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Manny's time in spotlight has come and gone

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist

Say what you want about Tiger Woods' protracted comeback, and so many people have that we're all fairly sick of it.

Manny Ramirez's time in Los Angeles is no longer fun in the sun. (Getty Images)  
Manny Ramirez's time in Los Angeles is no longer fun in the sun. (Getty Images)  
On the other hand, there's Manny Ramirez's comeback, which begins as soon as he says howdy to Ozzie Guillen at his new teammates in Chicago. It is, in many ways, far more fascinating because Ramirez's disappearance has been so gradual and unnoticed, and because even the trade rumors have lasted so long that most folks have lost interest.

And if there is a sense that Ramirez can snap the White Sox out of their torpor, it has largely been a very well-kept secret.

And two years ago, Manny Ramirez wasn't a star, he was a supernova. Bigger than bigger than life, in a town that knows as much as there is to know about center stage. Wigs were sold in his honor. An entire section of a stadium was named for him.

Then he landed, hard, and face-first. He got hurt, often. He got caught using performance enhancing drugs, and because they were fertility drugs the pregnancy jokes went on forever. He became the worst thing a star can be in this culture.

A figure of fun, all the way down to his last at-bat as a Dodger. With the bases loaded in a game the Dodgers eventually lost, 10-5, he came up in a spot tailor-made for him.

He saw ball one, the umpire (Gary Cederstrom) saw strike one, and one thing led to another and Ramirez got run.

Of course he got run. He's Manny.

But he's not really Manny any more. For a man who cast the shadow he did for so long and in so many places, he's done the one unforgivable thing -- he stayed too long at the fair.

Of course, it was going to be hard for Manny to be the center of the Dodgers with the McCourt divorce and the stream of damaging/hilarious leaks from the combatants' sides, and the apparent end of the Torre Era, and the rumors of clubhouse combustion. This is a team that imploded without any of Ramirez's help.

That, too, is part of the reason why the news of his trade has been so underwhelming. The Dodgers became a circus, and he wasn't the reason why. We do like spectacle, and Manny was famous for two things -- hitting, and spectacle. This year, he was an ordinary hitter when he wasn't hurt (not his fault) and he wasn't a spectacle (actually to his credit, if you listen to all the people who complained about him all those years).

Manny didn't get to be Manny this year, and as we have seen with Woods, when you break the image, there is hell to pay.

That is, in truth, the only real point of commonality between the two, but the point remains the same. When a celebrity builds a persona, we want it built without doors or windows so that the persona becomes a second skin.

A quiet year doesn't make Ramirez's career less impressive, or his character less entertaining. But a Ramirez trade used to bring baseball to a dead halt, and now it seems like an afterthought.

Maybe it's because the McCourt divorce begins Monday, and there will be more cringeworthy laughs in that than Ramirez created in his entire career. Maybe it's because the Dodgers are 10 games out and showing no indication of getting any closer. Maybe it's because Ramirez hasn't been aggressive in his desire to leave. Maybe it's football season, and we've just lost interest.

But maybe Manny Ramirez isn't Manny Ramirez any more. We do tend to enjoy our caricatures long after they stop being meaningful, and he wasn't a caricature any longer. Or not enough of one, at a time when we like our caricatures more broadly drawn and easier to mock.

Like, and you'll forgive me, Tiger Woods.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area


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