Manny Ramirez was released from the Texas Rangers late Tuesday night, just days after reports that Randy Moss is close to signing a deal to become an analyst for Fox Sports. It appears as if both should be future Hall of Famers (more on this later) and are done playing in a professional setting. Let’s look back at two of the most dynamic athletes – and personalities – in Boston sports history.
A yin-yang. That’s the first image that comes to mind when I think of Randy Moss and Manny Ramirez together. I’m not sure why this is the case, but I have a feeling the sentiment goes beyond wonky catchphrases (“Manny being Manny” and “Straight cash, homie”), and the coincidence of their inverted initials (M.R. and R.M.). It’s strange that because they played in different sports, associating Ramirez and Moss never seemed appropriate; even though, given how each performed, behaved and ultimately flamed out in Boston – it’s actually totally appropriate.
Beginnings and endings
Their arrivals couldn’t have been more dissimilar: One was coined a savior to a franchise haunted by a fictional curse, signing a ginormous eight-year, $160-million contract; the other was considered to either be a final piece to another title in an already historic dynasty, or a low-risk flyer that came with the cost of a mere fourth-round draft pick.
Meanwhile, each player’s exile felt more like a binding banishment than a trade. By the end, the Patriots and Red Sox didn’t want Ramirez and Moss traded as much as each franchise wanted the players gone, never to be seen again. And could you blame them?
Moss had a shouting match with then-offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien during halftime of an early-season Monday Night Football game in Miami; Manny, among other incidents, physically assaulted the Red Sox traveling secretary, a 64-year-old named Jack McCormick, for not supplying him with enough tickets to a game in Houston.
The gifted children
The compelling part, of course, is what happened in-between the hopeful beginning and bitter conclusion to their careers in Boston. Because, for all the baggage, drama, ire, confusion, pain and frustration each produced, when these two athletes were on top of their game, it was unlike anything else in sports – it was a spectacle. That isn’t hyperbole, or an overstatement of any kind. It’s just the truth.
Think about it: Every time Ramirez stepped to the plate, it felt like an event. And when the dude made contact, all of New England collectively raised their eyebrows, unified in awe, while internally thinking, “My God – how far will the ball go this time?” I legitimately used to think Man-Ram would eventually hit a scorcher that would break through the Green Monster. Obviously, that feat wasn’t physically possible, but that’s also the point – Manny made it feel possible.
On the other side, attending "Rand University" (the fictional institution Moss made up for no rhyme or reason, because he’s Randy Moss and everything he did seemed arbitrary) felt just as electric. In 2007 – the year Moss broke the record for most receiving touchdowns in a single season – every time Tom Brady cocked his arm back to heave a ball downfield, our hearts raced and our palms became sweaty, because you knew Moss was on the other end of the pass, just as you knew, no matter how many defensive backs were flanking him, he’d come down with the reception.
The “L” word
Championship teams are made up of underrated role players (Kevin Faulk and Orlando Cabrera), general leaders (Jason Varitek and Tom Brady), specialty clutch guys (Big Papi and Adam Vinatieri) and then the phenoms (our two subjects, Man-Ram and Moss). The legacy of each player is complicated. After being traded from the Patriots and Red Sox respectively, both held on for far too long. And both also had run-ins with Johnny Law. But those transgressions don't subtract from what each accomplished in his prime while on the field.
Oddly enough, despite never winning a championship, Moss seems to be a surefire bet to make the Hall of Fame. In addition to holding the record for most receiving touchdowns in a single season, he ranks second all-time in career receiving touchdowns -- behind the great Jerry Rice -- and ninth in most receptions all-time. Brett Favre described it best when he said, “There is no one in this league who puts fear in people more than Randy Moss.”
Ramirez’s situation is more complicated. He has two World Series rings and was the series MVP of the 2004 Red Sox team that broke the Curse. Throughout his career, Manny led the league in slugging percentage three times and finished in the top-five eight other times. Defensively, Manny was sneakily adept at handling the Green Monster in right field. Most importantly, in my eyes, he was unquestionably the greatest hitter of his generation. Unfortunately, this is a generation, mind you, that is severely tainted by the steroid era, and Manny was issued a 100-game suspension after violating MLB’s drug policy twice. You can’t erase history, however, and Manny’s dominance, albeit in a controversial era, can’t simply be swept under the rug without discounting the entire period.
Regardless of how you feel about each player, I’ll say this: It goes without saying that no two people, never mind athletes, are exactly the same. While Manny and Moss are not an exception to this statement, the excitement and frustration each provided felt especially distinguished. Sweaty palms. Racing hearts. Raised eyebrows. That’s what I’ll remember. Unpredictability never felt so riveting.
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