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Manny Ramirez: Green, Gold and Shades of Gray

February 24, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Why does this give me such mixed feelings? Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
February 24, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Why does this give me such mixed feelings? Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

I'll admit it. I never liked Manny Ramirez. It could be perhaps the home run he belted off Zito a few years back. It could be perhaps I just don't like guys who quit on teams as Ramirez did on the Red Sox before he was dealt. I've also never been a huge fan of guys who gawk at their own home runs and Manny was famous for that. Or it might just be as simple as the fact that he wore colors other than the green and gold. Perhaps it's just that simple.

But I was reading a piece on the Jeff Carter trade in hockey and something struck me about this particular take on things.

Many times the things that make you a fierce competitor, single-minded and, especially, a winner, are not the traits of a good citizen. [...S]ome of the players I'd want in the playoffs would not pass people's or society's test. it's all about figuring out which flaws can be overcome and which cannot be overcome - and which you can live with.

I kind of love that perspective simply because none of us are perfect and it's definitely true that people who are successful in business and sports are not necessarily the best human beings. I suppose it's why you see someone like Jeremy Lin become the national phenomenon he's become. It's because when someone who is, by all reports, a "good" person has success in sport they are increasingly a rarity these days.

Now there's clearly a few caveats to all of this. First, what your definition of a "good" person actually is. Goodness and the perception of goodness can vary wildly from person to person. It's arguable that there is no absolute in terms of what "good" means. There's a little thing called moral relativism which to me is defined as morals and standards aren't absolute but are depending on people and cultures and differing perspectives. Someone might think that Bill Clinton is a good person because of the job he did as president and write off his indiscretions as a husband as a man being a man. Others might hold up those indiscretions as the ultimate implication of Clinton being a horrible human being with no moral compass. Some think murder is wrong no matter what, others are in favor of the death penalty. It's murky stuff. So let me get back on track before I start a 10,000 word discussion on Kierkegaard.

The other major caveat is that how we view our public figures and athletes comes through the filter of the media. I always use Barry Bonds as an example simply because I came to not really like the guy. And it was in part because of the repeated reports of his behavior in the clubhouse. I'll admit that a lot of it also had to do with the fact that he was a great player playing for one of my most hated teams in baseball. But I also came to believe that he did cheat, yet I couldn't hate him for that otherwise I would need to essentially throw out any kind of belief that the A's deserved that 1989 World Series title because from all reports, many wearing the green and gold cheated. See, moral relativism.

Bringing this back to Manny and the current crop of Oakland Athletics, Pedro Gomez reported the deal and essentially implied that Manny has completely changed (video is now mysteriously gone from ESPN replaced with Buster Olney essentially reciting five or six AN posts on what Beane is doing). The implication seemed to say that Manny was no longer the Manny being Manny show. That remains to be seen. But as I've gotten older I've started to believe in that Jewels from the Crown quote about winners and competitors. Over the years of my life, I've rooted for some pretty people who've done some terrible things in terms of what they do in their personal lives. Martin Brodeur, one of my all-time favorite athletes and probably the greatest goalie to ever play in the NHL in terms of longevity, consistency and winning, essentially wound up married to the sister-in-law of his first wife. Jose Canseco? Well I don't need to go into Jose's life because you all know it really well thanks to the coverage by the media. Mark McGwire? Uh, yeah.

Ultimately many sports fans have had to learn to look past the human and see our guys as essentially pixelated heroes in video games. "I don't care what the guy does outside as long as he goes Bo Jackson in Tecmobowl."

Bo Knows - crazy Tecmo Super Bowl run (via numb3rtw3nty)

That's also dangerous because where do you draw the line on who you'll cheer? As long as someone is a video game athlete, putting up insane numbers, are they allowed to do anything? Are we OK with spousal abuse? Rape? Murder even? Are we going to suddenly bring back the Roman Colosseum and let people battle to the death and cheer with a healthy bloodlust? I'd like to think that Jerry Sandusky would be universally booed no matter where he would go but if he was suddenly hired and helped someone's team win, maybe that wouldn't be the case. We're willing to overlook a lot of things if someone does good things for our team because it makes us feel good about ourselves since our connection with our teams are a part of our own identity.

I'm left to wonder as I read that Brett Anderson was mistakenly identified by the aforementioned Manny Ramirez as the video coordinator (our first harmless and amusing Manny moment), should I be rooting for Ramirez just because he could be wearing the "good guy" uniform in 2012? That he could possibly help my team win a few extra games and maybe, just maybe help teach Yoenis Cespedes how to mash the ball in MLB? Where do I draw that line? This is someone that I've completely and utterly disliked throughout his career. Actively not passively. Sure it wasn't on my the level of my Bondsian disdain but it was definitely there.

And on the day that Manny has become THE story of A's camp, I'm left to wonder what is going with me. I have children who are going to ultimately look up to some of these people. My daughter is now worshipping figure skaters like Sasha Cohen and Michelle Kwan, gobbling up their autobiographies much more quickly than a first grader should. What if she suddenly learns that about Tonya Harding and worships her skating style? I mean I would be quite a hypocrite if I told her that she couldn't be a fanatic of Harding after loving Jose Canseco as a kid, wouldn't I? And then again, I loved Jose Canseco as a kid but I haven't turned into an allegedly spousal abusing, steroid using cheater. Maybe I'm just fretting too much about it. Or maybe deep down inside I realize that it's wrong to suddenly root for someone just because their employer changed.

Regardless, my perspective has changed a lot since I started having children. Before it was essentially get my team to win and I'll love you. Don't and you become Bobby Crosby (which can be a fate worse than being in my enemy team group). Or wear another teams' colors and I can't stand you. Be a great player in another teams' colors and you're Lucifer himself. We put our athletes up on a pedestal, especially when they wear our favorite colors. Barry Bonds would still be cheered and celebrated in San Francisco. Manny Ramirez, now in green and gold, will become a hero if he hits home runs and helps the A's win some games.

I'm just wondering, will he become my hero after disliking him for so many years? I've always hated the shade of gray in the Oakland away uniforms but I've come to appreciate them because they're the only uniform the A's wear that says "Oakland" on them. I've also come to appreciate the shades of gray involving our athletes because no matter how badly I want to believe in it, it's not as simple as black and white to me any more.

Growing up is really, really hard.