Becoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball's Most Enigmatic Slugger

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"The men of left field, Fenway Park-Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice-have been loved and hated, talked about, typed about, psychoanalyzed, and put on grand pedestals. None more so than Manuel Aristides Ramirez. For all the talk, though, all the words in the newspapers, all the public conjecture, not a lot was known about him. Now, at last, some answers to those questions have arrived. It is fascinating stuff."
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Becoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball's Most Enigmatic Slugger

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Overview

"The men of left field, Fenway Park-Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice-have been loved and hated, talked about, typed about, psychoanalyzed, and put on grand pedestals. None more so than Manuel Aristides Ramirez. For all the talk, though, all the words in the newspapers, all the public conjecture, not a lot was known about him. Now, at last, some answers to those questions have arrived. It is fascinating stuff."
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
"SEE MANNY RUN AND HIT. AND LAUGH. AND LIGHT UP L.A." headlined an October 2008 Sports Illustrated cover. For hometown fans, watching and listening to free-spirited, 12-time All-Star Manny Ramirez has been one of baseball's greatest pleasures. "He's like a kid playing ball in the backyard," remarked one, "and he knows he's the best kid." Los Angeles Dodger hitting coach Don Mattingly, no slouch himself, calls Ramirez "the best right-handed hitter I've ever seen." This authorized biography tells the story about how the Dominican-born future Hall of Famer became Manny. An entertaining read about one of baseball's most colorful and talented players.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416577065
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 3/10/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE

Selfish Slugger?

Who is Manny Ramirez?

Reduce Manny to a series of stats, and it's easy to see who he is: one of the best batters in history. A twelve-time All- Star and nine-time Silver Slugger, Manny ranks seventeenth in career home runs and eighth in career slugging as of this writing. The only players above him on both lists are Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Barry Bonds. Manny is also second all-time in gram slams, behind only Lou Gehrig, and has hit more postseason home runs than anyone in the history of professional baseball. He still appears to have several years of baseball ahead of him.

But if you skip the stats, the question "Who is Manny?" gets confusing, controversial, and cultural. A favorite target of reporters and talk show pundits, Manny's every misstep is exhaustively analyzed and then reduced to "Manny being Manny." This oblique phrase has come to provide a shared wink of explanation for a player whose laser-beam focus at home plate seems irreconcilable with his periodic gaffes (or "Manny Moments") in left field and outside the ballpark.

The history of the phrase "Manny being Manny" in the popular press provides a series of thumbnail portraits of Manny at his most bizarre and intriguing, and a catalogue of the baseball world's struggles to understand him.

Its first mention in a major publication came in 1995, when Cleveland Indians' manager Mike Hargrove was asked about the young slugger's carefree-bordering-on-careless approach to money.

How do you explain Manny and Dominican teammate Julian Tavarez asking a Cleveland sportswriter to loan them $60,000, so they could buy a Harley-Davidsonmotorcycle? And what about forgetting a paycheck in a pair of boots he left behind in the Texas Rangers visiting clubhouse?

"That's just Manny being Manny," Hargrove told a Newsday reporter.

Several years later, a Cleveland sportswriter used the phrase to account for why Manny's old New York City neighborhood still adored him — because of how he showed up at his old high school cafeteria unannounced almost daily in the off-seasons to eat lunch with kids, and in spite of how he forgot promises to childhood friends to leave game tickets at the stadium box offices. But the phrase became less clearly defined after Manny moved to the Boston Red Sox in 2000, and its use grew with the city's fascination and ultimate disillusionment with their star slugger.

It has been invoked in print and online tens of thousands of times since 2000 as a shorthand explanation for Manny's mysterious injuries, his absences, his tardiness, his indiscriminate use of other players' bats and clothing, his silence in the clubhouse, his quiet acts of kindness to friends, his choice of an expletive-riddled song to play over Boston's Fenway Park sound system, his childlike playfulness, his midinning break inside Fenway's left-field wall, his failure to show up at the White House to meet President George W. Bush after the Red Sox won the world championship, and, yes, his towering home runs and unparalleled work ethic.

Manny is partly to blame for the mystery. He rarely grants interviews, and reporters who manage to breach his defenses are rewarded with little more than clichés or incendiary oneliners.

So, with little to go on but fielding miscues, baggy uniforms, flowing dreadlocks, big hits, and tired anecdotes, the public is left with caricatures of Manny as a carefree goofball and spoiled superstar.

Yet the question of who Manny really is endures, baffling his most ardent admirers and even some of his teammates. In fact, it was never more pressing than during the 2008 season, in the days before the Boston Red Sox traded Manny to the Los Angeles Dodgers, his third team in seventeen years as a professional. Manny's dispute with Red Sox ownership over his future — and questions about his commitment to the team — convinced many once-adoring fans that he was selfish.

The day after the trade, Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell told the Providence Journal, "For me, he's a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer, and when he gives his speech, he'll probably give it via satellite because he'll be in Brazil. That's him and that'll be perfect. He'll be wearing a Brazilian National Team hat when he does it."

Lowell's distinction between malice and oddity is insightful. On many levels, Manny and Boston were a mismatch from the start. Nothing excuses Manny's shoving of sixty-four-year-old traveling secretary Jack McCormick, and perhaps Manny didn't give the Red Sox his best in 2008. Still, there were reasons for his frustration. And one could argue that if Manny had behaved this way in 2004, the Red Sox front office, not yet emboldened by two championships in four seasons, would have found a way to weather the storm.

If Manny had finished his career in Boston — or simply departed under more amicable circumstances — the grandchildren of today's vociferous fans might have even driven through the Manny Ramirez tunnel. That may sound farfetched, but Manny's comments in advance of his exit are comparable to those of Red Sox legend Ted Williams, whose name graces the recently constructed highway that runs under Boston Harbor.

In fact, Williams was so embittered by his years of acrimony with the Boston press, Red Sox management, and fans that he refused to even tip his cap after his final hit. Manny's "enough is enough" comment, directed to the Red Sox management in the middle of the 2008 season when tensions were at their peak, was less acerbic than Williams's vituperations. As Leigh Montville described in Ted Williams:

[Williams] said he wanted to be traded. He said he hated Boston, hated the fans, hated the newspapers, hated the trees, hated the weather, hated, just hated. The word "fuck" or some derivative was woven into most sentences. He wanted out. And for most of Williams' tenure on the team, Boston hated him right back.

Manny's badmouthing was mild by comparison. Moreover, there is consistency in his teammates' and coaches' characterizations of him as a hardworking team player. He was, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "everybody's little brother" in his early years and, recently, has been more of a role model and source of support to younger players than he's generally credited for. "He was a mentor to me," says Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo, three years his junior. "When I went through tough times, he knew that I had trouble sleeping so he would call me early in the morning, when he knew I'd be awake, and he'd say, 'Look, don't worry about it, man. You're going to do good today.' That meant a lot to me. There's no one like Manny."

"To be honest," says Pedro Martinez, "I don't have enough kind words to say about Manny. I think he's misunderstood."

But Manny's teammates are not the only ones capable of shedding light on the vexing question of who Manny is. Conversations with Manny and his coaches, agents, mentors, parents, wife, sisters, and childhood friends, as well as side trips to his neighborhoods, show that he cannot be reduced to a caricature. They illuminate a nuanced, if inscrutable, man who defines himself by what he is least known as — a dedicated athlete, a wellregarded teammate, and a beloved father, husband, and son.

Among the mentors in Manny's life were his sandlot coach, Mel Zitter, and his then Triple-A manager, Charlie Manuel. But none have been more influential than his former Little League coach, Carlos Ferreira. In his neighborhood, Ferreira is endearingly known as "Macaco" — Spanish for little monkey. A thoughtful, charismatic man who left a medical career in the Dominican Republic to immigrate to the U.S. in 1979, Macaco, now fifty-nine, has coached several Little League teams in the baseball-crazed Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. He was — and he remains — a de facto father to many aspiring Dominican players.

The story of how Manny came to rely on this gentle, unassuming coach — from their first encounter in the basement of a Washington Heights housing project to their ongoing, daily conversations — is a window into Manny's development and his hidden essence: his vulnerabilities, his values, his uncomplicated worldview, and what it really means to be Manny.

But to understand the story of Manny and Macaco, we first need to understand another story: that of Manny's early life with his parents, Aristides and Onelcida, and his three sisters.

Copyright © 2009 by Jean Rhodes and Shawn Boburg

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Selfish Slugger? 1

Ch. 1 Manny at the Plate 7

Ch. 2 Dominican Roots 13

Ch. 3 Shy Slugger 19

Ch. 4 Enter Macaco 29

Ch. 5 This Is Washington Heights 43

Ch. 6 Brooklyn Ball 75

Ch. 7 High School Hero 91

Ch. 8 Scouting Manny 103

Ch. 9 Minor Adjustments 121

Ch. 10 Winter Ball, 1991 131

Ch. 11 Kinston, North Carolina 135

Ch. 12 Moving Up 141

Ch. 13 Welcome to Cleveland 147

Ch. 14 1994: The Rookie 151

Ch. 15 1995: World Series Season 159

Ch. 16 1996: Great Expectations 165

Ch. 17 1997: World Series Redux 169

Ch. 18 1998 and 1999: Two Years of Near-Playoff Runs 175

Ch. 19 2000: Last Season in Cleveland 187

Ch. 20 Next Stop, Boston 191

Ch. 21 2001: Two Managers, One Marriage 197

Ch. 22 2002: New Ownership 213

Ch. 23 2003: Almost Paradise 221

Ch. 24 2004: Conquering the Yankees 231

Ch. 25 2004: World Series MVP 241

Ch. 26 2005: Inside the Monster 245

Ch. 27 2006: 85 Days Without Theo; 27-Game Hitting Streak; 32 Games Missed 253

Ch. 28 2007: Banner No. 2 259

Ch. 29 2008: 500 Home Runs in Dodger Blue 269

Ch. 30 Mannywood 277

Ch. 31 There's Something About Manny 285

Manny Ramirez's Major League Baseball Statistics 299

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Posted December 14, 2010

    A thrilling story of how a little boy from the Dominican made it big in sports history!

    Becoming Manny by: Jean Rhodes, Shawn Boburg, and Leigh Montville explained the life of Manny from a small boy from the Dominican Republic to becoming arguably one of the best hitters to play in the game of baseball. Growing up on dirty streets known for drugs and violence, Manny kept him and his friends away from it and made sure he was focused on baseball. He stood out from his friends and started playing for good teams. When he grew older he reached the unthinkable and made it to the Major League Baseball Association. Manny began with the Cleveland Indians and had a very successful career. He started to slump and the Red Sox signed the extremely talented slugger. Manny was a key part to the Redsox organization and helped them win two World Series in four years. As his career continued in Boston, the fans and organization began to loose hope in him and many trade rumors had been in the news for years. Manny was finally traded from Boston and had moved to the Las Angeles Dodgers, it was time for all of Red Sox Nation to move on from their slugger and focus on what was to come. Manny may be getting older but is still known for some clutch plays, homerun hitting, and clumsy plays. Their is no real ending to this book because Ramirez is still wearing the Dodgers uniform. Manny is a perfect example to kids out there. He lived on dangerous streets but avoided the distractions and fulfilled his dream and became a future Hall of Famer in Americas Pastime. I recommend this book to baseball fans or people who just wants a good read about a boy from the Dominican, to becoming one of the most talked about athletes in America.

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  • Posted December 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Becoming Manny: A well written biography of a hardworking individual

    The book Becoming Manny, written by Jean Rhodes and Shawn Boburg, published in the year 2009 by Scribner a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. is a well-written and a descriptive look into one of baseballs greatest all-time sluggers.
    This biography displays key facts and information that show how he got to where he is today. Throughout the book, it stresses the strength and hardships Manny had when growing up in Washington Heights, New York. Also, it shows how much spanish influence there was and the culture that had developed in Washington Heights at the time due to it was the second most Dominican populated area in the world at that point.
    When growing up Manny was a shy boy. He would scarcely talk to anyone, and his mother Onecileda talks about him as a boy who didn't do much and didn't talk much except for his love for baseball. This all changed the time he signed up for little league and met what he didn't know at the time but would find out later was his mentor, father figure and simply just his best friend. His name was Macaco and he was a father figure to many of the young fatherless members of the little league teams. Right away though he took a loving to Manny and gave him special treatment even though Mannny would not have his parents come meet with Macaco which was a rule enforced by Macaco, but he let it slide for Manny. Manny never knew Macaco would still watch and coach him until this very day. Manny was always a hard worker. he would wake up early on his sofa bed every morning in Washington Heights and run up and down the worst streets in New York with a tire tied to his back. Neighbors remember him as a "determined person." Even when he came up to select leagues after high school he would work hard but still make his old Manny being Manny mistakes as Red Sox fans know it as. But for that he had to run all day which he did not a word said to the coaches. Soon after he was drafted. His own family didn't even know he was drafted in fact they never even watched his games or know he had an exceptional skill for baseball. This is another demonstration of how shy Manny was and how little he talked about himself. His mothers first game she attended was when he was in the AAA and she remembers it fondly.
    This all worked out in the long run as today Manny Ramirez is still breaking records and slugging home runs. I recommend this book to anyone who likes baseball or a story of a strong-minded kid whom is successful in what he really wants to do.

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  • Posted March 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Couldn't put it down!

    I really enjoyed this book. The best chapters detail his growing up in Washington Heights, the process of scouting him, Manny's rise through the minor leagues, and the final chapter, which ties everything together in a way that makes more sense of Manny than I've seen. Beyond the light it sheds on Manny and Dominicans in the majors, the book tells us about the Spanish culture, poverty, immigration, and the role of coaches.

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  • Posted February 28, 2009

    An insightful book

    This is a well-written and intelligent book about one of the most interesting and prolific living sports figures. It's packed with interesting details and gives a thoughtful analysis of who he really is. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2010

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