When the trade deadline approaches each July, I’m transported back to 2008, when the Red Sox dealt Manny Ramirez, my all-time favorite player, to the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending his tumultuous reign as Boston’s defining superstar.
I was a truly fanatical fan in those days, staying up well past midnight in Britain to watch the Red Sox despite the prospect of school lurking the next morning. Accordingly, to such a diehard rooter, the loss of the most charismatic and infectious character in the history of New England sports was a major blow. My world caved in when Manny left for Hollywood.
Of course, rumors of Ramirez’ eventual exit percolated even as the ink dried on his 8-year, $160 million contract. Seemingly every year throughout his tenure in Boston, Manny Ramirez demanded some kind of trade away from Beantown and, when he wasn’t complaining, management rocked the boat by seeking ways to offload his complex, high-maintenance personality. Yet, in the end, Manny always stayed with the Red Sox, no matter how loud the trade chatter. His prodigious talent was always too much to give up.
I thought this would also be the case in 2008. A few teams would call the Sox and register an interest, I figured, but Theo Epstein would never let such a lethal offensive force get away amid a heated pennant race. Thus, when the news of Manny’s departure eventually exploded, like a cannonball to the head, I was totally shocked and incredulous.
At the time, it was difficult to follow Major League Baseball from England. In the pre-Twitter realm, all we could do was constantly refresh the webpages of various sports sites, hoping to stay in the loop. That’s what I did for hour upon hour as the 2008 deadline approached. However, as the clock continued to tick, I was dragged along on a family day trip to Liverpool on the Mersey Ferryboats. I did protest, citing the importance of the trade deadline, but little credence was given to the 13-year old possessed by an immense obsession with the Boston Red Sox.
We eventually returned home in time for me to watch the last hour of deadline action. The minutes ticked by slowly, and it appeared ever more likely that my beloved slugger would stay. Then, barely ten minutes before the deadline, the dreaded news finally filtered through to England: Manny Ramirez, my original baseball hero, had been traded to the Dodgers, and a rather peculiar fellow named Jason Bay was the new left fielder for the Boston Red Sox, as part of a three-team deal with Pittsburgh.
That night, I cried myself to sleep. Yes, Manny was perpetually annoying. And, yes, his mood swings frustrated Red Sox Nation. But he was arguably the greatest right-handed hitter ever to represent The Olde Towne Team. Manny Ramirez lodged 2,574 career hits, launched 555 home runs, and won two World Series titles with the Red Sox, but, more than that, he was an icon, a superhero in whom young fans like myself could believe. Manny Ramirez made you dream.
In LA, Manny unleashed the greatest 53-game stretch of his career to round out 2008, hitting .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI. Meanwhile, Jason Bay was pretty good, but he just wasn’t Manny Ramirez. Therefore, I never truly overcame the loss of Number 24.
I firmly believe the Red Sox would have won the pennant and possibly a second consecutive World Series had Ramirez stayed. Instead, Boston finally dealt him away, and Red Sox baseball simply hasn’t been the same since.