You knew it would end badly, because with Manny Ramirez, it always does. You knew there would be controversy, because with Manny, there always is. You knew there were going to be headlines and headaches and histrionics, because with Manny, there is never another choice.
But five games?
And he's out of here?
Say this for the Rays. They went through Manny in a week. It took Cleveland eight years to get fed up with him. It took nearly eight before Boston had enough. It took the Dodgers three. Heck, even the White Sox lasted 24 games.
The Rays? They managed to squeeze the Manny Ramirez story into five chapters.
In a handful of games, they got Manny showing up, Manny getting booed, Manny ducking out early, Manny's mysterious absence. In the end, they got Manny juicing and Manny quitting.
It was like the Reader's Digest version of Manny's career. Minus all of the big hits, of course.
And, hey, Manny, thanks for stopping by.
For goodness' sake, how bad would Ramirez have looked if he hadn't been juicing? As it was, he was a waste of good maple. He was 1-for-17. He hit .059. He didn't get close to an extra-base hit. And as ugly as those numbers are, they don't define the disappointment that was the final chapter of Manny being Manny.
He cheated, and he retreated. How else are we to interpret Ramirez's farewell? Faced with a positive drug test, and with a suspension of up to 100 games, Manny was out the door so fast you would swear he was trying to get a head start on the posse. No excuses, no protests, no feigned surprise at the notion of another beaker turned blue.
That's not Manny being Manny. That's Manny about to be thrown out on his Fanny.
In some ways, that's disappointing, too. In the end, Manny couldn't even be bothered to concoct a good excuse like all of the other drug cheats. Manny retired, which is another way of surrendering and saying, "Okay … you got me."
In other words, the final notions of Ramirez as a great player died in Tampa Bay. He cannot go into the Hall of Fame now. Not if you are still against the idea of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens and all of the rest belonging to the Hall.
We will never know how many of his 555 home runs were clean. We will never know how many of his 1,831 RBIs should have counted. Instead, Ramirez is destined to be remembered as part curiosity, part cartoon character. But until statisticians can decide how much of greatness comes in a needle, you cannot say Ramirez was a great player.
Certainly, he was not one in Tampa Bay. He was Juan Guzman, passing through. He was John Rocker, stopping by. He was Doc Gooden, hanging on. And while it didn't cost the Rays a lot of money, it did cost them opportunity. If they had not agreed to endure Manny's turbulence, they might have signed a different hitter. It doesn't matter who. They would probably have more than one hit by now.
Yes, there is sadness here, too. In his final days, we can only wonder how much desperation there was when Ramirez turned to drugs once again. It didn't take long for his power to fade once Ramirez was caught the first time, and it's easy to believe that this was Ramirez trying for one run at the big moments and the big money that comes along with them.
You wonder: In 20 years, will Manny's fans gather and talk of that glorious ground ball between the shortstop and third baseman on April 3? That was it, you know. That was Man-Ray's highlight. That was as good as it got.
In the end, the Rays are left to draw the same conclusion as every other place where there are Manny footprints in the clubhouse. The guy wasn't worth it. Not for a week, not for a game, not for an at-bat. That has always been Manny's legacy — a general manager sighing and saying, "What on earth was I thinking?"
I know, I know. Throughout his career, Manny has been like a bright light that it is impossible not to stare into. His power made him tempting, and his problems made him affordable. And let's face it: When the Rays brought him aboard, a lot of us — and I was as guilty as anyone — thought it could be interesting. Even at age 38, he could add a bit of pop to a weak-hitting lineup. Foolish me, I thought he was worth the risk.
On the other hand, I also thought Ramirez would last until Tax Day.
That's the shocker. He was gone so fast. Remember John Fogerty's concert after a Rays game last year? Heck, he played longer than Manny. Players have driven past the Trop and had more impact.
Already, and at last, he is gone.
One giant disappointment. Quick, too.