A week before Boston traded Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers late last July, the relationship between the Red Sox and their left fielder had grown so contentious and strained that the club was prepared to take the extraordinary step of suspending its best hitter, ESPN has learned.
According to multiple sources, Boston management had drafted an official letter of suspension for Ramirez, and delivered it to him at Fenway Park at around 11 p.m. on Friday night, July 25. For the second straight game, Ramirez had refused to play that evening, and the Red Sox lost 1-0 to the rival New York Yankees in front of a boisterous and sold-out home crowd.
The letter informed Ramirez that the suspension was to go into effect the next day, Saturday, July 26. It said Ramirez was being suspended without pay for being unwilling to play. Copies of the letter were also sent to Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras.
Suspensions in baseball are not unusual for players who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs or who are involved in fights during a game. It is extremely rare for a player to be suspended, or threatened with such a suspension, for refusing to play.
Within two hours after Ramirez received the letter of suspension, the Red Sox received two calls, according to sources. The first call was from one of Ramirez's teammates. He told a member of Boston's front office that Ramirez would play in Saturday afternoon's game against the Yankees. Within minutes, the second call came in from Ramirez himself, who confirmed that he would be available for Saturday's game.
Ramirez, who has been vacationing with his family in Brazil, did not return several messages. Members of the Red Sox's front office refused to discuss the subject. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he was unaware of Boston's potential suspension of Ramirez.
Boras disputed the assertion that his star client was going to be suspended, citing the fact that Ramirez played in 22 of 24 Red Sox games in July and batted .347 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in the month.
"The bottom line is he was never suspended and there was never cause for suspension,'' Boras said. "The fact is the intent to suspend is not a suspension."
For weeks leading up to the July 31 trading deadline, Ramirez had been complaining of pain in his right knee. After he told Boston manager Terry Francona that his knee was too sore to play on July 25, the Red Sox's front office ordered an MRI exam during that night's game against the Yankees.
But on the way to the exam, Ramirez, according to sources, couldn't remember which knee was sore. So the Red Sox had both of his knees examined. The MRIs revealed no damage in either.
The backdrop for the problems in Ramirez's relationship with the Red Sox was his contract situation. In 2001, Ramirez, now 36, signed an eight-year, $160 million deal with Boston that also included two option years at $20 million per season.
The 2008 season was the eighth year of the contract, and Ramirez made few attempts to disguise his desire to become a free agent when it ended, believing he could sign a more lucrative deal. He did not want the Red Sox to pick up the option years.
A number of incidents earlier in the season added to the tension between Ramirez and the Red Sox. Just after the All-Star break, Boston was swept in Anaheim, a series in which Ramirez reached base in eight of his 13 plate appearances. But late on Sunday afternoon, July 20, as the team was leaving Anaheim for Seattle, he initially refused to board the charter flight. Sources said he told the Red Sox that his knees were so sore, he couldn't play for three weeks.
He eventually boarded the flight and played in the first two games against the Mariners, reaching base in six of the 10 times he stepped to the plate, before telling Francona his right knee was too sore to play on July 23.
On June 28, Ramirez shoved 64-year-old traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the ground inside Houston's Minute Maid Park clubhouse after Ramirez was told McCormick might not be able to accommodate his 16-ticket request.
On June 5, Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis briefly tangled in the Red Sox dugout, reportedly because Youkilis objected when Ramirez had been slow to come out of the dugout earlier in the game after Coco Crisp was hit by a pitch, and both benches emptied.
Finally, at the trading deadline, the Red Sox traded Ramirez to the Dodgers in a three-way deal that also included Pittsburgh and brought left fielder Jason Bay to Boston. The Red Sox agreed to pay the remaining $7 million of Ramirez's contract owed for this season.
Pedro Gomez is a reporter for ESPN.