GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE: Manny Ramirez has signed a minor league contract with the Oakland A's. My Three reactions to this, in reverse order of relevance:
1) THANK GOD. Manny Ramirez is unquestionably a nut, but baseball is more interesting with the nuts around. Sports are supposed to be fun, and Ramirez was fun, even if it was only in the "fun to hate" sense.
2) This is pretty much the prototypical "Moneyball" signing. For a long list of reasons- most of which aren't really about what he can do on the field- most teams don't want Ramirez, even at a steep discount. But, he may still have some productivity in him. And since no other team wants him, the As get to find out just how much productivity for about the cost of a lottery ticket. This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.
3) This shows you just how hard it is to quit this game. Ramirez almost certainly has nothing else to do with himself. He never developed any outside skills; he never needed to. The usual roles for former athletes- coaching, broadcasting, etc.- are almost certainly closed to Ramirez, as well. His skills were always instinctive and ephemeral; he can't teach it or explain it.
So, I can't blame him for wanting to delay the inevitable, for wanting to wring every possible second of baseball out of his body before it becomes impossible for him to continue. In fact, he reminds me of Rickey Henderson, who famously ended up in some beach ball league in San Diego or something, just trying to play a little longer, maybe get one more look from a major league scout. It wasn't just that these guys have nothing else to do; they have nothing else they want to do. Baseball was the defining aspect of their lives, it validated them. After enough years of that, they really do think baseball is an incredible part of their lives.
It's ironic; Henderson and Ramirez were both, in their time, held up as pretty good examples of what was wrong with pro athletes. But in the twilight of their careers, they're willing to take extreme pay cuts and endure intense humiliation for the one thing we like most about athletes: unbridled love of the game.