March 19, 2009

Book Review: Becoming Manny: Inside The Life Of Baseball's Most Enigmatic Slugger

Becoming Manny: Inside The Life Of Baseball's Most Enigmatic Slugger By Jean Rhodes and Shawn Boburg (Simon Schuster)

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."

43 comments:

blogtard said...

Like you, I remain an unabashed Manny fan. No one who likes hugs that much can be that bad.

I am looking forward to picking this up. Thanks for the review.

L-girl said...

I love him, too. Thanks for the review.

vrictare said...

I'm a huge Manny fan, too.

Side note: I go to school with the author's daughter.

Jere said...

I still feel like there's a huge faction of Manny fans out there. Any time I sat on the third base side or in the Monster seats, I watched before every single inning (sometimes during it) as fan after fan called out to Manny, who looked over and gave a wave. Over and over and over. Even from hundreds of feet away, in other cities.

I feel like all the fans (the ones who attend Fenway, not the ones who just yap on the Internet) who watched him would cheer him wildly if he ever comes back to Fenway, among the pre-printed anti-Manny signs made by WEEI that will pepper the stands.

Mylegacy said...

Manny has talent in places most of us don't even have places. 'Nuff said 'bout that.

On his brain - he has that Latino Machismo - he just can't function if he's not getting the "RESPECT" (and I mean each letter capitalized) that he "feels" he deserves. He reminds me of George Bell - although the esteemed Mr Bell, while very good, was not in Manny's class.

I can't help but think this "cancer" will be missed come October.

Ish said...

Hmm I wonder why I can't see the Red Sox/Reds game on MLB Network even though NESN's not carrying it. The Bruins are playing on NESN. There's no need for MLB Network to black out the game (probably being broadcast through the Reds feed).

Hmm.

Zenslinger said...

Lester v. Arroyo.

Heh.

Ish said...

So they've fricken blacked out the game in the Boston area even though it's not being shown locally in the Boston area.

What a load of crap. Once again shows how inept MLB can be.

Danie said...

Of course it was a dig at the Red Sox.

Okay, ya'll are Manny fans, that's fine. But in one breath you say that he's not stupid, and yet in the next you say that, when he says something that is a subtle and smartly worded dig at the Red Sox, that 'oh, he's just simple and he loooves the fans, he's not digging at the Red Sox.' (For the record, I think that he's one of the smartest/most calculating players out there, makes Pedro and the stuff he pulled here look like he's in the minor leagues).

Hey, y'all can have it both ways if you want. No skin off my back.

I'll sit back and be glad that he's out in LaLa land playing Cricket while he has a bum hammy and not on my TV screen/Radio waves anymore, even if it means that the Red Sox never win another thing in my lifetime (and I'm not even thirty, so it's gonna be a long lifetime...)

But, what do I know, I grew up playing Soccer, a truly and utterly team game, which Baseball isn't in a lot of ways. If your goalie decides that she just doesn't feel like playing too hard today, you're screwed.

Zenslinger said...

Lowrie with ANOTHER game in which he hits both an HR and a double.

I know it's only spring, but you have to wonder if a healthy Lugo would have kept the job that was supposedly his. Jed's got a .459 BA -- I don't know if anywhere tracks spring OPS, but I'll bet his is not bad for a SS.

Oh, and Carter chips with with a 2R HR of his own. Any chance we can bring him into the season instead of Wilkerson (BA = .114).

I know, I know, it's only spring.

'Least that's what Bronson's telling himself right now.

Jere said...

Ish--I'm also getting NO game on MLBN here in Providence. They're showing the 1990 World Series highlights. Seriously, what the fuck? They BRAG about "no blackouts" on mlb.tv in spring training. But MLBN has one? Dumb. I'm watching on the computer, though. Love that Bronson leg kick. 4-1 us in the 5th.

Jere said...

It does say "(subject to blackout)" on the MLBN schedule online. But why isn't the blackout lifted since the game's not on NESN?

Paul O'Neill walks for the Reds...

Jere said...

Wicked Lester: 4.1 IP, a run on 3 hits, 6 K, a walk

9casey said...

Jere said...
I still feel like there's a huge faction of Manny fans out there.



Thats wmakes him so odd Red Sox fans supported him form the dya he got there...But he always said he was uncomfortable..the man makes no sense never will

Jere said...

We've seen some effed up top-of-wall stuff lately, but that was the first time I saw a fly ball hit the top of the wall, bounce straight up ten feet, then hit the same spot on top of the wall on the way down, and go back on the field for a triple.

Jere said...

9-1 us.

9casey said...

9casey said...
Jere said...
I still feel like there's a huge faction of Manny fans out there.



Thats wmakes him so odd Red Sox fans supported him form the dya he got there...But he always said he was uncomfortable..the man makes no sense never will



Jesus, was I drunk when I wrote this?????

redsock said...

If your goalie decides that she just doesn't feel like playing too hard today, you're screwed.

Yeah, cause if your pitcher feels the same way, well, that's no big deal. (massive eye rolling)

Hey, y'all can have it both ways if you want.

How am I wanting it both ways?

Please.

Enlighten me.

benhc222 said...

I sympathize with Manny. Though I understand it's difficult to feel bad for someone as fabulously wealthy as Manny (especially in the economy), it must be incredibly frustrating to not be able to go anywhere without being waylaid by adoring fans. He won't have that in LA. It suits him. I'm going to miss Manny back here in Boston. He is one of the most entertaining payers to watch in all of baseball. There's more to life than winning ball games and I respect him greatly for keeping that perspective.

FenFan said...

Great review, redsock - another book I will have to pick up at the bookstore in the near future!

Obviously, a majority of the negativity that surrounds Manny has been manifested by newspaper columnists who are constantly looking for any bit of "news" that they can mold into the opinion that he was, and still is, a jerk. Negative news sells papers.

The truth is that, whether he was happy being in Boston or not, he came to the park and did what he was paid to do, i.e., drive home runs and play a big part in the team's offense. He might be -- check that, he was -- the best right-handed hitter in franchise history. I can't think of one time I was at Fenway that he didn't get a big cheer when he came to the plate, even less than a week from the trade.

Plus, he was part of not one but TWO World Series teams and played a big part in the success of both clubs. He wasn't THE reason for those titles but he was A reason.

So, in conclusion, f--k all those f--king Manny-bashers. Let's go, Sox!

FenFan said...

He is one of the most entertaining payers to watch in all of baseball. There's more to life than winning ball games and I respect him greatly for keeping that perspective.

Amen, brother!

9casey said...

FenFan said...
Obviously, a majority of the negativity that surrounds Manny has been manifested by newspaper columnists who are constantly looking for any bit of "news" that they can mold into the opinion that he was, and still is, a jerk. Negative news sells papers.



I beleive that remains to be seen, Are you saying the media drove him out of Boston? Is that the opinion of most?
I can't speak of what went on in the dugout, but the fact that him and Papi haven't spoke at all, to me, speaks volumes to the way he left the club, no one can defend those final few weeks in a Boston uniform and not be miffed at what Manny did, as a person and a teammate, not a ballplayer...

L-girl said...

No one can defend those final few weeks in a Boston uniform and not be miffed at what Manny did, as a person and a teammate, not a ballplayer...

But the Manny-bashing started years before that. We used "MUMS" - Making Up Manny Shit - for years.

I can only speak for myself, but I think many people would share the thought. My opinion of Manny is not based on a few weeks, it's based on his entire career so far.

L-girl said...

Thats wmakes him so odd Red Sox fans supported him form the dya he got there...But he always said he was uncomfortable..the man makes no sense never will



Jesus, was I drunk when I wrote this?????


The funniest part is "the man makes no sense never will".

L-girl said...

makes Pedro and the stuff he pulled here look like he's in the minor leagues

Ah, the stuff that Pedro pulled here. How I miss those times. If we had a few pitchers with the stuff that Pedro pulled, we could get ready for the 2009 WS celebration right now.

I also await enlightenment on how "y'all can have it both ways if you want" without removing skin from someone's back. (Ewww.)

accudart said...

Great review. I'll always be thankful for the Manny years and the two rings he helped secure. I wish him well, he was a great hitter and very colorful. He had to go however and it was his choice. You can't be playing side by side with a teammate who's laying down in the heat of a race. When I saw the horrible rolling over, where's the ball play I knew he had to go. No matter what your contract status is, that was just shameful.

redsock said...

Sadly, Mr. "Profile Not Available" will not bring the Age of Enlightment. I don't even think he's a Red Sox fan.

Okay, ya'll are Manny fans, that's fine.

Hmmm, who else do we know that wrote "ya'll" in blog comments?

redsock said...

No one can defend those final few weeks in a Boston uniform

Yeah, like when he hit .347/.473/.587 in July.

INEXCUSABLE!

tim said...

I, like most here, am still a huge Manny fan and refuse to buy into the bullshit the media spews out about him.

It speaks volumes that the Globe (I don't follow the Herald) claimed to despise him, yet can't stop following his every move everyday in L.A....I love Manny, I enjoyed every minute of his time in Boston, from the escapades with the Green Monster to the mummy to the high-five in the midst of a double play - he was truly an entertainment to watch and a fun guy.

He will be missed not only for his bat in the lineup, but for his silliness as well.

I don't know what happened that caused him to "lay down" and leave, but there were clearly tensions for a while between him and other team members (esp. Yook) - from this book review, it looks like a lot of light is shed on Manny as a person, and sounds like that will have a lot to do with why he was never comfortable in Boston.

9casey said...

redsock said...
No one can defend those final few weeks in a Boston uniform

Yeah, like when he hit .347/.473/.587 in July.

INEXCUSABLE!


Here is exactly what I said:

no one can defend those final few weeks in a Boston uniform and not be miffed at what Manny did, as a person and a teammate, not a ballplayer..


chopping up my quote, c'mon....

9casey said...

tim said...


I don't know what happened that caused him to "lay down" and leave,



Money

L-girl said...

Sadly, Mr. "Profile Not Available" will not bring the Age of Enlightment. I don't even think he's a Red Sox fan.

He may or may not be a Sox fan, but he has posted here several times before.

Hmmm, who else do we know that wrote "ya'll" in blog comments?

No way it's you-know-who. No way.

redsock said...

no one can defend those final few weeks in a Boston uniform and not be miffed at what Manny did, as a person and a teammate, not a ballplayer..

Didn't mean to chop up your quote. Plus I thought it was written by someone else. :>|

Since none of us will ever truly know what happened in those final few weeks, it's impossible to know what Manny did and did not do.

I'm not going believe Curt, I'm not going to believe Bot, and I'm not going to believe Manny's wife.

Jere said...

Yeah, I got the "not a Sox fan" vibe from "Danie" right away, too. And terrible job using that soccer reference--acting like it's more of a team sport and then using the example of how the one "special" player is the whole key to victory, as if baseball didn't have the exact same position: the pitcher (as redsock pointed out).

By the way, Danie, when you're done transcribing what you hear from hateful WEEI hosts, let me know, I've got some audio clips I'd like to get down on paper.

tim said...

9c --- see above post from redsock.

tim said...

And funny you chop my quote in the very next post after complaining about your quote getting chopped.

"come on"

James said...

I'm in the minority here, in that I'm still kind of angry about how things ended with Manny, and I do tend to believe that he wasn't really injured at the end of 2006, and that he was threatening to refuse to play before we traded him. I'm a big fan of everything about Curt Schilling other than his politics, and I tend to accept what he says as pretty truthful.

That said, I'm thankful for what Manny did on the field, and neither 2004 or 2007 would have happened without his bat. I don't want him to do well in LA, but that's mostly because I really dislike any California and Florida teams in any sport. If he came back to Fenway in the Dodger uniform, I wouldn't boo him, but I probably wouldn't give him a standing O, either.

I do think we're better of without him (in that I think we're a better team with Jason Bay + Brad Penny + John Smoltz + Rocco Baldelli + money to make midseason moves than we would be w/ Manny), and if it really was driving some of our other crucial players nuts, then I'm happy they don't have to worry about it.

9casey said...

Tim , the difference was when he chopped my quote he left out the part where I was agreeing with him....and with yours I was trying to answer a question, sorry if it did not come off that way....

vrictare said...

Interesting anecdote that I think is Manny in a nutshell--

I was speaking with the aforementioned author's daughter, and asked her how her mother had managed to get the exclusive scoop. Apparently, she had...just asked. She was, from what I heard, the first author to ask Manny directly, not Boras, and Manny signed off on it almost immediately.

Just seems to me to be the epitome of Manny and the controversy around him--he had this notoriety about interviews and such, but no-one really just...asked him.

redsock said...

Globe interview:

Q This is an authorized bio, meaning Manny cooperated. How'd you pitch him on the idea?

A. Through his mentor, Carlos "Macaco" Ferreira. I'm on the board of the National Mentoring Partnership, and I'd been hearing about this guy at Manny's games. Here I'd been writing about mentoring for 15 years yet reaching a very limited audience. I wanted people to read about the power of this relationship. I guess Manny became a means to an end.

Q. And Manny said yes?

A. He said yes and no and yes and no a million times over.

***

I'd like to ask her some more questions about Manny and the media. I don't know how much she discussed that with him or his wife or his family.

Pepe Lepew said...

I agree with much of what James said (disagreeing with many people here, I realize). That was well put, James. It was unfortunate the way things ended with Manny, but then again, we'll always have that monster home run he hit against the Angels in the playoffs. It's just time to move on. I wish him well in L.A.

9casey said...

Pepe Lepew said...
I agree with much of what James said (disagreeing with many people here, I realize).


I see what you are saying , but I believe the whole Manny thing isn't black or white or agreeing or disagreeing...

I think it is hard to be on any one side, I think he was and is an amazing ballplayer, but what transpired towards the end and sometimes in between is unforgiveable...

Some peole here refuse to ever bash Manny, I understand that but I also think there are somethings that are bashable just like every other red sock.....

tim said...

Thanks for the explanation, 9c - I wasn't asking a question so I was confused - the part you quoted was a lead-in to my shittily written paragraph which redsock dittoed quite nicely in his post - what I meant to say was we'll (at least I'll never be satisfied with any story I hear) never know what really went down during his last month with the team.