Beyond the fact that the Boston Red Sox had spun a 10-game losing streak into a 3-game winning streak, there was some unbelievable stuff taking place at Fenway Park last night.
Plenty about it was certainly within belief. The team honored the 2004 World Series champions, so there were some old idiots welcomed home. Kevin Millar’s unhinged stream-of-conscious commentary during one inning of play was delightfully manic. Pedro Martinez danced through the outfield. David Ortiz hugged everyone. And Manny Ramirez showing up with a mohawk wasn’t the most ridiculous haircut he could’ve sported.
But the contrite Ramirez that apologized for the inglorious ending and burned bridges wasn’t something that ever felt possible. Peter Gammons, famously, reported that manager Terry Francona told him, “Manny Ramirez is the worst human being I’ve ever met.” He knocked down 64-year-old traveling secretary Jack McCormick towards the end of his stint in Boston in 2008. There were numerous run-ins with management and other players beyond that — I vividly remember him and Kevin Youkilis getting into it in the dugout during one game — and the bizarre path of his career after Boston, through Hollywood and Chicago and North Korea, spaced out by suspensions and retirement, made it seem as though Ramirez was lost in the woods forever. The man who, with Ortiz, formed half of the most terrifying 3-4 in baseball since Ruth and Gehrig, arguably, was a punchline and a fading memory.
Yet, beyond everything, he was there in front of reporters, apologizing for his choices, telling them that he had found Jesus and considered himself a changed man and, most notably, pointing out that he sought out McCormick to offer an apology.
“I went and spoke to Jack,” he said. “I apologized to Jack. I told him, ‘Jack, I want you to forgive me because it was my fault. I behaved bad here with everybody. I want you to forgive me.'”
To have all this set up the moment when he emerged — from the door of the Green Monster, appropriately — brought back the flood of memories when Ramirez was more a misunderstood goofball than a true villain. Before his act got out of hand and he started faking injuries and pushing old men around, the always understanding media in Boston was predictably hard on him, calling for the Red Sox to trade him six years before he finally forced his way out of town. He could be surly, of course, but after Millar and Ortiz arrived, he began to loosen up and show his fun-loving side, and that’s the side so many Red Sox fans embraced.
I know I did while he was here. I took the defensive lapses — parodied brilliantly when Johnny Damon cut off his first pitch last night — and his occasional lack of hustle in stride because it seemed like there was a good guy under all the hair and pine tar, and because, importantly, he could hit like no other right-hander in the American League.
When he forced his way to Los Angeles in 2008, all those hours of rooting for him felt a little tainted. He left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, and then proceeded to do the same to the fans in L.A., Chicago and ultimately Tampa Bay, where in 2011 he retired rather than face a 100-game suspension for a second failed drug test.
But, as last night showed, time away and apologies can go a long way towards making amends. He’s not a perfect person by any stretch, but for the better part of eight seasons, he was family in New England and he had a hand in some of the greater moments the Red Sox have ever had. It’s right to acknowledge the good and the bad together — hanging onto the past for the purpose of false outrage seems ridiculous, and if you’d like an example, feel free to look up Dan Shaughnessy’s latest shitshow for evidence.
What mattered yesterday were the feelings of the Red Sox themselves — who all seemed to embrace his return — and the fans, who hadn’t seen Ramirez in such a positive light in years. And in turn, Theo Epstein, now running the show for the Chicago Cubs, has given Ramirez a second chance, bringing him on to tutor the prospects in Iowa as a player-coach.
If there are a few writers who can’t get over when Ramirez was mean to them, alas, that’s how it’ll always be. Yesterday doesn’t undo years of ill will completely, but it was a nice reminder of the greatness gone by, and that people, even the true idiots, can grow up and be humble in the face of their mistakes. It’s nice to believe that’s possible, anyway.