04 July 2009


Why should I cheer for him? A walk? Okay, that's a good thing. That walk helped glue together that big inning --- without it, and many other clutch and fortunate moments, the Dodgers would have scored not at all. So yeah, that walk was good, made better by the circumstances, but that's all there was. The other three plate appearances were weak outs, and he was gone by the sixth inning. Replaced by a man who made a catch at the wall in the late innings when the game was still in doubt. Would he have made that catch? I don't know, that's getting to far into conjecture, and down that road lies only ruin, especially when it concerns him. So a walk, and 0-3 otherwise, barely an imprint on the game, really. So why should I cheer for him?

Because he came back. Yes, and so? His exile was of his own sour making. One cannot invoke misfortune, as of the player who is struck down by random injury, and one cannot invoke heroic redemption, as of the player who falls due to his own extraordinary efforts and then strives mightily to return. I find no cause to judge the man, or think poorly of him, even, but the exile and return must be characterized as it is. It is a suspension for wrongdoing, and he returns now because his suspension is served, and I will cheer when he does something great, and not one moment sooner. Manny must earn his adulation, and I have no doubt he will earn it, and I will give it without reservation, when the time comes. I have no patience for sentimentality or sanctimony, meaning: that I will not praise him just for showing up again in Dodger blue; and I will not curse him as a convenient vessel for all the anger and uncertainty we have over the era of performance enhancing drugs.

It is a different team now. Manny has been a comet through the Dodger firmament. Two months of glory in the heady days of first knowing Manny at the ascendant end of 2008, then a postseason of inflicted terror, then a tense spring of negotiation, a triumphant return, 21-8, and then --- silence. Half a year, half a season of games, and we hardly know him, but still we love him. He is an enigma now, and an enigma forever, I suppose. Manny being Manny, a statement which means nothing, or perhaps everything --- a zen koan for the modern age. And yet, for 50 games, he was Manny being nothing, he was an enigma wrapped in silence. The Dodgers were 29-21, still a good team, even a great team at times. In the words of Vinny, the game is larger than one man.

So much happened while you were gone, Manny. The season is more without him than with him. We got to know Juan Pierre again, as if for the first time. We would say, maybe, that he finally got off on the right foot with us, after two years of trying, and failing. In truth he is the same slap-hitting Juan Pierre we have always known, but for the that first month of base hits and RBIs he was there and Manny was not. That's really what it comes down to, for me, finally, after not thinking about it much for 50 games. You weren't there, Manny, and it's your own damn fault. I accept your punishment, and I accept your enigmatic apology, and I accept your return. I accept that there are things we will never know, about you and many other players of this age. I accept that you may struggle for a time. I accept your presence on the Dodgers, even though it may cause controversy and attacks from the moral guardians of the game. I accept all of it.

But I don't cheer any of it. I cheer for performance.

And isn't that the problem? Does that mean that I am cheering, however indirectly, for the use of the drugs that may enhance that performance? I don't know. This is an unsettling riddle that I cannot unravel. I think I have to accept that too.

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