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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MLB Lopresti column: A $70 million contract and a $70 attitude


The most compelling, important showdown of the week?

Not the Red Sox vs. Yankees, no matter how many leads they took turns blowing. Nor the Lakers vs. Suns, no matter how high the trash talk piled.

Try Fredi Gonzalez vs. Hanley Ramirez. Manager vs. star of the Florida Marlins, who rarely get much national notice. Except now.

Here is a mess that means something.

To the beleaguered manager, who should be able to go to sleep knowing his players and owner have his back on this one.

To the gifted shortstop, who needs to quickly rewire his head.

To baseball, as it struggles with a lowered bar of what effort means in a modern and moneyed world.

By now you've likely seen the clip of Ramirez jogging after a live ball with all the eagerness of a man walking into his urologist's office, while assorted Diamondbacks circled the bases.

Then came the benching by Gonzalez, then the defiant and unapologetic words from Ramirez, a talented young player with a $70 million contract and apparently a $70 attitude. The punch line was something about Gonzalez never having played in the major leagues, so where does he get off questioning a big-timer?

Well, he's the boss. But now we're getting bogged down with minor details.

Presumably, this incident will blow over. The Marlins will kiss and make up, since Florida needs a productive Ramirez if it is to stay relevant in the National League East.

But let us not miss the ripples.

Gonzalez has been under fire, and put on short lists of endangered skippers. But this was a moment of courage and judgment. This was a manager passing a test.

How do you fire him now? You can't. At least, you shouldn't.

As for Ramirez, his shin was hurting, but he kept himself on the field. Stay in the game, and your teammates have the right to expect that you'll try. Or is that asking too much from an All-Star?

Ramirez will need quick and positive action to avoid being labeled as a member of a club nobody should want to join: the spoiled athlete with too little respect for the game. Once in, it's hard to get out.

Take the time Bobby Cox yanked young Atlanta outfielder Andruw Jones in the middle of an inning because of a lazy play. "It only happened once," Braves pitcher John Smoltz said in an interview years later, "but it stigmatized Andruw."

And about the reasonable standards of full effort in today's baseball ... how often do you see this:

The hitter sends a shot to deep right, probably headed for the bleacher patrons. He ambles rather than runs out of the box, because a home run requires the proper posturing, and there is plenty of time.

Then the ball hits the wall, and suddenly there is no time, and he gets thrown out at second base. Happened to Boston's David Ortiz on Tuesday night, with the Red Sox desperate for any run to get past the Yankees.

No big deal.

"What can I do?" he shrugged to reporters later. "Turn the page."

Or this:

The hitter slaps a ground ball to second base. Easy play, supposedly. So he dials down the sprint to first, because the game is long and the day is hot.

No big deal.

Who runs hard on every ball anymore? Didn't that go out with Sunday doubleheaders?

All that can't make a manager's job easier, in an age when homers get more airtime than hustle does, and his lineup card is filled with young men who became rich and famous listening to their agents more than their coaches.

Still, there has to be a line that can't be crossed. There has to be an intolerance zone. There has to be a moment of truth.

There was one this week in Florida. Good for Fredi Gonzalez. He noticed.