Friday, August 1

What We've Lost

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Today is a day for mourning.

All over New England the church bells toll a melancholy minor, the old Irish granddads saddle up to bar for one more shot of Jameson’s and the clouds hang dark and heavy in the sky.

He is gone. They are gone.

It is the "they" part that is the most troubling. With the trading of Manny Ramirez for Jason Bay, the Red Sox have lost one of the greatest players the game has ever known. This is sad, but this is also something that happens. We have lost brilliant players before. Ted and Yaz retired. Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs defected and Jimmie Foxx we waived away. We mourn, we grieve, we progress. But today the Red Sox fans have lost something far greater, than a Hall-of-Fame outfielder, and we share a pain that very few can understand.

Let Jose tell you a story.

Once, there was a back-to-back power combination of unbelievable skill. Managers didn’t know whether to pitch to one or the other and pitchers feared them. They led their team to multiple championships. But there was grumbling. While one of the stars was diligent, the other was a dandy, eccentric and defiant.

“He is childish,” said some reporters.

“He makes some incredibly foolish plays on the bases and in the field,” said others.

“Who cares, let him hit,” said the wisest.

And hit he did, hit they did, putting up dazzling numbers year after year.

And then it was over. The “childish star” left for a National League team and the magnificent pairing was severed.

The story sounds familiar doesn’t it? It is, of course, the story of Manny and Ortiz.

It is also the story of Gehrig and Ruth.

That is what we have lost today. We have not lost a star; we have lost one of the two greatest parings in baseball history. The only ones who can understand what we are going through, the only ones who can empathize with our loss are the fans of the 1934 Yankees, and Jose doesn’t want to identify with them, Jose doesn’t want their sympathy.

This may have been the right move. It may be good in the long term. It may even be good in the short term. But that doesn’t make it feel any better. We had Gehrig and Ruth, we had Astaire and Rogers, we had Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid, we had Laurel and Hardy, we had Siskel and Ebert. And now we just have Ebert. Will Jason Bay be Roeper? Is that good or bad? Jose does not know, all he knows is Roeper is not Siskel, and Jose cannot watch that show without thinking of the tall bald jerk.

And that’s how it will be when Jose watches Papi from now on. With every at bat, with each plate appearance, Jose will look in the on-deck circle for that tangle of dreadlocked hair and that tangle of mangy neurons within, he will look for Manny Ramirez, and Manny Ramirez will not be there.

2. As Jose recalls from his ninth grade English class, pretty much all of literature, ergo all of human narrative, falls into one of four archetypes: romance, tragedy, comedy and satire. Jose is hard pressed to come up with anything that crosses into all four categories, save romantic tragicomic farce of Manny Ramirez.

Romance: The story of the hero on a quest. The hero starts out naïve, he faces some adversity, he accomplishes his quest and he learns a little. Examples of romance include Star Wars, Don Quixote and the A-Rod/Madonna saga.

How does Manny fit into this archetype? He entered the Red Sox as something of a pup, so naïve that he wanted to bring his clubhouse guy with and so innocent that he imagined he could escape from his contract almost as soon as it was signed. Along the way, he faced some adversity (note: the Joe Kerrigan era) and eventually completed his quest to be World Series MVP, just like he said in that commercial for, office supplies Jose thinks it was, in 2004. At the end he came out wiser and less naïve… umm… right?

Tragedy: An archetype wherein the hero sufferers a calamitous downfall due to some fatal flaw, often hubris. Examples include, Macbeth, every episode of Behind The Music, the 2001 Red Sox.

Manny had everything going his way. He had won two championships, he was a sure thing Hall-of-Famer and he had fans who loved him so much that they would overlook any quirk, any unexplained disappearance into the wall, any failure to hustle to first. But he had a fatal flaw: Greed. Manny could see the future and he did not like what he saw. He saw a contract ending, he saw two one-year options that gave the team all the power, and he could not abide. So he shot his way out of town, slacking and whining until many of his fans had deserted him (note: not Jose). The tragedy of Manny Ramirez has not yet had its final chapter. That part will come when he is stuck on a bad team bemoaning his fate. It will be sad. That’s why they call it tragedy.

Comedy: In the comedic archetype the hero conquers adversity. This is different that romance for some reason, but Jose doesn’t remember why. Maybe it is because there is no quest or because it does not include the famed “topless Juliet” scene that we saw in class in ninth grade. Examples include, The Divine Comedy, As You Like It, and Police Academy 1, 2, 5 and 6.

How is the story of Manny Ramirez a comedy? Well, he grows up in the literal shadow of evil, beside Yankee Stadium, and advances to purgatory in Cleveland before ascending to paradiso in Boston. Never mind everything that has happened in the last few days.

Satire: Satire is mockery of human vice and foibles. Examples include Aristophanes’ The Knights, Gulliver’s Travels and Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

Perhaps more than anything, the saga of Manny Ramirez was satire. Yes, it had its comedic elements, its romance and ultimately, today, its tragedy, but what defined Manny, what made his story different from all other players’ were his quirks, the mirror that he heal aloft to reflect the strange image of baseball in modern society. From his self-involvement, to his seeming indifference, to his consumption, to his brilliance, Manny Ramirez was a caricature of a modern athlete, and a spectacular one.

The point is that Manny was everything. He was everything Jose loved about baseball and everything he hated. Talented, aggressive, arrogant, stupid, funny and endearing. You can write any story you want, any play, song or sonnet, but if it’s about Manny Ramirez, Jose wants to see it.

3. Jose supposes that he is obligated to say at least a few words about the return in this trade, outfielder Jason Bay. Unlike the rest of you who watch most Pirates games, Jose hasn’t watched much of the Bucs, so he doesn’t have much to say. So let’s leave it at this. When Bay gets the inevitable back injury from crashing into the monster, Jose would like to lay claim right now to calling him Jason “Back” Bay.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.