Being at the ballpark for something like this is great for saying you were there, but not as great for taking an objective assessment of what happened -- especially not when you're way out in the upper rows of grandstand 3, approximately as far from the plate as any seat in the ballpark.
And I have noticed that the ballpark generally is a different world (most of the time) from the rest of the talk that surrounds the Red Sox off the field. In some cases the emotions run even higher, and in others, the bitterest arguments on the sports pages melt away so quickly it's laughable to even think of the sturm and drang you left behind at the gate.
I will also confess that I went pretty much straight from North Carolina to this game, and so missed most of the public conversation that had been going on this week.
That said, here is what I can report from being there last night: The first time Manny showed his face on deck in a Dodgers uniform at Fenway Park, around me, the boos unquestionably reigned. But as he strode to the plate and his name was announced, behind me in Grandstand 1 a whole row of guys stood and clapped, even starting a "Manny" chant.
The boos were muddied with a cheer that from my seat seemed to begin with those guys behind me, and spread in a wave over the ballpark. To this, the boo-ers responded by growing louder, and the cycle continued until the best you could say, really, about the overall sentiment of Fenway as Manny returned, was that there certainly was a whole lot of noise. Whichever side of the "to boo or not to boo" debate you fall on, it was obvious from the mixture of love and hate, rebuke and welcome, that someone important was there.
This morning, Sox superfan and photographer extraordinaire Kelly O'Connor posted a Facebook note that said, in a nutshell:
I understand the impulse to cheer him for his accomplishments. I understand the impulse to boo him for his sins. I don't understand anyone who thinks it's a clear-cut decision and that those who choose one or the other are [insert inflammatory and insulting adjective here] [actually, go for it, use a whole string of 'em].
She and I went on to hash over the whole debate in the comments on Facebook (you have to be Kelly's friend to see it, so I'll give you the Cliff's Notes).
"No, I don't think he had quit on the team in 2008--I'm well aware of the
stats showing he didn't," she wrote, to which I countered -- "There are stats on 2008, and then there's this: http://confessionalpoet.ty
And yet if you follow me on Twitter, you would've seen I was glaring daggers at two guys behind me who booed Manny as he came to the plate last night.
As I told Kelly, if I thought the boo-birds were the product of as much reflection and
intelligent thought as she displayed in her post, perhaps I might not have turned and glared at the
ones behind me last night. But I think many if not most of the boo-birds are the same
sanctimonious, self-righteous, talk-radio Kool-Aid drinkers who booed Manny when he was still the reigning World Series MVP. Maybe if they hadn't done that, I'd have given their
point of view more weight. (Also, the specific boo-birds behind me later took to chucking
peanut shells at the heads of fans ahead of us they perceived as being
TOO excited to see Manny. So they weren't exactly making a great case for the "booing" faction.)
Whatever Manny's sins, I think it does Sox fans no favors to perpetuate this drama. Johnny Damon in pinstripes is one thing. But for the rest of the 25 who won in 04, why not give the guy a hand and move on with our lives? Acknowledging his positive contributions around here does not mean we condone the reported transgressions.
While we know much of Manny's behavior, especially in 2008, was completely inexcusable, we also know the way team management / press have been accused of colluding to trash guys on their
way out of town. It even happened with Theo / Lucchino / Shaughnessy
during that whole contract dispute in 2005, where Theo was suddenly cast as an ungrateful upstart during his brief hiatus from the team. I realize there's still a
difference between Theo's situation and pushing traveling secretary Jack McCormick tothe ground, but I also think there's an
element here with fans who boo of following along with a narrative created
to serve an ulterior purpose they may not have even thought about.
The very real issues of 2008 aside, I come to this with Manny-outrage fatigue; this vilification and debate have been
ongoing since at least 2003. Of course I can't know what was in the mind and heart of every fan who booed yesterday. But I also see how a good portion of
this animosity got stirred up in the first place, and I don't trust the
motives of the people who stirred it up any more than I believe Manny's a
To which Kelly responded, quite eloquently:
I don't disagree that media manipulation goes on--but part of the purpose of my own comments is to leave that stuff OUT. I frankly don't care what Shaughnessy writes. You had observations in your own post ["Fugly", linked above] about YOUR observations of his teammates. That's not manipulation. The fact that he pushed down McCormick is not in dispute. I almost think the opposite--that people give him a pass on the big stuff because they look at the small things and think, hey, that's not so bad!
I was never worried about whether he ran out a grounder. I'll take that as the price of the rest of his ability. But I think the extent to which he let his unhappiness affect his participation on a TEAM is pathetic. To me it undercuts the love for a guy like Mike Lowell--who I think could get traded to or DFA'd and picked up by the Yankees and still get cheered at Fenway--to sweep what Manny did under the rug.
But I am not criticizing folks who cheered Manny. That's their right. I AM criticizing those who can't see why people could have the opposite reaction and still be thoughtful, sensible, loyal, smart fans.
And so I return to the "whole lot of noise" conclusion I reached at the time, and ultimately, I think Kelly and I agree more than we disagree. We both seem to be on the same wavelength, at least, when it comes to the idea of deep ambiguity as the overwhelming feeling of the moment, rather than total celebration or condemnation.
One guy I could get behind booing was Roger Clemens, who randomly showed up last night in the front row of the Monster. The only reason I knew about it was because of Gordon Edes' Twitter. Fans were mobbing Roger on the Monster between innings, and he was shown on the scoreboard screen a few times, but his appearance was a surprise to the Sox, and no announcement was made. There wasn't much reaction when he was flashed on the screen without being identified, since I'm sure most fans didn't realize it was him from that random camera shot amid the others of fans in the stands. But I would've loved a good "ROOGGG-ERRRR" chant for old times' sake.
Much more enjoyable last night than any of the Manny hoopla was the good-natured banter I witnessed between Sox fans around me and a large block of Dodgers fans who'd shown up in the lower grandstand nearby, and emboldened by their numbers, started "Let's Go Dodgers" and even "Let's Go Lakers" chants.
Boston fans responded with a booming "Let's Go Red Sox" that drowned out the first, and an even louder "BEAT LA" chant that was the refrain of the 5th inning as the Sox put up seven runs against a beleaguered Dodgers pen.
"IT GOT REALLY QUIET OVER THERE!!" hollered a guy behind me toward the Dodgers fans after the big inning had finally ended. But the LA fans bounced back again in the later innings, and the back and forth continued.
This was a less intense, dare I say more mature, form of trash talk than I'd seen at, say, Sox-Yankees games. Personally, I admired that crowd of Dodgers fans for showing up and being loud and proud, and even more for their ability to get that many seats together at Fenway for this game. After all, this is what Red Sox fans do at virtually every road ballpark the team visits. But I also appreciated the Red Sox fans for being pointed, but not vulgar, in their response (other than the peanut-shell throwers, that is). There were no brawls, no verbal altercations, no ad hominem attacks. Just the continuation of a cross-country rivalry that began in a series of epic basketball games this week and then bled through into an exciting baseball contest last night.
***As caught up as we all were in old news, whether the NBA finals just past or a reprise of the Manny circus that left town two years ago, last night there was novelty to celebrate as well, in the form of minor league callup Felix Doubront, the third-youngest lefty to start for the Red Sox in the last 29 years (this per the Fenway scoreboard trivia -- the other two were Jon Lester and Abe Alvarez). He went 5 innings and gave up 5 runs, but it was enough when backed by Boston's offensive onslaught. If we're keeping track of Fenway fans' reactions to things and whether or not we approve, let's submit for the record that Doubront received a standing ovation that dwarfed any reaction to Manny's at bats.
I also got a taste of what it might've been like for opposing fans when Manny wore a Sox uniform, as he came up against Daniel Bard in the top of the ninth with the Sox up four and two men on base. He wasn't going to be able to hit the tying or go-ahead run in that situation, but the potential of making it a one-run ballgame didn't sit well with me, either. What I felt as I watched Bard work, alternating between the ant-like live action far away on the infield and the monitors showing the NESN feed over our heads, was very real fear, the flip side of the braggadocio that used to fill the place when Manny stepped up in situations like this with a "B" under the pine tar on his helmet.
But this was not six or even three years ago. Manny in his prime might've been Bard's undoing, but in this case the youngster finally dropped the aging slugger with a curveball for a called strike three so pretty I could even see it bend from where I was sitting. "Dirty Water" sounded. "Beat LA" echoed. And it was a moment not for the past, but for the youth of our team, and its future.