As the baseball season comes to a close, Most Valuable Player-award candidates are finishing up their respective campaigns and padding their stats during the final week of the season. In the interim, talks are heating up just like the pool of award-winning hopefuls. Only one deserving player will hoist the MVP trophy after the culmination of the World Series. Not one of them is more deserving of the career-making accolade than Manny Ramirez.
No, I am not the latest dupe entrenched in Manny-Mania nor have I been walking down the main quad with my faux locks dangling on Dodger blue. Heck, I had not even been to a post-Manny-era Dodger game until last Saturday. But, that was the night where the future Hall of Famer proved to me and a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium that he is the most valuable of players, doing much of the same he has done since he first arrived in Los Angeles 55 days ago.
In the heat of a division-title race, Man-Ram had more than 55,000 jumping and screaming, further pushing the stadium into a ravine. It looked simple, perhaps effortless, but he has done this 526 times before. ‘Thwack’, a two-run deficit turned into a one-run lead with his home run. ‘Manny, Manny, Manny.’ He headed to the dugout steps and saluted the crowd.
The eighth inning began and there were no beaming headlights in the parking lot. The traditional seventh-inning-exit routine passed and Dodger fans were still glued to their seats even at 10:32 p.m. Ramirez was due to bat second. The Dodgers were clinging to a 7-5 lead against the archrival San Francisco Giants and in stepped No. 99, number that also belonged to the great Wayne Gretzky. With a man on base, fans on their feet and cameras locked in hand, he cocked back, swung and launched the ball like the city’s other ‘Great One’. He took his familiar route around the bases. ‘Manny, Manny, Manny.’
Again, googly-eyed teammates mobbed him and the big galoot took another curtain call.
Ramirez has successfully tweaked the culture of Los Angeles’ baseball fans while becoming endeared by teammates and members of a thick-air clubhouse. His palpable charisma and unmatched skill have carried directly over to his teammates and has brought star power to a team that has starved for it ever since Eric Gagne and his elbow blew out of town.
However, Ramirez is being marked as an ineligible candidate for MVP and labeled an invalid choice by a sea of traditionalists strictly because he has played in two different leagues for two different stretches this season. I took a trip to the dictionary to better understand the concept of this prestigious award and there was none. It’s subjective. Every single play in sports is dissected and then translated into a lengthy rule/explanation, but the awards’ committee has balked at defining the meaning behind the hardware they dish.
I’ll keep the verbiage to a minimum. Here it is: An MVP is an all-around athlete who puts up astronomical numbers in the most noteworthy offensive categories, significantly improves production from his teammates, constantly shifts the opposition’s game plan through his presence and, the belly buster, turns a team into a playoff/championship contender as a result of his superior skills.
After all, statistics and success weave into each other like the seams of the balls they crush. Sometimes the aforementioned is not the case and one lucky ‘sultan of swat’ who never poked his head above .500, yet still, single-handedly dominated the league for his cellar-dwelling team deserves merit (Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers). And if you want to throw a curveball in this repertoire, votes are punched in after the completion of the postseason, not after the regular season ends.
Manny Ramirez is the true MVP if baseball aficionados across the nation abide by this definition come voting time. He has already won Player-of-the-Month for August and is well on track for a September repeat. Are they going to argue against his case because he mashed the ball in both the American and National League and therefore cannot win a ‘league’ MVP in only two months of work? Every naysayer that will document the stated along with Ramirez’s cancerous approach that resulted in the trade from Boston to Tinsel town – plus his inadequate defense – as reasons for voting for another qualified slugger, should remember this: You voted for Barry Bonds as MVP for four consecutive years (2001-2004).
If Ramirez doesn’t win, the Dodgers will be jipped once again, deprived of an MVP ala Kirk Gibson in 1988. The memory is still fresh of how Bonds ripped his final trophy away from a Gibson-like onslaught in Adrian Beltre, the former Dodgers’ third baseman who carried the 2004 Dodgers on one leg.
Ramirez has been the ultimate catalyst for the Dodgers’ success in the second half of the season, turning a two-game deficit into first place in the National League West division with five games left to play. He has showcased professionalism in his approach to the game, distancing himself from the ‘Manny being Manny’ mantra we had been accustomed to, albeit perhaps in hopes of inking one big, fat, final contract before he retires. By October, Ramirez will have bought enough time for the injured Rafael Furcal and Takashi Saito to return to their All-Star forms and made general manager Ned Colletti a very credible man despite his disastrous r’eacute;sum’eacute; over the last two seasons.
Under Ramirez, Andre Ethier has raised his batting average (BA) 27 points, hitting almost half of his 20 homeruns in his presence. James Loney has knocked in 27 runs. Jeff Kent was hitting .343, his highest percentage at any point this season, until he injured his knee. And the cherry: Juan Pierre hit a home run!
As far as Ramirez goes, his numbers speak volumes. No need to magnify his .400/16/49 (BA/HR/RBI) with the Dodgers and .332/36/117 overall.
In recent weeks, Dodgers’ manager Joe Torre has summed it up best: ‘Manny has certainly made a difference on our club,’ he said. ‘If we get to the postseason (it’s because he helped). We certainly wouldn’t have made it without him. If we get this done, he certainly would be a major influence on it.’
But Torre realizes Ramirez has been a contributor only on a part-time basis, so he added: ‘I don’t think (MVP is) going to happen. It depends on whatever interpretation of the MVP award is.’
Will baseball purists dissect this package and vouch for a player who has single-handedly turned over a team, a league and the city in the most crucial two-month stage of a season, or will they vote for Ryan Howard? We’d hate to say it’s just ‘voters being voters.’