There should be no confusion about the notion that Bay cannot literally replace Ramirez. Ramirez, for all his idiosyncratic behavior, for all his damaging behavior at the end of his tenure in Boston, is going to the Hall of Fame. Bay is better in the outfield than Ramirez, but that's both easily said and easily accomplished and is still not the primary issue.
The lineup difference was summarized by Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who reported on a conversation he had with David Ortiz before Friday night's game at U.S. Cellular Field.
"I told Big Papi: 'Be ready for walks,'" Guillen reported with a smile.
Without Ramirez protecting him from the cleanup spot, there is no doubt that Ortiz will see fewer hittable pitches. But for the Red Sox that tradeoff may be a relatively small price to pay.
Guillen was quick to add of the Red Sox: "They still have a hell of a lineup." His pitchers might be more relaxed going against a Boston lineup that did not include Ramirez, Guillen acknowledged, but that did not mean that the Red Sox were no longer a very difficult assignment.
The White Sox defeated the Red Sox, 5-3, on Friday night behind a superb pitching performance from Mark Buehrle. Bay, who is hitting .400 in his first seven games with Boston, went 1-for-4, getting a single, striking out twice and flying out to the warning track in right in the ninth.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona, asked about trying to compensate for Ramirez's departed run production, basically replied that if the rest of his players stayed with the existing game plan at the plate, the Red Sox would still be all right. The tactic there is to do what you can do, not fixate on replacing Ramirez's remarkable production.
"If we swing at strikes and keep the line moving, we're going to be OK offensively," Francona said. "If guys swing at strikes, trust the guy behind you, we have a good enough lineup."
The early contributions of Bay, of course, have helped the post-Manny direction become a very positive direction. And Bay has been helped by realizing that on a team this talented, he doesn't have to carry the load.
"That's the biggest thing," Bay said. "You look around and nobody is counting on you to be that guy. You're just a complementary piece to that puzzle. There's some relaxation that comes from that. Ever since I've been there, I have two guys on base every second or third time I get up there. That's a testament to the lineup."
While it may be remarkable for the Red Sox to trade a player of Ramirez's caliber, the price they paid in the transaction is even more remarkable. They basically had to entice two clubs into this deal and they couldn't do it on the cheap. They traded their cleanup hitter, a future Hall of Famer, they gave up two legitimate prospects to the Pirates and they're paying Ramirez's salary with the Dodgers. This all tells you just how badly they wanted to be rid of Ramirez.
The Red Sox placed the collective good over the potential of the one individual. In doing so, they have acted upon age-old wisdom, good not only in baseball but in any joint venture. The thing that counts is the good of the group, in this case the team. What you're looking for, what you're hoping for, is a situation in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And you can't get a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts when one of the parts, even one of the really good parts, functions as a huge distraction.
That was Ramirez at the end of his days in Boston; an altercation with a teammate, an altercation with a team official, more than one refusal to play, accompanied by moaning over his contract status. The Red Sox had bent over backwards to tolerate Ramirez over the years, but here he had finally antagonized enough people at every level of the operation that his continuing presence was, in itself, a detriment to the operation.
Bay is a productive run producer, but, like almost everyone else, is not a hitter of Ramirez's stature. But he will provide the Red Sox with an obvious increase in clubhouse stability. Bay has a reputation as a fine fellow. Beyond that, he is a ballplayer from British Columbia, Canada, and one of the generally unwritten rules of baseball life is that Canadian ballplayers are never jerks. Why is this so? There can be an argument that Canadian society is somewhat more highly evolved than its American counterpart, but that does not need to be the issue here.
(There have been reports this year that pitcher Erik Bedard of the Seattle Mariners is showing signs of spoiling the Canadian ballplayer image. For the sake of maintaining a rare positive stereotype, let's at least temporarily suspend judgment on his case.)
In the case of the Red Sox, making the transition in left field all the way from great, but self-absorbed, to good and a swell teammate, the success of this move won't be measured in days or weeks, although months might do it, as in by the end of this October.
Perhaps trading a talent as significant as Ramirez seemed surprising on the surface, but from the standpoint of traditional team values, it was anything but a shock. There is more to team-building than amassing talent, like having all 25 individuals on the same page. The Red Sox head off in this direction now, handing the left-field job to Bay, who is much closer to good than great, but who will happily be a functioning member of the Boston team.