My philosophy about Manny Ramirez is in total accord with Bill “Spaceman” Lee’s in this recent interview with ESPN: the hitting trumps. It really is hard to imagine his presence becoming so negative in Boston that it outweighed his prodigious stick (I didn’t follow it all that closely, admittedly, so I’m not making an argument one way or the other, and I’m sure the Dodgers were happy to have Boston jettison him).
On the matter, Lee says:
I hear these statements, Papelbon, excitable boy and stuff and he goes “He’s a cancer.” Well, cancer is in everybody and you have to learn how to live with it. You can’t cut cancer out. You have to learn to live with it. Ya know, some cancers are worse than others. Life is tough like that. I mean, Schilling and (Manny) are opposites and because they were opposites, the Sox won in 2004. It’s ironic. You have to learn to tolerate people. I’m just sad the Red Sox didn’t do that.
My favorite part of the interview, though, is Lee’s description of Manny’s hitting style, which couldn’t be more perfect or more interesting. The Great Eccentric himself manages to cut through the bullshit and describe Manny as a professional hitter, and one of the best:
Wow, I’ll tell ya, it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is, but he’s so unpredictable. It’s like you can’t get into his mind because he’s not there either. It’s funny. I’ve watched him in spring training since I first came over to the Red Sox, and he did something that Reggie Smith always did. He would always hit the ball the other way all the time right at the beginning of spring training. And what it did, it forced him to stay on the ball all the time. He’s got this unbelievable habit of driving the ball the other way. And to get him out, you have to throw 90 inside corner. And people can’t do that all day long on him.
Lou Piniella always had a saying, ‘You can come into my kitchen for a bite, but don’t sit down for dinner.’ And that’s what Manny does. If you try to bury him in, he’ll make an adjustment and he’ll bite ya again. And he’s just a great breaking ball hitter, he always keeps his hands back, he’s not afraid to get jammed. He is devastating and that’s why I stuck up for him. Basically what I said in the (Red Sox) Hall of Fame dinner is I guess the Red Sox got tired of winning. Because without him I told them they were going nowhere. And told people they’re going to be in fourth place this year without him.
I spent the day with the Spacemen once, when he was leading a pretty raggedy baseball camp on my college campus and I was helping out. He is a serious chatterer, going on and on about not the space-cadet, pothead meandering that many might assume, but about baseball and politics and memory and socio-economics and sociology. There weren’t any unfathomable logical leaps, any stoner conversational joyrides. Just good old-fashioned master class conversation. It was all very enjoyable, seemingly by all parties.
The one thing that I got hung up on was that standers by continually peppered Lee with questions, and I’m sure it happens to him constantly. The most tired of the questions was “Who was your least favorite hitter to pitch to?” The asker typically leaned in a little, with a slight smile, like the cat was about to be out of the bag. “Thurman Munson,” then Lee would go on for a few predetermined paragraphs about Thurman the grouch, etc. This isn’t some remarkable insight, just an observation, and it seems like everything I read somehow kicks back to this irk of mine, including the ESPN interview. Irks aside, Lee does always seem to conjur some insight, and he surely brings it on himself and doesn’t actually dislike answering the same questions over and over:
The Mag: Who was the toughest right-handed pitcher you had to face in your day?
BL: Oh, wow, Bill Madlock. Bill Madlock was a great hitter. (Thurman) Munson was a good two-strike hitter. If you went 3-1 on Munson, Munson would try and jack you, and you’d just turn it over and he’d hit a ground ball to short. But you get two strikes on Pete Rose, you get two strikes on good hitters, they become different types of hitters. And to pitch, you have to recognize when that is, and that’s what pitching’s all about.