Book Review: Becoming Manny

Author manage to explain the unexplicable Manny

Of all of today's baseball superstars, is there anyone about whom we know less than Manny Ramirez?

You could argue that Vladimir Guerrero is as much an enigma, but unlike Guerrero, Ramirez doesn't really hide from the spotlight. He's "Manny Being Manny," the lightning rod of controversy that had to be traded out of Boston only to turn into a Dodgers fan favorite.

But go beyond the home runs and high batting average and beyond the fielding blunders and the injuries that he may or may not have suffered from and we don't know nearly as much about Ramirez as we do about Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia or Albert Pujols.

A lot of that is because Ramirez seems to want it that way. He's never been the player to open up to reporters, and many of his actions seem to defy explanation.

But "Becoming Manny" tries to step into that gulf, and it largely succeeds by telling the story of how Ramirez' grew up in the Dominican Republic and New York City and how that upbringing shaped the man he's become. Authors Jean Rhodes and Shawn Boburg got to know Ramirez and his family, getting them to open up in a way that we've rarely if ever seen in newspaper or magazine interviews with Ramirez.

Rhodes and Boburg talked to his mother, his sisters, his relatives, his teachers, his coaches and his mentor Macao. They also interviewed seemingly everyone else they could track down who had interacted with the future star. They even go back to his boyhood apartment in New York City, where the current residents happily point out the only remaining remnant from Ramirez' time there—an old towel hook.

Because of the weight of the reporting, "Becoming Manny" excels at telling the story of what Ramirez was like as a kid—somewhat shy, easy going but just as odd as he is today. By now you may not be surprised to know that no one in Ramirez' family was aware that he would be drafted, let along a first-round pick—baseball just seemed to be a fun way for him to spend his days.

It doesn't make excuses for Ramirez' sometimes immature behavior, but it does try to put a human face on his strengths and weaknesses. And the book explains well how close Ramirez was to becoming just another good high school athlete who never did anything more with his talent.

But just as the book is hitting its high point, explaining Ramirez' climb to the big leagues, it starts to run out of steam. While Rhodes and Boburg can tell the unknown story of Ramirez' background, they don't have a lot of original insight into Ramirez as a big league star. The book covers his quickly regretted decision to leave the Indians to sign as a free agent with the Red Sox, his playoff success there and his subsequent trade to the Dodgers, but there isn't a lot of insights that will change your mind as to what happened last summer.

But the first two-thirds of the book makes it work the purchase and worth the read. You'll have a much better understanding of how Ramirez has reached this point, even if he'll still likely make you shake your head.