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The Book of Manny: The Storm Before the Storm – The 2004 Offseason

The Red Sox and Manny begin to trade blows, but there’s one thing that might drive them apart: a trade.

Manny About to Homer by JonPetitt is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Book of Manny: The Storm Before the Storm – The 2004 Offseason

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

The 2003 season did not end the way Manny or the Red Sox wanted it to. The old adage “There’s Always Next Year” was beginning to feel like a threat more than a hopeful sentiment. At the peak of his career, after another season as one of the league’s best hitters, Manny was so close to winning a World Series.

With the disappointment of Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run reverberating through the organization, the Boston Red Sox had to reassess their team in the offseason between the 2003-04 seasons. One of their main decisions was on Manny Ramirez.

Ramirez was an amazing hitter. But could they continue to put up with his antics and his attitude?

Towards the end of the 2003 season, Manny sat out a few games with a stomach bug – usually not an issue. The Red Sox pressed on with players like Johnny Damon, who gave up 2.0 points in WAR to Manny that year and was playing hurt to cover for Ramirez.

Word got out that instead of staying in to rest and recover, Manny was in fact out catching up with his former Cleveland teammate Enrique Wilson after those games. Obviously, this was something the national and local press picked up on, but it was when the Red Sox began talking that things became interesting.

“We really appreciate the way Johnny Damon sucked it up and got in the lineup. That’s the kind of effort we need from everyone on the club,” Theo Epstein said to reporters following the incident, in an obvious jab at Ramirez’s me-first attitude.

Manny’s attitude was what made him the larger-than-life personality in the big leagues. “Manny Being Manny” was all about him being the laid-back, carefree, free-swinging, happy-go-lucky ballplayer who played with his emotions on his sleeve. It was obvious that Manny wasn’t the kind of player to lay down his bat and race around the bases after hitting a home run. No chance in hell. With a swing like that, you gotta let the other guys know how good you are.

“His disposition may be positive with respect to his ability to focus on hitting to the exclusion of other kinds of distractions,” Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said in the wake of questions surrounding Manny’s attitude. “It’s easily misunderstood because fans have a certain kind of prototype of what an athlete should be. That image may not be fair to everybody.”

Fans in Boston are hard on their players. One year you’re the pride of Prudential Center, and the next you’re a bum from the Back Bay. Boston fans expect their players to give 200% at all times. They want to see that the players care as much as they do. And they care, A LOT. A player like Manny doesn’t fit that mold. For Manny, baseball is fun, not a life or death situation.

After the 2003 season, the Red Sox did something that, in retrospect, should have tipped all of us off to just how rough the situation was. The Red Sox put Manny on irrevocable waivers, meaning that if any team wanted Manny, they could take him and the rest of his contract.

No one did.

Just a reminder: Manny hit .325 in 2003, good enough for second in the American League. He smashed 37 home runs and collected 104 RBIs.

According to baseball pundits, Manny “was a cancer, a malcontent,” “a guy who didn’t run out fly balls,” and a showboat who “posed after his home runs.” Others added that he “blasphemed against the game, is what he did, and then he blasphemed against the Red Sox, which is worse.”

Manny responded to the criticism the only way he knew how: off the cuff and blunt.

“I’m not doing anything different, man,” Manny said in a radio interview that offseason. “I’m going out there and having fun, you know. Maybe talking a little more to the press, but that’s it. I’m smiling no matter what, man. I don’t got nothing to lose. I’m blessed. I got a big contract. I got nothing to worry about. “This game is weird, man. That’s the way it is. Sometimes you have it, and sometimes you don’t, so I don’t worry. The more relaxed you are, not having a lot of stuff on your mind, that’s the best way to hit.”

Sports Illustrated painted the most accurate picture of the attempted character assassination of Manny by the Red Sox. After the 2003 season, they published a piece saying Manny’s release was meant “to cast him as the lead in a cheap redemption drama is to devalue his scope, to diminish the vast pleasure he takes in his skills, to confine him within limits he doesn’t even see, let alone acknowledge. [Manny is] a player occasionally as baffled by what he can do as is anybody in the stands watching him.”

This brings us to the most important piece of offseason activity that sparked a 2004 season to remember for Manny and the Red Sox. In the midst of the Red Sox and Manny’s scuffles through the media, there came a moment where Manny Ramirez almost went from one of the best teams in the game to the worst.

It’s time to talk about the Alex Rodriguez trade that almost changed the course of history.

The Red Sox wanted Manny Ramirez gone, despite building a team around him in 2003 that almost went to the World Series. With Manny’s contract weighing on the Sox payroll, and his issues with the media and fans, Epstein began looking for a way to get Manny out of Fenway Park. Eventually, he found one – in Texas.

The Texas Rangers had signed Alex Rodriguez to a mega-deal worth $252 million over 10 years back in 2000. The signing shocked the baseball world, as A-Rod was one of the best players in the league and Texas was one of the worst teams. Instead of staying with the Seattle Mariners, the team who drafted him, A-Rod took the money and went to Arlington. The following season, the Mariners tied the all-time single-season wins record, finishing the season with 116-46, easily taking first place in the AL West. The Rangers finished 73-89, last in the division.

Just three years into his contract, Texas was looking for an out. A-Rod was obviously a solid hitter, leading the league in home runs in all three seasons while in Texas, so he was an easy sell. But that contract loomed large. It would take a big appetite for a team to eat all that money. Luckily for Texas, two teams in the AL East were very hungry to do so.

The Boston Red Sox knew that they needed a big piece to get past the Evil Empire in New York. The trade with Arizona to acquire the services of Curt Schilling sured up the rotation, but Boston also needed a bat. The Red Sox had options in the free-agent market but failed to sign any big bat. Vladimir Guerrero went to the Angels and Gary Sheffield signed with the Yankees, and every other position player wasn’t a good fit given the Red Sox lineup.

The only option the Red Sox had was to trade for a hitter. So they picked up the phone and called Texas to inquire about the services of 2003 AL MVP Alex Rodriguez.

The deal constructed by Theo Epstein and Texas GM John Hart would have sent Rodriguez to Boston in exchange for Manny Ramirez, pitching prospect Jon Lester and cash. Nomar Garciaparra, the Red Sox star shortstop, would have gone to the Chicago White Sox along with pitcher Scott Williamson, with outfielder Magglio Ordonez and pitching prospect Brandon McCarthy heading to Boston in return.

The only hang-up was over the remaining money on A-Rod’s deal. Even with the removal of Garciaparra and Manny’s contracts, the remaining money on Rodriguez’s deal was too much for the Red Sox. So they asked A-Rod if he’d be okay with taking a pay cut. The reigning AL MVP agreed, but the Player’s union did not.

The Yankees would ultimately land A-Rod, shipping Alfonso Soriano and Joaquín Árias to Arlington.

The “Biggest Trade That Never Happened” was dead, but the relationship between Manny and the Red Sox had officially become contentious. If there wasn’t already bad blood after they placed him on waivers, the waters were now a deep crimson.

So after the team that promised to build around you attempts to get rid of you twice in one season, what’s Manny Ramirez’s next move?

Might as well win World Series MVP and a matching World Series ring, right? Sounds like a plan.

Up Next: Manny Ramirez and the 2004 Postseason…

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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