By Howard Ulman
BOSTON - The Manny Ramirez era in Boston is over, his homers and headaches shipped far, far away to Los Angeles.
Good riddance to a clubhouse cloud? Or good gosh, how could the Red Sox trade a future Hall of Famer and still powerful cleanup hitter with a pennant race heating up?
They’ ll find out in the next two months if Jason Bay, obtained from Pittsburgh in a three-team trade Thursday to take Ramirez’ s spot in left field, can help them reach the postseason with the on-field punch but without the off-field distractions that marked Ramirez’ s nearly eight seasons in Fenway Park.
Ramirez was MVP of the 2004 World Series, when the Red Sox won their first championship in 86 years. But hustling to first base on grounders often seemed too much of a chore.
He hit 45 homers in 2005 and then asked to be traded after the season.
In 2006 he hit .321 and then said again he didn’ t want to play for Boston.
But he was back in 2007 when he played in another lineup that won the championship. In spring training that year he provided some levity when he tried to sell on eBay a gas grill that had cost him $4,000. And he switched plans to attend an auction in Atlantic City, N.J., where one of his cars was for sale when the Red Sox urged him to report to camp instead.
Then there were comical moments — Manny high-fiving a fan in the stands after making a catch at the wall, Manny rolling on top of a ball that he didn’ t catch and then laughing after picking it up, Manny opening the door of the left-field scoreboard and going inside during pitching changes.
He appeared happy in spring training and interacted with reporters more than in the past. He was friendly and polite. Even chatty. The inspirational book “The Secret” seemed to have changed him into a very positive thinker who was convinced he would have such a good season that the Red Sox would have no choice but to pick up his $20 million option for 2009.
“It’ s about life,” he said. “It’ s good. You should read it. Go and buy it.”
In the same interview, he also said he was happy in Boston.
“Hey, this is the place to be,” Ramirez said. “I want to finish my career here.”
Not going to happen.
Not after the Red Sox sent him to the Dodgers and outfielder Brandon Moss and reliever Craig Hansen to Pittsburgh for Bay. The Pirates also obtained third baseman Andy LaRoche and pitcher Bryan Morris from the Dodgers.
The 29-year-old Bay was hitting .282 with 22 homers and 64 RBIs. He is a two-time All-Star and seven years younger than Ramirez.
For much of the day, reports focused on the Florida Marlins obtaining Ramirez in a three-team deal that would bring Bay to the Red Sox. That fizzled and the deal with the Dodgers was done.
Curt Schilling saw how rapidly things changed with Ramirez.
“The hard part for me was this derailed into a train wreck so quick, so fast, and so oddly,” the Boston pitcher, out for the season after shoulder surgery, said on WEEI radio Thursday morning. “You had the Buddha Zen Master guy in spring training, reading and ‘ life is good, don’ t worry be happy’ , and it just looked like he was poised to have a monster season. Physically he worked his butt off.
“At the end of the day, you’ re taking the field with a guy who doesn’ t want to play with you, doesn’ t want to be there, doesn’ t want to … obviously effortwise is just not there, and that’ s disheartening and disappointing.”
Ramirez paved his way out of town, perhaps intentionally, by a recent series of actions unprecedented even in his checkered history.
“The Red Sox don’ t deserve a player like me,” he said Wednesday in an interview with ESPNdeportes.com. “During my years here I’ ve seen how they have mistreated other great players when they didn’ t want them to try to turn the fans against them.
“The Red Sox did the same with guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez, and now they do the same with me. Their goal is to paint me as the bad guy. I love Boston fans, but the Red Sox don’ t deserve me. I’ m not talking about money. Mental peace has no price, and I don’ t have peace here.”
On Sunday, Ramirez criticized the Red Sox, telling ESPNdeportes, “I’ m tired of them. They’ re tired of me.”
Two days earlier, he was scratched from the starting lineup when he said his right knee was sore. MRIs later that day on both knees “came back fine,” manager Terry Francona said.
Ramirez knocked down team traveling secretary Jack McCormick in the visitors’ clubhouse before a game in Houston when he asked for tickets, the Providence Journal reported.
And he told the Boston Herald during the All-Star break he wanted to know what his situation was and he didn’ t want the club to “tell you one thing and behind your back they do another thing.” Red Sox owner John Henry said he found that “personally offensive.”
Ultimately, the Red Sox decided that wasn’ t worth the power Ramirez brought to the lineup — a .299 batting average with a team-high 20 homers and 68 RBIs this season. For his career in Boston, he was fifth in team history with 274 homers, sixth with 868 RBIs and ninth with a .312 average.
The Red Sox had tried to unload the remainder of his eight-year, $160 million contract after the 2003 season when they placed him on waivers. No team claimed him. Then they tried to trade him for Alex Rodriguez. That didn’ t work out either.
Now he’ s taking his slugging to the West Coast. The Dodgers will soon find out if he left his strange behavior behind.