Commentary

Treatment of Manny simply unfair

Originally Published: February 10, 2008
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPN.com

Hello, everybody. Allow me to introduce myself. Call me one of the few friends with a pen whom Manny Ramirez has. I'm quite easy to spot, actually. This is true … despite the fact that I don't wear dreadlocks, don't speak a lick of Spanish and can't conceive turning down $25 million. Not in this (or any) economy.

But I am known for being a bit audacious from time to time. Someone willing to speak up for the underdog. And because arguably the greatest right-handed hitter of modern time still finds himself unemployed, after spending the last three months of this past season reminding us all that there actually is a baseball team in Los Angeles, he certainly falls under the "screwed royally" category for the moment.

[+] EnlargeManny Ramirez
Jerry Lai/US PressswireManny Ramirez hit homers, drove in runs and brought people to the park for the Dodgers. So why won't they just pay him?
Don't ya love it? Before last season, Major League Baseball spent the previous four years breaking its own attendance records. Don't doubt me! I asked those guys myself.

MLB went from having an average attendance of 30,401 per game in 2004 to 32,785 four seasons later. In 2007, MLB says 79,503,175 fans sauntered through the turnstiles in major league ballparks, marking its highest attendance ever. Last season, that figure dipped to 78,588,004, still its second-highest attendance. In other words, nobody's starving. Especially in the case of commissioner Bud Selig, who reportedly pocketed $18.35 million last season.

Yet, MLB apparently wants everyone to believe it's Chrysler, General Motors or AIG, instead of America's pastime. The organization is trickling down its woe-is-me, bailout mentality to a bunch of owners looking to evade paying players the way a few politicians evidently evade paying their taxes these days.

The thing is, this should have nothing to do with Manny Ramirez. Baseball's just making it seem that way to bamboozle us, using everything from the economy to Manny's petulant past in Boston as ammunition. Along the way, it's ignoring the 527 career home runs and the lifetime .314 batting average, and it's selling its amnesia to a bunch of fans too willing to look at Manny's trifling tendencies instead of the insidious habits of his employers, which disgust me.

It's one thing for the Red Sox to leak information blasting Ramirez immediately upon trading him. It's another thing entirely for them to do so months later, in December, right when he's trying to get paid. Not to mention that it's years after they played the role of enablers, exploiting his skills to erase an 86-year championship drought. And hearing the Dodgers talk about how much they want Manny and how fair their offers have been would be flat-out hysterical if it weren't so corrupt.

Here goes Dodgers owner Frank McCourt telling MLB.com: "We came up with what we thought was a creative proposal to give him a lot of money, and well deserved in a challenging economy. I don't see long-term contracts happening in this market we're in."

The thing is, this should have nothing to do with Manny Ramirez. Baseball's just making it seem that way to bamboozle us, using everything from the economy to Manny's petulant past in Boston as ammunition.

Yo! Mr. McCourt. Here's what the rest of us don't see:

We don't see anyone on the Dodgers' roster capable of batting .396 with a .743 slugging percentage, smacking 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 games after Ramirez's July 31 trade. We didn't see anyone increasing attendance by nearly 5,000 fans the way the Dodgers did after Manny was traded to L.A. on July 31, a factor that generated a minimum of $3 million for the franchise.

There are few worthy of the four-year, $100 million deal Ramirez reportedly was seeking -- and worth, by the way. So, if you really want him, why go from offering him a contract that would max out at $60 million for three years on Election Day to $25 million for one year just more than a week ago? "We still have interest in Manny," Dodgers GM Ned Colletti told ESPN.com. Yeah, right!

Allow me to bestow a bit of wisdom. One-year offers are for those who have something to prove, not for someone still capable of smacking 40 to 50 homers a season, and not for someone who is just 173 blasts away from 700. One mishap, one argument, one vindictive employer, one bad haircut could damage potential opportunities. You maximize your potential while you can because the world of big business isn't about to do it for you, and that's something we learn more and more every day.

The Red Sox, despite some admittedly valid arguments on their behalf, have definitely done that with Manny. Sure, he was a pain in the neck, but he was too much to take only after they achieved their championship aspirations. Not before. Ditto for the Dodgers, too, en route to their latest postseason appearance. So while everyone's busy talking about how the Dodgers could use that $25 million to get a multiple-player combination of Ben Sheets, Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson or a bunch of other names, most of whom aren't as widely recognizable as Manny, here's a better question: Why weren't they talking about those guys before?

Oops! I forgot. They wanted to win when they got Manny. They just want to save money now.

Stephen A. Smith is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."