "24 (other) guys busting their butt,'' Ramirez told Marlins writers, "We've got 24 more guys out there. Hopefully, they can do the same things I do.''
The Marlins may find out whether they can do it without him because Gonzalez has signaled that Ramirez may continue to be benched until he apologizes to the team. Gonzalez, who sat Ramirez for Brian Barden on Tuesday, seemed not to be as concerned with Ramirez's rude remarks about him, according to other Marlins people.
Those comments weren't very sporting, either. Ramirez said he wouldn't expect Gonzalez to understand the situation because "he never played in the big leagues.'' He also said he lost "a little bit'' of respect for Gonzalez for benching him.
While his teammates respect Ramirez's vast talent, a large number of them are said by sources close to the Marlins to have little use for him personally. A vast majority of episodes and conflicts involving Ramirez have been obscured from public sight, but Ramirez seemed to acknowledge there's a rift when he said, "I respect everybody but I don't know if I get the same respect back.''
This time, it was Gonzalez, who clearly is fed up with the superstar's shenanigans. After meeting with Ramirez after Monday's game and apparently not hearing the contrition he was hoping for, Gonzalez met with club higherups Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill, David Samson and team owner Jeffery Loria. After reporting the contents of his conversation with Ramirez, Gonzalez apparently won his bosses' approval to continue disciplining the player who comprises about 25 percent of the cost-conscious team's payroll.
Gonzalez is a guy who says he is nothing without his integrity, and he wouldn't be able to face his other 24 players or himself if he didn't do the right thing, which is to bench Ramirez indefinitely. Ramirez needs to address the team as well as apologize to them as well as Gonzalez.
While Gonzalez was golden after the 8-0 win at home on Tuesday over Arizona in which Barden contributed a two-run single, there are no guarantees for Gonzalez if the cold war continues, Ramirez remains on the bench and the team loses one or more games.
Gonzalez full well understands that Ramirez is the one with the $70-million, six-year contract. The manager also knows that while Ramirez was awarded an expensive, even gaudy diamond ".342" necklace by Loria to commemorate his average that won last year's NL batting title, Gonzalez's reward for leading the $36-million 2009 Marlins to a startling 87 victories was to hear later how Loria spent much of the summer in contact with established veteran manager Bobby Valentine. While both Loria and Valentine denied Loria discussed Gonzalez's job, Loria's intent obviously wasn't calling overseas (Valentine was managing the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan at the time) to trade recipes. At one point Loria is said by a high-ranking major-league source to have suggested they meet in Paris, a frequent travel spot for the noted art dealer Loria. That meeting never took place, perhaps in part because the Marlins rallied late to get to the 87 wins.
Loria told SI.com the first week of this season that he loved his players and what was done in the winter, though nothing beyond keeping their arbitration-eligible stars was accomplished and no new players were brought in. However, he sounded much less enthusiastic about his manager. But if Loria's smart -- and if there's any justice at all -- he gives Gonzalez an extension to match Ramirez's, at least in terms of length.
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