Jacob Eisenberg details why October 30th, 2003 should have been the day baseball’s dynamic changed forever. It should have further enhanced the best rivalry in sports. It should have further cemented the Yankees as the “Evil Empire” in the eyes of Red Sox fans. Instead, it will simply go down in baseball history as the day the Red Sox caught a break from the baseball gods. This is because after losing to the Yankees on Aaron Boone’s 11th inning homerun in Game Seven of the ALCS, the Red Sox placed their best player, Manny Ramirez, on irrevocable waivers and remarkably watched him go unclaimed.
Although Manny Ramirez was in his prime at the age of 31 and was coming off one of the best seasons in his career, the Red Sox simply could not deal with his antics anymore. Regardless of his superstar production, several run-ins with coaches and teammates led Boston to conclude their team would benefit from getting rid of Ramirez and his “Manny being Manny” shtick — an act Red Sox fans had become all too familiar with. By placing Ramirez on irrevocable waivers, the Red Sox publicly declared they were ready to move on from Ramirez’s up-and-down three-year tenure with the team. With Ramirez on waivers, any team had a 48-hour window to claim the seven-time All-Star.
The Yankees, believed to be Ramirez’s preferred destination, had money to spend and a vacancy in the lineup for a right handed bat. From all angles the Yankees and Ramirez would have been as good a fit as any. Coming off of a World Series loss to the Florida Marlins, the Yankees were looking to acquire a big name on the open market to reinforce dominance around the league. Ramirez, who grew up in Washington Heights, NY, just minutes from Yankee Stadium, had expressed interest in joining the Yankees since his first stint as a free agent in 2000. He also had proved he could deal with a vicious media by succeeding in Boston and had always played exceptionally well at Yankee Stadium.
Most teams were scared off by Ramirez’s sizable ego. However, if any team was equipped for that ego, it was the Yankees. With Joe Torre at the helm, the Yankees had a manager with a great rapport for working with head-cases. What kept the Yankees from heavily pursuing Ramirez was General Manager Brian Cashman’s desire for the Yankees to sign one of the most exciting young players in the league- Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero, slightly younger than Ramirez at age 28, was widely considered the most desirable free agent on the market. Despite his production, Guerrero steadily flew under the radar in regards to baseball fans- due to playing with the lowly Montreal Expos for his entire career. Cashman let Ramirez go because of his confidence in being able to sign Guerrero. However, as it played out, Cashman was never granted the opportunity to sign his top choice because his boss, George Steinbrenner, took free agency into his own hands and offered Guerrero’s money to the older and bigger name in Gary Sheffield.
Yankees fans will look back to this sequence of events and ask themselves, how were Cashman and Steinbrenner on such different pages throughout this process? After all, if Shefffield’s reputation was all Steinbrenner desired, wouldn’t Ramirez’s reputation have sufficed? In baseball sense for a team with no financial restrictions, Ramirez was simply the best hitter of all three. It was presumed that Cashman preferred Ramirez to Sheffield all along. Had Cashman known of Steinbrenner’s later intentions to intervene with free agency, it is likely Cashman would have pushed harder to sign Ramirez.
Keep in mind; signing Ramirez would have been as much a gain for the Yankees as a loss for the Red Sox. After all, the most notable time the Yankees had outright bought a superstar from the Red Sox was in 1919. As some of you may know, results of that transaction gave the Yankees seven World Championships and gave Red Sox owner Harry Frazee just enough money to finance the 1920’s Broadway hit No, No, Nanette.
However, as October 31st passed and the window to claim Ramirez was shutting, the Yankees stood still- letting him return to Boston. Later that off-season, to the chagrin of Cashman, Steinbrenner passed on offering Guerrero a contract. By listening to Cashman’s advice to not pursue Ramirez and later ignoring Cashman’s pleas to offer the younger Guerrero a contract, Steinbrenner sealed his fate with Sheffield.
By passing on Ramirez, the Yankees, and the 29 other teams in the league, essentially forced Boston to give their star a second chance.
As for Ramirez’s 2004 season in Boston, it was nothing short of a career year. With 43 homeruns and 130 RBI, Ramirez led the Red Sox to their first World Series Championship since 1918 by overcoming a three game deficit to the Yankees in the ALCS. By turning down another opportunity to buy the Red Sox’s best player, The Yankees directly helped the Red Sox end “The Curse of the Bambino.”
As a side-note, the 2004 regular season MVP turned out to be Guerrero.
The 2004 postseason MVP? – You guessed it, Manny Ramirez.
Gary Sheffield never won an MVP with the Yankees. In fact, Sheffield only had two full healthy seasons in New York. In 2006, an injury to his decaying wrist forced the Yankees to bench Sheffield frequently. Ironically, the potential headaches that concerned Steinbrenner away from Ramirez were actually presented when Sheffield publicly griped about Joe Torre’s utilization of the roster following a first round elimination in the 2006 playoffs.
That offseason, Sheffield was traded to Detroit.
Eight years since their paths initially crossed on the open market, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero are once again competing for a job in free agency. In the eight years since the Yankees passed on both of them, they have combined to hit over 450 homeruns and have appeared in three World Series. While neither player can change a game quite like they were able to in 2003, both can still produce quality numbers as a designated hitter. Without Steinbrenner impeding the way, and in need of a designated hitter, it’s not inconceivable to think Brian Cashman may take a flyer on one of them for a one-year contract.
Transparently for Yankees fans, signing Ramirez or Guerrero now would be nothing more than an admission of failure… eight years ago.
Originally Published on TheFanManifesto.com on 01/30/2012