A terrific performance by knuckleballer extraordinaire Tim Wakefield (above) was pushed to the background yesterday by the alleged selfishness of Manny Ramirez. With Trot Nixon unable to take the field against Tampa Bay, we’re led to believe that Manny refused to relinquish a day off (Kevin Millar would ultimately start in left). The condemnations begin with the Boston Herald’s Tony Massarotti :

Twenty million a year clearly is not what it used to be, because it cannot buy you even a hint of compassion, pride, sacrifice or dedication. All it seems to get you is blank stares and apathy, along, of course, with an annual request to be traded.

With their roster in a state of physical decay, the Red Sox took the field at Tropicana Field yesterday for the finale of a seven-game road trip. The Sox claimed a 4-1 victory without Matt Clement and Trot Nixon, each of whom was injured in Tuesday night’s extra-inning win. And they also won without Manny Ramirez, who apparently decided that a day off outweighed any responsibility to the team, even in a time of need.

Star players have received the kid-glove treatment for a long time in Boston, where the squeaky wheel gets more grease than fried calamari, Rhode Island style. Red Sox officials – and Francona, in particular – may take more than their share of grief for acquiescing to their adolescent left fielder, but here’s the problem:

If they do not give Ramirez what he wants, he is liable to quit on them at the most important time of the year, offering only further proof that he has positively no regard for their interests.

So, really, what are team officials to do? You want the home runs and RBI, you get the teenage behavior, too. With Ramirez, it is all part of the deal. The Red Sox won a World Series last year and Ramirez was a very big part of that, and the unfortunate reality is that the Red Sox need Ramirez more than he needs them.

Echoes the Boston Globe’s Gordon Edes :

Because he is the team’s cleanup hitter, has Hall of Fame ability, and possesses a contract, the second-richest in the game, that makes him unmovable, Ramirez is rarely held accountable. ”Manny being Manny” has become as much a part of the New England lexicon as pahking the cah in Hahvahd Yahd. One day someone from within the Sox clubhouse or in the Yawkey Way offices will rise up and condemn him for his selfish indifference.

That day has yet to come, mainly because his bosses and his teammates feel like Ramirez is, in essence, holding the team hostage. Speak out against him, and the fear is that Ramirez will withdraw like a petulant child and go into a three-year pout. Let it slide, and you have a man with the potential of repeating as the World Series MVP.

So the Sox mostly look the other way, though there were plenty of people angry that Francona ran out an outfield yesterday that had Kevin Millar making just his fifth start in left field and rookie Adam Stern making his first start in right. Maybe they did so because they’ve been through this drill before — think Labor Day 2003 in Philadelphia, when Ramirez refused to pinch hit, and last July in Anaheim, Calif., when he begged out because of a supposed hamstring injury that didn’t keep him from playing in the All-Star Game just days earlier. One Sox veteran blamed the media. ”You guys never hold him accountable,” he said. ”I’ve never seen a guy get such a free pass. You all think it’s a joke, ‘Manny being Manny.’ What is ‘Manny being Manny?’ Him disrespecting the game?”

Then there are the oddball demands to be traded, another annual event. Sports Illustrated’s highly respected Tom Verducci said Ramirez asked to be traded because he had no privacy in Boston. This from a guy who recently allowed the Globe Magazine to run a spread on his son’s bedroom