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Reading

Becoming Manny

Although a case against the evolution of his fans could be made, the life and career of Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez makes for great reading in a new biography by Boston scholar Jean Rhodes and award-winning journalist Shawn Boburg.

Book Digest The Manny Ramirez story seems to have a wider audience than just local baseball chatter, and may even go off track and venture into the quagmire known as human relations. Living in the belly of the beast—the heavily monetized snake-oil brand known as Red Sox Nation—I have been astounded and vexed at much connected with that arguably impressive contrivance. Boston sports fans, much like members of overly zealous religious sects, consider themselves the number-one sports fans in all game-dom—which seems incontrovertible, as that is an empty and meaningless claim. What is definitely in play for more research is the evidence Boston fans may be devolving or reversing the steady forward progress of evolution. Or at least a need for reviewing taxonomy nomenclature (homo sapiens no longer cuts it).

Let me (try to) be clearer. The BoSox fans (and it could be said about other eastern Massachusetts sports devotees) are tumbling down the evolutionary ladder. Watching the bizarre comic opera surrounding future Hall of Famer beisbolero Manuel Aristides Ramirez of Washington Heights, N.Y., and his employer, the contemporary sports corporation (and entourage) known for over a hundred American years as the Boston Red Sox, has been at moments riveting. Having signed a multiyear contract to hit home runs and produce runs batted in for the Red Sox for multimillions of dollars, slugger Ramirez conducted himself in a manner his teammates, his supervisors, and finally his bosses found enigmatic and ultimately detrimental to the team. The lumpen whose bleating and bellowing could be heard on local sports radio (one of the local cuckoos’ nests) have taken up the demonizing of the former World Series MVP who played on the only two Boston World Series winners in anybody’s recall.

My recollection is that every off-season—when fans had much time on their hands—the topic of Ramirez’s annual $17 million salary was fodder for sports blather. As an aside I also recall marveling (as in non-belief) with writer Michael Lewis on the fact of Pedro Martinez’s actually being booed at Fenway Park, on the occasion of an off outing—Martinez being arguably one of the top five pitchers ever to ply their evanescent craft in Boston. And to add more evidence about the extremes of behavior roaming the terrain, local sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy not once, but twice, in one season wrote that José Offerman (not a Jewish ballplayer but a Latino hombre), then playing second base for the Red Sox, was “a piece of garbage.” I can’t remember if a pro-forma apology was offered by the writer or his paper but Shaughnessy is still employed and looked upon as a valid commentator.

Which brings me to Boston-area scholar and youth-mentoring expert Jean Rhodes, who collaborated with well-respected, award-winning journalist Shawn Boburg to write Becoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball’s Most Enigmatic Slugger (Scribner), an intelligent and sensitive profile of 12-time All Star Ramirez that actually looks at him as an real individual. In his foreword, veteran Boston sports journalist Leigh Montville points out the merits of this book:
Who was this guy, this character in front of us? Why did he act the way he did? What on earth was he thinking… Now at last some answers to these questions have arrived… [Rhodes and Boberg] have fused a pile of interviews with psychological insights. We learn about his family, his rocky beginnings, about the serious drumbeat that works underneath all of those magic moments and pratfalls we see on the public stage…
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