I remember the night we signed him.

I flipped on boston.com and the headline read, “Sox Sign Ramirez.” And I did what I typically did when Red Sox news hit the wires. I called Dad.

“This’ll be a murderer’s row of a line-up,” I remember saying. “Bichette, Trot, Everett… and now Manny? Who will stop us?”

Well, Murderer’s Row they weren’t–Manny was the only guy on the team to bat over .300 that season. But I was there for his first Fenway at-bat. The Sox were already down by three, and he stepped up with two men on, and promptly deposited the first pitch he saw into the screens above the Monster. Finally, we thought, a free agent signing who’s doing exactly what we paid him for! Shit went nuts, and just like that, the Manny Era was upon us.

Since then, he went on to be one of the most productive, beloved and befuddling players of this century. After a string of players who “should hit the tar out of the ball at Fenway”–including the likes of Jack Clark, Andre Dawson, Rob Deer, Nick Esasky, et al–Manny was a legitimate menace. The type of batter who could change the course of mighty rivers with one swat of the bat. And, even better for folks like me who enjoy players with character, there were those “Manny Moments.” Losing his earring on the field at Pawtucket during a rehab stint. The water bottle in the back pocket. Martini time with Enrique Wilson. Ebay Hucksterism. That bizarre dance maneuver in which he seemed to demand a trade every season, then back off, saying he couldn’t be happier here. Cutting off Johnny Damon’s throw to the infield. Saying that he’d like to play for the Yankees–which, in these parts, is like saying “I enjoy kiddie porn and poisoning rabbits.” High-fiving that fan in Baltimore. But the production spoke volumes; when the game was on the line, there was no one I’d rather see up at the plate than Manny Ramirez.

Through it all, the likes of Napoleon Shaughnessy told me I shouldn’t like the guy. That he was a bad teammate. A disgrace to the uniform. A guy who was constantly thumbing his ass at the fans. But I could give a shit about what they said. Seeing him at the plate with runners on, patrolling the outfield, grabassing with fans and fellow players… it was damn near intoxicating. And it helped us win two World Series–something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.

This year, it all seemed to spiral out of control so quickly. One minute, he was hitting his five-hundredth home run, explaining that the Sox will most assuredly pick up his option and insisting that he’d retire here. The next, he was jaywalking, old-man-shoving and Youk-tusslin’. Never ones to shy away from the smell of blood, the Shaughn and crew came out, guns blazin’, about how we had to trade him now. That he’d never bounce back. That he’d levelled the ultimate insult at the fans. That he’d hold us all hostage by sitting out the rest of the season and maybe even the playoffs.

So this morning, we are minus a player who was arguably our best. Manny will be working for Torre, swingin’ with D-Lowe and comparing iPod playlists with Nomar. Meanwhile, we’ll be waiting to see if Jason Bay can play Batman to Ortiz’s Superman in our line-up.

Addition by subtraction, they’re saying in the papers. On talk radio. In the casinos. Whatever. All I know is this: The guy who stirred the most fear in the hearts of our opponents is gone, and someone has yet to convince me that it had to happen.

Oh, and it’ll be a while before I can look at Fenway’s left field without hoping to catch a glimpse of Manny, grinning madly and shuffling curiously out of the scoreboard door.

Godspeed, Manuel. And thanks for the memories.