SI Vault
 
The Sultan of Swing (and Smiles) Emerges
CHARLES P. PIERCE
November 10, 2004
UNWANTED ONLY A YEAR AGO, THE FUN-LOVING AND ENIGMATIC MANNY RAMIREZ HAS BECOME BELOVED BY BEANTOWN
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 10, 2004

The Sultan Of Swing (and Smiles) Emerges

UNWANTED ONLY A YEAR AGO, THE FUN-LOVING AND ENIGMATIC MANNY RAMIREZ HAS BECOME BELOVED BY BEANTOWN

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

This year Ramirez has been a part of the show, beginning with a hilarious interview on television in which Millar encouraged his teammate to be more open with the media, while good-naturedly poking fun at him. Ramirez laughed with the rest of the 2,000 fans who showed up for charity to watch Damon be relieved of his considerable beard, the largest group of Boston fans to witness a public shaving since Henry Hill subcontracted out the Boston College basketball team.

Ramirez has also benefited from the arrival of Terry Francona, who took over for Little after the latter melted down in last year's ALCS. Francona had heard the stories about his slugger but withheld judgment.

"I tried to do my homework on every player before I got here," Francona says. "I felt I owed it to all of them to do that. All I heard was that he was a fabulous kid and that other players loved him.

"Now, he's opening up a little bit to the outside world, and that's good for everyone, because now everyone gets to see a little bit of what his teammates have seen."

Most important, and what's almost guaranteed to be setting a generation of Boston managers to revolving in the hereafter, is that this Red Sox team's heart is a Dominican one. Ramirez bonded with Pedro Martinez and with Ortiz, who took upon himself the task of explaining Ramirez to the wider world.

"Manny's a great guy," Ortiz says. "He's always going very fast, and sometimes his English isn't fast enough for him to say what he wants to say. He can be shy that way."

"Pedro, David and I, we try to stick together," Ramirez says. "We go and have fun out there because we come from the Dominican, where we didn't have nothing, so we have all this here. What's to worry about then?" Earlier this year Ramirez offered to give back some of his salary in order to help the Red Sox re-sign Martinez, who'll be a free agent after the season.

So the groundwork had already been laid for the transformation in Ramirez this year. It began in spring training, and it has continued throughout the season. He has become a bounding, open presence inside and outside the clubhouse, often bringing his eight-year-old son, Manny, around for batting practice.

The easy story line was that Ramirez was somehow seeking redemption in the public eye. But that implies a level of calculation, almost an instinct for salesmanship, of which Ramirez's career has been blessedly devoid. No other great player in recent years has been as blissfully in the moment as Ramirez, as though the place the swing brings him to is where he spends all his time.

In fact, it's a deeply earned confidence in the swing that's brought him through everything else. It's not some pallid story wherein the swing brings him money and fame and enables him in his worst instincts. That's a cheap MacGuffin out of baseball's McGuffey; you could plug in the name of any superstar, all the way back to Babe Ruth. Rather, the swing is the source of a secret knowledge of his own worth, which he's only now beginning to share. All the best gnostics teach pretty well, but they're lousy interviews.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7