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Rick Manning

January 5, 2009
 Untitled
We all live for a while in the land of might. We might go anywhere. We might become anything. When do you realize you’ve been cast out of this land? When does your what if congeal into what is? That moment seems to be happening in this 1979 card, as a melancholy Rick Manning in extreme close-up seems unable to look straight at the viewer, as if in fear that the viewer will start grilling him about why he hasn’t become the next Tris Speaker, or at the very least a less hilarious version of Mickey Rivers.

A few years earlier, in his rookie season of 1975, Rick Manning hit .285, which along with his spectacular fielding in centerfield would have earned him the rookie of the year award in most seasons. Unfortunately, he made his debut the same season as 1975 MVP Fred Lynn (not to mention Lynn’s teammate Jim Rice). The following season, Manning won a Gold Glove, upped his average to .292, and doubled his home run output from 3 to 6. Visions of even better seasons, spangled with a .300 average, 40-50 steals, and double-digit home runs, seemed not only possible but likely. “He’s the most exciting ballplayer the Indians have had in many years,” his manager Frank Robinson said in 1976, in the June issue of Baseball Digest. “I think his potential is unlimited.”

Manning stumbled in 1977, hitting just .227. At the end of that season the Indians traded away his teammate Dennis Eckersley, apparently fearing clubhouse dissension over the fact that Manning had been having an affair with Eckersley’s wife. It stands to reason that before the trade the Indians evaluated both players on what lay ahead for them, and decided that despite his disappointing 1977 campaign 22-year-old Rick Manning still owned more acreage than 22-year-old Dennis Eckersley in the land of might.

In 1978, while Eckersley was winning 20 games for his new team, the Red Sox, Rick Manning edged his average back up to .263, but in 1979, the year this card came out, he slid back a little, to .259, which turned out to be the most accurate portrait of his talents he’d ever produce in a single season, considering the .257 lifetime average he ultimately finished with after 13 quiet seasons at or near the basement of the American League East.

As Rick Manning’s career was drawing to a close, Dennis Eckersley also seemed to be just about through playing professional baseball. In 1987, Manning’s final season, Eckersley was traded with someone named Dan Rohn to the A’s for three minor leaguers. It wasn’t the kind of deal that had any might in it. Just bodies replacing other bodies. But as most baseball fans know, in Oakland Eckersley was moved to the bullpen, and he proceeded to have a promising season, his first in years. The A’s must have thought, correctly as it turned out, “Hey, we just might have something here.” This is the haunting thing about the land of might. Even after we’ve been cast out we’re never sure when to stop hoping we might be able to return.

***

(These thoughts on Rick Manning began when I noticed him on the cover of the aforementioned June 1976 Baseball Digest while perusing the complete Baseball Digest archives. Thanks to John Rosenfelder at earbender for giving me a heads-up about this amazing new online baseball time machine.)

15 comments

  1. 1.  I think Manning was affected by the affair more than anything. Eck was a drunk that found a new life when he sobered up. Manning just went into neutral for some reason. I think he was trying to do too much with his talent as well.

    But I always rooted for him.


  2. 2.  Wow, every page of every Baseball Digest for free. That is great. I’ve also been noticing lately that on Google News search, you get a lot more newspapers in that same style, where you can actually see the page and scroll around. It’s so much cooler to read the old sports sections as they were laid out as opposed to just transcripts.


  3. 3.  1 : Oddly enough, Manning owned Eck:

    http://tinyurl.com/9w3prg

    2 : The chilling thing about the thoughts on Manning in the ’76 Digest was that they reminded me in both specific language (e.g., “exciting”, “electrifying”) and in projected stats of the hopeful thoughts about our current centerfielder. Is Jacoby Ellsbury doomed to be the next Rick Manning?


  4. 4.  I read Frank Robinson: The Making of a Manager, the chronicle of his 1975 managerial debut with the Tribe, when it first came out in 1976. I remember thinking afterward that Eck, Manning, and Rick Waits were all going to be big stars.

    And that Gaylord Perry was a pain in the ass. Frank Robinson managing Gaylord Perry. That just wasn’t going to work, was it?


  5. 5.  Smed, you’re not from Indy are you? There’s used to be a guy named SmedIndy who hung out at NDF.


  6. 6.  I could have sworn I had every card in 1979, but I don’t remember Rick Manning’s card. Is it possible I’m starting to forget every card from my childhood?? In any case, I found this odd tidbit about Manning:

    “During his career in Milwaukee (1987), with help from Ralph Bruno, made popular the famous “Cheese Head” worn by many Green Bay Packer football fans.”

    Depressingly, Manning only had one year (1976) with an OPS+ over 101 and never slugged .400 as a regular. He must have had a hell of a glove.


  7. 7.  Just about the most exciting thing that happened to me as a kid in 1979 or 1980 was having Baseball Digest publish my letter to the editor, objecting to its player of the year rankings. Seeing your name in print in your favorite magazine as a 12 year old is an amazing experience.


  8. 8.  I found the letter! Its the first full letter at this link: http://tinyurl.com/8fmqpg

    Its the one that says the player of the year rankings were “terrible.” Such strong language for a 12 year old!

    By the way, Josh, those CDs will be mailed shortly.


  9. 9.  Manning is now the analyst on the Indians’ TV games. He’s an old-school kind of guy (i.e. seems to have no knowledge of sabermetrics), but that said, he’s not half bad.


  10. 10.  8 : Sweet. How dare they underrate Kent Tekulve!


  11. 11.  Dan Rohn! In my increasingly hazy memory, Dan Rohn was the Cubs’ perennial September call-up, for about five years in row. He was going take over for the Penguin at 3B. But that never happened because Dan Rohn wasn’t even as useful as the declining Penguin.

    Consulting the historical record, he was only called up twice.


  12. More on the “Cheesehead” story:

    If you go to the “Cheesehead” entry in Wikipedia, it mentions a game vs. the White Sox in 1987 as the original display. This was game 13 of the Brewers record setting winning streak to start a season. I was at this game as a 13 year old and remember the cheesehead as well as copious amount of beer spilled on us and other Brewer fans from the upper deck.

    While attending the Brewers Fantasy Camp, I mentioned this story to my roommate. He didn’t believe me, so we looked it up and saw the Rick Manning connection.

    Rick was one of the coaches at the camp and on the final night at the banquet, I was seated next to him. He’s a great guy by the way. During the meal I asked him if the story was true and found out some more information.

    According to Rick, at the end of his career, in ‘86 and ‘87 with Yount starting to play CF and all the young guys coming up he wasn’t getting
    much playing time. As the vet on the team he was in charge of the kangaroo court.

    One of the “awards” was the “Cheesehead”. This was a foam cheesehead, much like what we have now. It was given to a player who struck out 3 times. With Rob Deer on the team, it was given out often.

    Eventually they wrote three K on the side of the cheesehead to symbolize the award. Of course they didn’t think about what they were really writing and eventually it made it on TV and Rick got a call from Bud Selig telling him to remove the KKK hat.


  13. I still remember the headline as an 8 year old in cleveland, ‘wife swapping in the wigwam’……i had no idea what it meant at the time, and i am just going to pretend it didn’t because Eckersly, Manning, Kuiper, Bell were my heroes and I want to bury my head in the sand. To clear the record kuip and bell had no part in the sordid affair. I skipped the article and went right to the box score.

    Manning’s career and potential was too cut short by a broken leg that year in 1977 when he hit .227. Sigh. Another what could have been.

    Interestingly, in 1976 he batted 3rd frequently. He was the fastest player on the team (followed by kuiper and lowenstein).

    He was also known for ‘swiggling’ his hips as we waited for the pitch.

    I remember the first game I ever attended he leaped above the CF fence and took a homer away from some whitesock to save the game. A baseball memory to last forever, thanks Rick! That was way before espn watered down the play by showing highlights every hour. Everything was special as a kid.


  14. OMG thank you for link to the baseball digest with RICK MANNING on the cover. That surely would have been on my wall had I seen it back then. To add some more quotes from frank robinson on manning in that edition:

    Added Robinson: “He covers a tremendous area in the outfield and throws strong and accurately. Not too many hits are going to fall into the gaps with him out there.”

    Defense is Manning’s strong point. He plays the shallow center field that managers love to see becaue he can cut off short flyballs yet gallop back to get the long ones.

    “Once Manning gets his feet on the ground, he can hit between .270 and .310. Steal 40 to 50 bases and hit 10 to 15 homers. It may sound trite, but I think his potential is unlimited”

    Not sure what was implied by feet on the ground comment, perhaps alluding to staying focused and keeping his hands off other players wives. (note to self, stop thinking about your heroes being bad, it just makes you more jaded and cynical)


  15. Josh—Thanks for the Baseball Digest link. That is a great photo of Rick Manning on the cover. Check out the photo of Rod Carew on p.17 of that issue. The force of his swing has sprung his afro and he is about to make a one-handed catch of his afro-propelled helmet.



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