It always ends ugly for Manny Ramirez.
It can't ever be easy. It can't ever be classy. It can't ever be professional.
It can't be the kind of sweet, nostalgic, affectionate exit that true superstars, true Hall of Famers, deserve.
No, with Manny, apparently, it's always got to be none of the above.
In Boston, the knee starts hurting. Might be the left knee. Might be the right knee. He's really not sure. But it's too much of an effort to take that long, transcontinental trip from home plate to first base in less than 18 seconds. Because that knee must be hurting. Yeah, that's the ticket.
And in L.A., it's a calf. At least we know for certain it's the right calf. We got that part narrowed down. It's a calf issue, followed by a hamstring issue, followed by another calf issue. All leading to 77 games out of the lineup, 65 games missed this year in all. Culminating in a bizarre one-pitch ejection on a strange Sunday afternoon that finally pushed yet another team to decide it had had enough, seen enough.
So what do we have here? We have Ramirez's Dodgers career ending Monday much the way his Red Sox career ended. With one more employer saying: "Please, just go away. Please." What a coincidence.
In Boston two years ago, the Red Sox were just thrilled somebody would take the guy -- and all his money and all his headaches. And now, in L.A., it's essentially the same deal. A few days ago, the Dodgers still weren't sure whether they wanted to trade Manny at all. But by Monday, they were just delighted to make him disappear.
See a pattern in there anyplace?
By the end, the Dodgers literally felt betrayed by this man. And why wouldn't they?
He showed up at Chavez Ravine in 2008, charmed them, carried them to the big Octoberfest and just about took over the entire franchise. It's still mind-blowing to look at his numbers in those last two months of '08, Manny's first two months as a Dodger, and realize what he did:
A .396 batting average? A .743 slugging percentage? A .489 on-base percentage? Seventeen homers, 31 extra-base hits in only 53 games, only 187 at-bats? Whoa. No other trade-deadline acquisition in history has ever had a finish like that. None. You could look it up.
So it was easy for the Dodgers to forget how Manny Ramirez wound up in their town. What did it matter to them how he schemed his way out of Boston? What mattered was that he loved L.A. and L.A. loved him. And it made the Dodgers do something they never should have done:
They showed enough faith in him to give him two years and $45 million worth of love -- at a time when there didn't appear to be a single other team seriously bidding on him.
And how did that work out?
Five weeks into that contract, they got a positive PEDs test out of it, accompanied by an amusing little alibi about that female fertility drug that showed up in his system -- an alibi that essentially said: "It's all my dopey doctor's fault."
And after that day, Manny Ramirez was never the same guy. He was certainly never the guy they paid $45 million for. Is there any dispute about that?
How could a true Hall of Famer be whisked out of town like this in two places? Not a lot of Hall of Famers get put on outright waivers -- just take the contract and he's yours -- two different times, the first time when he's still in his prime, right? You don't see that a whole lot.
”-- A National League executive
on Manny Ramirez
Remember, on the day he got suspended, he was hitting .348, with a .492 OBP, .641 SLG, six homers and 15 extra-base hits in only 92 at-bats. He was never that hitter again.
In the next season and a half, Dodgers manager Joe Torre would get to write Manny's name on his lineup card only 126 more times -- out of a total of 264 games. So that computes to more absence that presence. And that became a problem in and of itself.
And how 'bout when Manny was present, when he did make it into that batter's box? He dropped off just enough to make you wonder how helpful a female fertility drug could be to a man with a bat in his hands.
After he returned in July 2009, you'll recall, he hit a pedestrian.269 the rest of the season. His slugging percentage dropped by nearly 150 points, his OBP by more than 100 points.
Oh, he still had his moments. He was still more of a threat than, say, Blake DeWitt. But the magic act? That was over.
And this year? The raw numbers -- .311/.405/.510 -- look pretty darned attractive. But beyond the numbers, the Dodgers began to notice something: Manny was growing less interested in playing the field than he'd ever been. And the more he played, the faster he wore down -- or broke down.
There were three stays on the disabled list. There was a not-so-triumphant return in July that lasted, basically, one game (plus a cameo pinch-hit appearance the next day), followed by another disappearing act, for more than a month. So there were weeks and weeks that went by without him, and a growing sense that Manny wasn't exactly hell-bent to make it back.
And that just set the stage for his surreal not-so-grand finale. One start in Dodger Stadium. Two starts in Milwaukee. Then four straight games on the bench -- including an entire weekend series in Colorado -- that were not, contrary to popular opinion, just about trying to keep him healthy before his trade to the White Sox. They were about everybody concluding -- including Ramirez himself, obviously -- that he simply wasn't capable of being a National League player anymore.
And his final chapter? That was an all-time classic, even for Manny. One pitch. One "strike one" call that wasn't to his liking. One burst of visible agitation. And one unceremonious ejection from the premises -- after one pitch.
OK, so maybe the plate umpire, Gary Cederstrom, was a little quick to run him. OK, so maybe Manny never used any words we would have to delete if we were recapping them to Hannah Montana.
But we've talked to enough people who were in the park to deduce that Manny wasn't particularly enthused to be out there and that he displayed just enough histrionics to make that apparent.
"I'll say this," said one baseball man in attendance. "I've seen him get calls like that many times, on other pitches early in an at-bat, where he'd just smile, shake his head, tap home plate with his bat three times and get back in there. So if he wanted to be up there, he'd have gotten back in and tried to drive in a run with the bases loaded.
"The guy is one of the best run producers of the last 15 years. So why would he do something to get himself boxed after one pitch? He's been around long enough. I think he'd know what line he can't cross to not get tossed. But he crossed it anyway."
Yes, he did. But he also crossed a much bigger line Sunday -- the line that drove his team to decide it could no longer justify keeping him around for even one more day.
So off Manny goes to Chicago, where he can DH for a month, yuk it up with Ozzie Guillen, get his 2011 contract campaign rolling and try to make his new team -- and the rest of us -- overlook the messy trip he just took down another club's exit ramp.
And maybe he will. Maybe he'll get just enough big hits, and put on just enough of that phony lovable-Manny act, that he'll have plenty of employment opportunities this winter.
But we'll see. Sooner or later, no matter how talented a hitter a guy might be, people begin to catch on. So we'll find out, in the weeks and months ahead, exactly how many people have caught on to Manny's act.
For now, though, we're left to scratch our heads and wonder why it always has to end this way. Players change teams all the time in this game. Only Manny chooses to do it like this.
As it became apparent Sunday night that this was the final chapter in this guy's L.A. Story, a friend of mine sent me an e-mail posing this powerful question:
"Can you truly be a Hall of Famer, with or without steroid taint, if you're run out of so many cities?"
Now maybe, in reality, he was only "run out of" two cities. But it's still a fascinating question. So I asked it of one NL executive I spoke with Monday.
"How," he replied, "could a true Hall of Famer be whisked out of town like this in two places? Not a lot of Hall of Famers get put on outright waivers -- just take the contract and he's yours -- two different times, the first time when he's still in his prime, right? You don't see that a whole lot."
Nope. You sure don't. But some folks just have that knack.
It's a gift. It's Manny Ramirez's gift. And unfortunately for a Dodgers team that found out the hard way, it's a gift he just keeps on giving.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.