MLB:How Manny became Manny

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 13, 2009

By Bill Reynolds
The Providence Journal
How did Manny become Manny?
How did the phrase “Manny being Manny” evolve?
These are the two questions that have been hovering over Manny Ramirez for years now, two questions that sometimes can be as perplexing as the secrets of the universe.
Now we know the answers.
Or at least some of them.
The book is called “Becoming Manny;” it was written by Shawn Boburg, a reporter for The Bergen Record, and Jean Rhodes, a clinical psychologist at UMass-Boston.
And the strangest part?
It’s written with the authorization of Manny himself, the same Manny who avoided the media during his tenure in Boston, as if they were a high, hard one coming right for his throat.
That’s just one of the contradictions in the ongoing Ramirez saga, the fact that for all his time in Boston and all the attention he received, complete with our 24-hour news cycle, we knew virtual nothing about him. It almost defies belief.
It also makes “Becoming Manny” so fascinating.
The book’s premise is that the phrase “Manny being Manny,” which was first uttered by Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove in 1995 to account for Ramirez’s many idiosyncrasies, has become a verbal shorthand to account for his goofiness, yet failing to explain the roots of his behavior. The book’s other premise is that Manny and Boston were a mismatch from the start, like star-crossed lovers doomed from the beginning.
It’s the story of a kid born in the Dominican Republic, growing up in a family with three older sisters and a father who comes across as absent emotionally. His mother had wanted a son, as sons are often raised as little princes in Dominican culture, and Manny was spoiled from the beginning, the center of his family’s world even as an infant.
“He would throw himself on the ground and just have a fit,” one of his sisters says in the book, recalling Manny’s temper tantrums if he didn’t get what he wanted.
This was combined with extreme shyness, and the authors make the point that it probably evolved into social anxiety, which may explain his avoidance of the media and his tendency to skip situations in which he fears he might be uncomfortable, which can he interpreted as aloofness.
But there’s little question that the behavior at the root of “Manny being Manny” makes more sense with this peek into his childhood.
Manny came to New York City when he was 12, and moved into Washington Heights, a neighborhood that looked and felt like a “transplanted barrio of Santa Domingo.”
This is when he first met Carlos Ferrerira, called “Macaco,” who started out as his Little League coach and quickly became his mentor, arguably the most important male relationship in his life, one that exists to this day. Macaco became the person the young Ramirez relied on, the one person he could trust.
“He’s like my father,” Ramirez says in Becoming Manny. “When you’re young, you need to have someone next to you, someone who is going to push you.”
To this day, he calls Macaco every day.
As a teenager, Manny lived so much in his own world that his family really knew little about his emerging baseball talent. School was merely a warm place to go on a cold day, and the only thing that consumed him was hitting a baseball, as if he were some form of hitting savant where the world seemed to slow down for him when he came to the plate. That, and running up a hill every morning with an old tire dragging from his waist, rain or shine.
As a young player with the Indians, he was seen as “everyone’s little brother,” someone who took clothes out of teammates lockers and wore them, didn’t seem to know where some of his money went, and tried to surround himself with people he could trust, as if the rest of the world was a scary place he didn’t really want to deal with. But, in many ways, Cleveland worked for him.
Boston never did.
When he first came here, he told Pedro, “This is not for me.”
Boston was too much. Too much media. Too many fans. Too much a fishbowl. He wanted a place where he could go to the mall unnoticed. He wanted a place where people would let him hit and go home, where a small cadre of people would serve as a moat, keeping the rest of the world out.
Ted Williams once said, “I found that you don’t need to wear a necktie if you can hit.”
In his own way, Manny found that out, too.
This man who has perplexed the baseball world ever since, baseball’s version of an enigma wrapped inside a riddle.