The Boston Red Sox finished 2004 on top of the baseball world by raising the Commissioner’s Trophy. But this play in late July wasn’t a confidence booster.
Welcome to MannyMania, Red Sox Nation! For the rest of this week, I’ll be taking a look back at some of my favorite moments from Manny Ramirez‘s time in Boston. There have been some serious highs and head-scratching lows while we were subjected to “Manny being Manny.” While I may not hit on all of the classics in the next few days I’ll be bringing back some of the best, weirdest, and downright memorable things the slugger did.
When you look at Manny’s career the obvious thing that gets brought up is his fantastic bat skills. The man could smash a dinger to the moon without even trying. On the flip side of that coin is his highly questionable defensive abilities. When the Red Sox brought him to Boston on an 8-year/$160M deal ahead of the 2001 season, it was mainly for his hitting. The team needed to add some firepower into the lineup and Ramirez gave them exactly that.
The plate I’m talking about today didn’t consist of one player though, there was another. The aforementioned player is none other than Johnny Damon. Boston’s charismatic centerfielder was brought to town thanks to his ability to hit leadoff, swipe some bags, and make some nice catches in the field. He signed with the Red Sox for 4-years/$31M ahead of the 2002 season.
While in Beantown, Damon did exactly what he was brought there to do. Got on base, then stole some bases, and made his way across home plate. When on offense his sole job was to get on base so Boston would have some ducks on the pond for Ramirez and David Ortiz. While Johnny’s speed was useful and running down flyballs his arm didn’t quite match his skillset. This may have been a factor in the play we’re here to talk about today.
You see, in a game against the Orioles in July 2004, Damon went for a leaping catch against the wall in centerfield but came up short. He then chased down the ball and heaved it towards the cutoff man just beyond the infield. However, the ball didn’t quite make it to its target as Ramirez DOVE in front of the ball and then continued the relay. It was a disastrous move by the slugger that allowed Baltimore’s David Newhan to complete an in-the-park home run.
Damon was a recent guest on Barstool Sports’ “Section-10 Podcast,” where he relived the moment and had a great laugh at Manny’s expense. He laughingly told a story of how he was told in no uncertain terms that he was there to make the diving catches since Manny was worth so much.
This led to Johnny going further into the ridiculousness of the play since Manny didn’t dive for anything, but that was the one moment he chose to do so. If you’ve got the time and want a good laugh, the interview is fantastic and I highly recommend it. There’s also some great insight into Damon’s time before the Red Sox and what it was like hitting free agency and not getting any love from the team during negotiations.
Back to the matter at hand, this was the dictionary definition of a blunder. At this point in the game, the Sox were only down 6-4 and it was the top of the seventh, plenty of time to come back. Manny’s goof would run the score to 8-4 effectively putting the game out of reach. Boston would lose the game 10-5 and drop to 51-42 on the year.
We all know how 2004 finished and I wouldn’t change a damn thing about that season for fear of not winning it all. But at this point in the year that was not the biggest boost to my confidence in this team. I would love to hear Manny’s side of the story just to try and understand what he was thinking about in the moment, or if it was just muscle memory.
The Red Sox gave generations of fans what they’d been waiting 86 years to see that October. A World Series banner would once again be hung at Fenway Park. But in July, it felt like the “Idiots” were once again going to fumble on the one-yard line. Luckily for everyone, this goof of a play was more of a blip on the radar than a shockwave of worse things that could come. In the end, it was just another laughable chapter in the novel that was Manny being Manny.