The Manny Effect
The Cubs as World Champs. Manny as a Yankee. Bob Melvin still managing. Really
This story originally appears in the June 1st issue of ESPN The Magazine.
The day Manny Ramírez was suspended, Bob Melvin managed the Diamondbacks for the last time before being fired. These events are connected by more than the calendar: They prove that one player's use of a banned substance impacts many others. How different would baseball be if Manny, who hit .512 vs. Arizona last season, hadn't strayed? Hmmm … (picture wavy lines here.)
1. NO HOLLYWOOD ENDING
The Steroids Effect on Managers
The Dodgers never make the deadline trade for Manny because, at age 35, the Red Sox slugger's skills are clearly fading. LA, lacking punch, watches as late-season pickup Adam Dunn leads the D-backs to a second straight division title. Melvin gets a two-year extension.
• Jason Bay stays in Pittsburgh, but he can't keep the Bucs from extending their losing streak to 16 straight seasons, tying the all-time major pro sports record. (Some things are the same in every universe.)
• Because they're still on the hook for Bay's salary, the Pirates don't sign those two pitchers, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, who won that reality show in India.
• Singh and Patel instead sign with the Indians. Turns out they're much better at reality shows than pitching, so they pair up to win The Amazing Race.
2. HELL FREEZES OVER
Even with Dunn, the D-backs fall to the Cubs in the NLDS. Emboldened by a little playoff success, Chicago wins its first World Series since 1908. Even White Sox fan Barack Obama celebrates. But the star of the White House visit is Steve Bartman, making his first public appearance in six years.
3. THE BRONX CHEERS
With Manny now disgruntled and diminished, the Yankees edge the Red Sox for the AL wild card and make the playoffs for a 14th straight season.
• In New York, sports talk shows blow up with calls of praise for new manager Joe Girardi. "At least this Joe knows how to beat the Sox," bellows Vinny from Staten Island.
• In Boston, the Salvation Army is overrun with donations of No. 24 Red Sox jerseys.
4. HIRED DUNN
Dunn is the most coveted bat on the free agent market. The Red Sox, looking for a slugger to replace Manny (whose option they don't renew), give Dunn a four-year, $50 million deal. His outfield defense can't be worse than Manny's, can it?
• The Nationals, who don't get a discounted Dunn in the off-season, win only nine -- not 10 -- of their first 30 games in 2009. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman does hit in all 30, though.
• On the plus side, Washington's front office has more money to spend on San Diego State flamethrower and presumptive No.1 pick Stephen Strasburg in June. Scott Boras smiles.
5. FOR LOVE OF COUNTRY
Still unsigned, Manny joins the Dominican Republic team at the WBC to showcase his skills. And he does lift his countrymen: The Dutch beat the D.R. only once.
6. TURNING JAPANESE
Boras refuses a lowball offer from San Francisco for Manny. But in April, Ramírez finally signs with the Giants -- the Yomiuri Giants.
• Manny goes off in Japan, clubbing 45 homers by July. Afraid he'll break the single-season record held by the legendary Sadaharu Oh, opposing teams stop giving him anything to hit. Manny refuses to leave his hotel.
7. MEET THE NEW BOSS
Frustrated with A-Rod's slow start, Hank Steinbrenner demands that his baseball people get Ramírez. The Yanks buy Manny's contract from Yomiuri for 4.8 billion yen ($50 million). The universe returns to normal.