Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Do great players have to be great people as well?

When Gene Michael and Buck Showalter built the team that formed the core of the late 90s dynasty Yankees, they made a point of getting rid of problematic (to put it mildly) personalities like Mel Hall.

This resulted in not only a great team, but a good character team - even a lifelong Yankee hater Squawker Jon actually tolerated the 1996 Yankees (although winning 125 games in 1998 set off his Yankee-hating meter all over again!) Those guys weren't perfect, but even when they did mess up off the field, like, say Darryl Strawberry did, they were still pretty likeable. You didn't feel like cringing over them on your team. You didn't have to feel like you were rooting for the pinstripes over the player.

But in recent years, the Yanks have gotten away from signing such players. I think Roger Clemens was the first Yankee that I really didn't like personally. While I still cheered for him as a player, it took me until 2003 to really warm up to him as a person. And then he wrecked whatever good opinion I had of him when he signed with the Astros.

Other Yankees that made me cringe included Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens (again, and again, and again.)

All of this brings me to Manny Ramirez. When I wrote that I wanted Manny as a Yankee, many of our readers strongly disagreed with me, precisely because of his character issues. Here are a few examples of what they said about him:

One reader wrote:
I am disappointed that Lisa would want to see Manny in pinstripes....Money isn't the issue here, it's having a little respect and integrity for the game, not picking up a sulking, self-centered, guy who plays hard when he wants. The Yankees already have one guy who is a great player but a real loser as a human being, we don't need two.

She-Fan (who has a terrific blog of her own called Confessions of a She-Fan) said:

I'm in the Please-Don't-Sign-Manny camp. The last thing we need is somebody who doesn't run out ground balls and dogs it in the outfield. (Hello? Cano?) We need a big bat for sure - protection for A-Rod in the lineup. But while Manny is a great hitter and an eccentric personality, let him go back to the Dodgers. Joe Torre can handle him, not Joe Girardi.
JeanneB said she has "never been so disheartened by a team I have been rooting for my entire life," and wrote:
Manny? Are you kidding me? Manny who doesn't know which knee is injured when he goes for MRI? Manny, doesn't lift the bat off his shoulder when facing Mo? Manny who dogs it in the outfield? Yeah, that is what the Yankees need along with the rest of their overpaid, unmotivated aging players.
Several Red Sox fan readers also cautioned against the Yanks signing Manny. NAM commented:
Save yourselves the heartache Yankee fans. Run from Manny. He will leave you pulling your hair out.
All things considered, I'd generally rather have guys who play the game than the wrong way on the team. But let's face it - that ship sailed for the Yanks a long time ago.

And at the risk of sounding like a mercenary myself, my concerns about Ramirez's character - and that he'll flake out on the Yanks - are outweighed by his talent. The Yanks need Manny's bat in the lineup - otherwise, we're going to see A-Rod outdo Barry Bonds in intentional walks next season!

But what do you think? Leave us a comment!


Victor said...

Good character guys definitely make a team easier to root for, but how much of a correlation does that have with winning rings? Were Reggie and Billy Martin upstanding "character" guys? And as much as Manny loafs around, that didn't seem to keep the Sawx from winning two WS in this decade. It would be ideal if the Yanks were a team of "good guys" as well as great players, but the goal of professional sports is all about winning big games. Manny is arguably the most dangerous hitter around and as DH, he'd do more good than harm for the lineup. Of course, I'd still rather have Texeira.

Anonymous said...

I'll repeat what I said when you first raised the issue, be careful what you wish for. When he's engaged in the game, Manny is potent and enjoyable. But the trade-off can sometimes be difficult to tolerate. When he decides he's not going to participate, it is disgraceful. When he totally quits on your team, it is beyond shameful. I think if #2controls the clubhouse then maybe he can keep Manny in line. Not sure though, as "Manny being Manny" marched entirely to the beat of his own drum like no one I've ever seen.

The quality of the club house on the 1996-2000 Yankees' teams seemed admirable, even though a few of those guys were of questionable character. Maybe it's just that winning solves the character problem. And as fans we love a winner and are willing to overlook a lot.

Cindy R.

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Anonymous said...

Manny is one of the greatest hitters in this generation, no question about it. He strikes fear into opposing pitchers' hearts consistantly. No doubt he'd be a formidable bat in any lineup.

But, he's a nut, and has demonstrated a tendency to become volatile when he doesn't get his way, like when he pushed 62-year old Jack McCormick to the ground because he couldn't get the amount of tickets for his family and friends he demanded at the last minute. And don't forget the fight he started with Kevin Youkilis in the dugout back in June. Is this what the Yankees can expect of him if he joins our lineup? Starting fights with his teammates and shoving personel if he doesn't get his way?

For the sheer power threat in itself, Manny is incredible, we all agree with that. He's a lousy oufielder, but his bat makes up for it five times over. If that's all there was about Manny, I wouldn't care if he was a Red Sox player previously -- I'd welcome him with open arms. But I don't think his baggage and abstract unstable personality outweighs his talent. I think it'll cause the rest of the team to become anxious and they may not perform as well.

I say go really hard at Tex. Get him at all costs -- he's far more worth it. He's a much better all-around player, much younger, and a lot more dynamic at the plate than Manny is. Plus, he doesn't stylize and show up the opposing pitcher after a homer like Manny does.

NAM said...

As a Red Sox fan I would hate for the Yankees to get Manny because he is an amazing hitter and he has moments of brilliance in the outfield as well. But as objective fan (if that is possible) I agree with everything that Emp writes about Manny. If you just had to put up with him for a season or two, sure do it. But 4 or 5 years of that BS will wear a team out from the inside out. I will always appreciate Manny and what he did to get Boston two rings (words can't describe how sweet it was) but my soft spot for him hardened after this past season. It was ugly. In case I don't blog before Merry Christmas and Happy Haunakah to all.

She-Fan said...

Thanks for the shout out for my blog, Lisa. Much appreciated. The "character issue" is a complex one. Most of us turn a blind eye to what players do off the field. (How many times did Steve Howe come back from drug suspensions during his days with the Yanks?) But the Manny situation in Boston affected the rest of his team, and that's what really drove people nuts. The guy can hit like a dream, but he's bad for morale and the Yankees don't need that in my humble opinion.

Anonymous said...

Gulp!! I agree with Emperor. oh the horror! but all that he said are exactly the reasons why I, and many like me, are hoping beyond hope that the yankees sign manny! what a fiasco that would be!

Anonymous said...

Players with strong positive character traits are getting harder and harder to find. The majority of the players play for the money and love of the sport but not all--some just the money. IMO Manny has come to think of himself as bigger and more important than the sport. Teixeria would be a much better investment and team-mate. Manny is most likely the best pure hitter in the game but all his other negatives far out weigh his ONLY positive. Getting Mark T and batting him 3rd before A-Rod solves many problems without creating new ones.

Anonymous said...

Well, KM, by the way things are going, you just may have your hopes fulfilled about us getting Manny -- unless Cashman suddenly pulls a rabbit out of a hat at the last minute and that rabbit morphs into Texeira.

If we do get Manny, it's going to be awfully nailbiting for Yankee fans when situations get rough. If we get the "good" Manny, he'll help power us through the season right into October. If we wind us with the "bad" Manny, we may see a situation like what happened this year with Boston where he just quit on them.

Thing is we many not see the "bad" Manny this year. It'll be his first year in pinstripes and he'd want to get even with Boston. Once that novelty wears off, then what? Can we expect him to quit on us, too?

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