Manny, buddy. I love ya. You’ve been my favorite player for many years now (9, to be exact), but I have to give you some hard advice. It’s something you may not wanna hear. Maybe you think you need one more mega-contract [you don’t deserve anymore] and sell one more gas grill on eBay this offseason, but you should know when to fold ’em. It’s time to ‘hang up your spikes’ as so many players say when they retire. When we fall in love with a favorite player, we idolize them in the truest, most Biblical sense we can. They become a deity. A person who’s powers and abilities surpass what is supposed to be human. They vanquish hated enemies at the most fortuitous moments, flexing muscle the rest of us wish we had. And if we’re truly lucky in our choice of idols, they’ll smile back at us, inadvertently sharing the joy and glory with us as we scream from the other side of their reality.
As a teenager, and a basketball fan before I found and fell in love with baseball, my idol was the dynamic duo of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. While they were almost inseparable in idol status (just peep this montage), I venerated Kemp just a little bit more, because he could jump into the stratosphere in the blink of an eye. He dunked with authority I could dream of. He would not only block shots, but swat them into the 9th row back at mid-court. And when he was done with his business, he would call you out on it, show you just how badly he’d burned you.
Manny was that cat. He’d crush a homer, which he already knew was gonna end up in the player’s parking lot behind the Green Monster, and just watch it. Rub it in that pitcher’s face, the opposing team’s gut churning with ire at his cocksure trot around the bases. And then, as he crossed home plate, pointing to ‘God’ and slapping fives with his main man David Ortiz…then he would show some acknowledgement to the fans. Even if it was some goofy episode later in the game, you could tell he was having fun. The way it should be. At least, that’s the way my idyllic memories of him see it. You can argue with me all you want, but I couldn’t give a shit how much you hate Manny because he’s actually an individual in a sport and culture that appreciates conformity in behavioral constructs, such as the ‘Unwritten Rules of Baseball’. So, rant about his transgressions all you want, but I’ll be listening to my memory’s soundtrack of cheers.
Kemp, unfortunately, fell faster than Icarus. He swole up to some ungodly 300-plus pounds. He had a huge drinking problem and, purportedly, a cocaine habit, which is ironic considering the weight gain. His philandering became more prolific than his dunks. He faded out of the game like the limping tail end of a storm, almost completely unnoticed. A sad tale indeed.