Back in the day, Pax Arcana would rush home from backyard wiffle ball games to hear Tim McCarver call Mets games on WWOR. Back then, McCarver was the knowledgeable straight man to Ralph Kiner’s hilarious progessive drunkenness throughout the games.
In 1999, McCarver was fired by the Mets for being too critical of the team. As a fan, it was my judgment at the time that there was no such thing as being too critical of that team. The late 1990s Mets were the biggest waste of goddamn money in baseball history.
For that, and because his was the first real baseball voice I ever knew, I have resisted joining the increasingly massive anti-Tim McCarver groundswell that has swept the nation.
I even tried to ignore his recent babbling about Manny Ramirez:
“It’s extraordinary — the dichotomy between what he was in Boston and what he is in Los Angeles,” MLB on FOX analyst Tim McCarver said, according to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I mean, talk about wearing out your welcome in a town, and it was a long welcome with the Red Sox. But some of the things he did were simply despicable, despicable — like not playing, refusing to play. Forgetting what knee to limp on. And now it’s washed, it’s gone.”
But it’s just too much. Regardless of your opinion of Manny, the statement above is so full of shit that it’s a wonder that geysers of poo didn’t shoot out of Tim McCarver’s nostrils as he was saying it.
Thankfully Baseball Prospectus is here to set us all straight:
In July, when Ramirez was supposedly “refusing to play,” the Red Sox played 24 games. Ramirez played in 22 of them. This was tied for fourth on the team with J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury. He was sixth on the team in plate appearances (AB+BB) in July. Not quite Lou Gehrig’s numbers, but he helped out a bit more than David Ortiz (six games), and was in the lineup somewhat more often than peers such as Moises Alou (one game). Oh, he didn’t get three days off in the middle of the month-Ramirez played in the All-Star Game.
When he played, Ramirez killed the league. He hit .347/.473/.587 in July. His OBP led the team, and his SLGAB. The Sox, somewhat famously, went 11-13 in July. Lots of people want you to believe that was because Manny Ramirez is a bad guy. I’ll throw out the wildly implausible idea that the Sox went 11-13 because Ortiz played in six games and because veterans Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek led all Red Sox with at least 25 has sub-600 OPSs for the month.
Four days before he was traded, Manny Ramirez just about single-handedly saved the Red Sox from getting swept by the Yankees, with doubles in the first and third innings that helped the Sox get out to a 5-0 lead in a game they had to win to stay ahead of the Yankees in the wild-card race.
If all of the above is “refusing to play,” I would sincerely like to see what “trying” looks like.
But as every real baseball person knows, statistics only reflect someone’s abilities to, you know, hit baseballs and do other things that don’t really help their teams win. What about all those scrappy intangibles like scrappiness and dirty uniforms and scrapdirt and try-hardness?
As McCarver says, sometimes Manny would forget which knee he was supposed to be limping on zomg!!!!1!!!!111!.
Or not. The Joy of Sox does the dirty work here, tracing the origins of McCarver’s groundless assertion right back to … TIM MOTHERFUCKING MCCARVER!
It turns out that McCarver was repeating that exact same story more than two years ago!
On July 10, 2006, Will Carroll of Baseball Prospects wrote that Ramirez had been
taking a disproportionate amount of heat for missing the [All-Star Game], even getting openly questioned on yesterday’s Fox telecast. Tim McCarver said the worst thing about his knee injury was “remembering which leg to limp with.”
But McCarver isn’t alone. Turns out a lot of people were talking directly out of their asses about Manny’s supposed knee forgetfulness:
It’s clear from Edes’s “evidently”, CHB’s relegation of the remark to a parenthetical, and Celizec’s labeling Chuck’s comment a “quip” that there was no real source for this “story” — it was simply a media guffaw/snide remark.
However, Peter Gammons repeated the story as fact three days later, in his July 31 ESPN column:
Ramirez tried to sit, citing his knee. … If Ramirez hadn’t forgotten which knee was bothering him, he would have been more convincing, but he got mixed up.
Gammons offered no source for his statement and because the entire column is nothing more than a bitter rant against Ramirez, I cannot accept it as fact.
In the aftermath of Ramirez’s trade to Los Angeles, the tidbit gained traction (though it was never sourced, not even to the popular “anonymous source with knowledge of the situation”):
Jon Heyman, Sports Illustrated, August 4, 2008:
One landmark moment came when Ramirez complained of knee pain but couldn’t recall which knee was hurting him. Red Sox doctors had to take the unusual step of evaluating both the right and left knee in an MRI exam.
Tim Brown, Yahoo! Sports, August 8, 2008:
Last [the Red Sox] saw of Manny, he was stumping for a trade. He was crab-walking to first base. … He was trying to remember which knee hurt.
Tyler Kepner New York Times, October 5, 2008:
In the litany of Manny Ramirez controversies, it was not as egregious as reportedly forgetting which knee hurt when he visited a doctor this July. …
At least Kepner hedged his bets and said Manny “reportedly” forgot which of his knees hurt. … (It was also mentioned as a joke at The Spoof on August 19, 2008.)
Art Martone, the sports editor of the Providence Journal, told me the story
sounds awfully familiar, but I couldn’t find it anywhere in our archives. It may be an urban legend that’s been repeated so often it’s accepted as fact.
So there you have it. The story about Manny’s knee is as grounded in reality as those about Al Gore saying he invented the Internet.
Oh, by the way — as I type this, Manny is 2 for 3 with an RBI double and made a solid play in left to keep Pat Burrell out of scoring position on a laser beam to his right. So there’s that.