It's no secret that I have been -- and continue to be -- a huge Manny Ramirez fan. So much of the blather spoken and written about Manny during his 7+ seasons in Boston means next to nothing to me. What? Manny made mistakes on the field and he wasn't a perfect teammate? That makes exactly like every other player in history. But more importantly, I simply do not care.
During the time I spent reading this breezy but informative biography, Manny popped up in Red Sox news stories twice. The more recent incident was Jonathan Papelbon's "cancer" comments and the first was when Ramirez signed a new deal with the Dodgers:
I'm in a happy place where I wanted to be. ... sometimes it's better off to have a two-year deal in a place that you're going to be happy than have an eight-year deal in a place where you're going to suffer.I do not believe Manny's comments were a calculated dig at Red Sox fans -- though the choice of the word "suffer" likely will give certain columnists, radio hosts and bloggers fodder for at least another two or three years.
Still, it's obvious that Manny was not comfortable with the intensity of many baseball fans in Boston. Reading this book, it appears he discovered that very quickly after coming from Cleveland in 2001. Considering how well he played, and how many times he did say he enjoyed life with the Red Sox, I'd say he tried like hell to adjust, he wanted to make it work, but simply couldn't do it. We can't force ourselves to be happy when we are not.
Since this book has Manny's blessing, authors Jean Rhodes (a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts) and Shawn Boburg (a reporter for The Record in Bergen County, NJ) were able to extensively interview members of Manny's family, especially his mother and three sisters, his former high school and minor league teammates, as well as various friends, coaches and mentors.
That unprecedented access makes the chapters on Manny's upbringing and his journey to the major leagues easily the strongest part of the book -- and because Manny is a very private individual, there's a wealth of background and information here that is simply unavailable anywhere else. For anyone with an interest in Manny Ramirez, where he came from and what makes him tick, Becoming Manny is your first stop.
Many of the later chapters do little more than walk us through each season, noting Ramirez's hot and cold streaks, his team's performance, and any newsworthy items or incidents along the way. It's not bad, but there also isn't much that serious followers of Ramirez don't already know.
In an interview with the Globe, Rhodes was asked to "diagnose" Manny:
He has an incredible ability to focus and get into a flow state, which transcends the known world. He's fundamentally a very shy person and experiences a high level of social anxiety. It's like the whole world is conspiring to take him out of his flow state. Also, there's a degree of narcissism ... [but] He's not as self-absorbed as people think. He's a great father who always wants to be with his sons.Throughout the book, it is the issue of trust that is the defining feature of Manny's life and the most important quality in his relationships. He was already shy and had a basic mistrust of others, and his early riches only deepened that suspicion. Early in the book, Manny talks about his mentor, Carlos "Macaco" Ferreira:
You can tell when people are real and want to be there for you. You come across a thousand people who say "Put your money here" or "Put your money there", but it's not common you find a person you can really trust. There are three people in my life who I can really trust: [my wife] Juliana, my mom and Macaco. ... He won't say one thing to you and say something else to somebody else. There are a lot of people like that. It hurts me that the world is like that, but it is, so you have to have someone you can trust. Someone who calms you and helps you move forward.The authors explain the sports world's fascination with Manny:
His talent with a bat is supernatural. And yet his very mortal weaknesses and his idiosyncrasies outside the batter's box, along with his apparent indifference to them, make him one of the most interesting personalities in professional sports. ... Manny has never bothered much with self-image, declining to protest when his flaws are revealed or his actions are misinterpreted. ... Manny is a throwback to a time when baseball players had less fear of being themselves, for better or worse, a time when they did not have to worry about their marketability ...Many times, I thought of a young Babe Ruth when reading about Manny. There are certainly similarities: the love of practical jokes, the prodigious hitting talents, the inattention to the details of the game -- Ruth once made friends with a puppy that ran on the field during a game -- and what Rhodes calls "acquired situational narcissism":
... an unnatural alignment of youth and power [that leads a person] to develop into someone who is slightly more oblivious to the people and events around him and less schooled in manners, obligations, and constraints than most of us.A former minor league coach, Dave Keller, described Manny as "one of the simplest, most complex men I've ever known."