When Boston fans look back on the 2000s years from now, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will only have grown in stature. For the rest of all our natural lives, any dominating three-four duo in the lineup will be compared to Papi/ManRam to determine ‘the best ever.’ (Fire Brand archives: Breaking down the Manny and Papi duo, 2/9/07; 3-4, 8/5/06.)
Today, we recognize Manny Ramirez (and all his faults) as the All-Aughts left-fielder of the decade.
Ramirez, of course, had a very contentious departure from Boston. (Fire Brand archive: Papelbon says Manny was ‘cancer’, 3/12/09.) He had been very unhappy in recent years despite winning two World Series’ in 2004 and 2007. He wanted a baseball climate that didn’t demand so much from its stars off the field. Ramirez also thought he was special, bending/breaking team rules and faking injuries to get his way. (Fire Brand archive: Is it time to cut the cord with Manny Ramirez? Looking at life post-ManRam, 5/26/08.)
The injury that railroaded him out of Boston was pretending that his knee hurt a few days before he was traded — and forgot which knee hurt. MRIs came back clean on both. This was shortly after Ramirez shoved 64-year old traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the ground (Fire Brand archive: Manny shoves traveling secretary to ground, 6/30/08) and got into a flap with Kevin Youkilis.
Don’t forget repeatedly sitting out games: refusing to pinch-hit or play even with the team shorthanded. How about his sighting with Enrique Wilson at the Ritz after begging off the Yankees game that night game due to throat inflammation? It was all enough. (Fire Brand archive: An Open Letter to Manny Ramirez, 7/28/09.)
The Ramirez era finally ended at the trade deadline of 2008 (The Manny Ramirez Trade Thread, 7/31/08), being shipped out to the Dodgers. Money quote: “the Red Sox don’t deserve a player like me. I’m not talking about money. Mental peace has no price and I don’t have peace here.” Kind of curious how Manny wants mental piece but is reportedly willing to play as a Yankee to get revenge on Boston for… mutually signing a contract? (Fire Brand archive: Manny eyes the Bronx, chance to ‘punish’ Sox.)
With Jason Bay in tow, I can safely say Boston and its fans don’t regret anything. Bay is no Ramirez in his prime (Fire Brand archive: He is not Manny…, 3/11/09), but from 2008-9, Bay has delivered while Manny has found himself suspended for performance enhancement use and has already worn out his welcome in the City of Angels. (Fire Brand archive: Fireside Chats Breaking Report: Where we react to Manny’s suspension, 5/7/09.)
I remain convinced that Manny gave up mentally at the plate the longer he stayed in Boston. His splits in 2008 are undeniable:.299/.398/.529 in Boston. .396/.489/.743 in Los Angeles. The year before, Ramirez posted a lackluster .881 OPS that I think was just him going through the motions. What more do you expect from a player that caused annual ‘Trade Manny?’ articles here at Fire Brand? (Fire Brand archive: The Annual Trading Manny Article, 11/21/06.)
Then there was the Red Sox/Yankees game in which Ramirez pinch-hit against Mariano Rivera. The game was on the line, and Ramirez “made a statement” by taking three straight pitches down the pipe to end the inning, with the game shortly following after that. Yeah, a statement was certainly made. (Fire Brand archive: Manny on the outs after intentionally K’ing v. Mariano? 7/18/08.) Shades of the game where Nomar sat sullenly on the bench in 2003, watching Derek Jeter and Pokey Reese make sensational plays. So let’s recap really quick. In a month’s span, Manny:
- Had a public dispute with Kevin Youkilis,
- Mailed in a pinch-hit appearance against the Yankees,
- Got into a physical altercation with a 64-year old traveling secretary,
- Mentioned repeatedly how he wanted out and disliked Boston, and
- Pretended that one of his knees was hurt as a form of protest.
Man, that’s a lot of bad stuff in one career, never mind a month. But now that we’ve rehashed his departure, how about his arrival and time in Boston? Ramirez had signed an eight-year, $160 million deal to join Boston in 2001 despite clear indications he wanted to remain in Cleveland. This contract came with 2009 and 2010 options, which were unacceptable to Ramirez — the guy who signed the contract. Yes, I’m bitter. Not because he didn’t like Boston, but because he signed a contract for a total amount of money 95 percent (it’s higher, I’m sure) of the world population can only dream of amassing in their lifetime.
The bad blood really started in 2006, when the Red Sox fell out of the race in early September and Ramirez shut himself down as well, despite putting together what would be his final great season in Red Sox threads: .321./.439/.619 with 35 home runs and 102 RBI. In order to not have to play with the team out of the race, Ramirez passed up a chance to get 40 home runs for the fourth time in a Sox uniform.
In fact, the offseason that followed was all about trading Manny Ramirez. The signings of Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew were overwhelmed by scuttlebutt that this might be Manny’s final year. (Fire Brand archives: Manny, it’s all about Manny, 12/5/06; Manny being traded today? 12/6/06.) Those other 40-home run seasons came in 2001, and from 2004-5, when Ramirez combined with David Ortiz to make a lethal weapon in the middle of the order.
2005 held a quick playoff exit against the eventual World Series champion Chicago White Sox and scuttlebutt that Ramirez was showing chinks in his armor. I found out that Ramirez’s splits against left-handed pitchers were uncharacteristically poor, although this ended up being a case of small sample size, as suspected. (Fire Brand archive: Here’s what’s wrong with Manny, 5/13/05.)
Obviously, the year prior to that, it all came together with Ramirez and his buddies (namely Pedro Martinez) as the World Series title was finally captured and ManRam was honored as the World Series MVP.
Ramirez made waves during this era for saying that it wasn’t a big deal if the Red Sox won the World Series or not. Several praised him for his unwavering attitude, not succumbing to pressure. Others did not care for what appeared to be his lack of fire.
Much like 2006, Ramirez led the league in OBP in 2003 as well as 2002, with the latter year also bringing a .349 average to being batting champion. His debut 2001 season was similarly successful with OPS’ bettering his 1.009 mark from 2004, but 2004 has to be considered his best season. He led the league in OPS — despite it being lower than his 2001-3 marks — and won the MVP.
Oh yeah, and let’s not forget one final strike against Manny: Boston was willing to give him up to any team for free after the 2003 season. Let this sink in for a moment. The team had had enough of ManRam, and wanted to simply give him away, placing him on irrevocable waivers. No team took Boston up on that, largely because of the copious amounts of salary left. I bet you some teams would like a do-over on that.
Perhaps my most enduring image of Ramirez is the year he signed with Boston. This was before the dreadlocks, the weight gain, the uniforms that drooped off him. The attitude was still there, but it was tampered down and wouldn’t manifest itself until later. This was a svelte, muscular hitter in the prime of his life completely tearing the ball apart every time he stepped to the plate. He would purposely let several pitches go by or look foolish chasing one just to get the same pitch again later in the game and tattoo it.
The image I’m talking about his his 501-foot shot. At least, the Harrington/Duquette regime would have you believe it was 501 feet. Ramirez launched an absolute bomb over the Green Monster that I think might still be flying today. Okay, that’s embellishment, but it went very far. And yet, only 501 feet. Scuttlebutt is that the Sox didn’t want Ted William’s 502-foot Fenway record broken — at least, not by a newcomer to the club.
All told, Manny hit for an obscene .312/.411/.588 line, cranking 274 home runs and 868 RBI for the Sawx.
Even though he frustrated the Sox to no end both on and off the field, there’s no denying the value ManRam brought to the team. He was a feared middle of the order hitter who was absolutely integral to the two World Series titles… and while he clashed with several teammates (notably Kevin Youkilis), he was also loved by some.
Ramirez loved to run around hugging people and was generally a very playful guy, when it behooved him. I think that his playful attitude actually helped Boston succeed and transform from the cancer that was Carl Everett and the 2000-2001 team into the Idiots of 2004. It was only after that that his act became contrived. (I should mention here that Boston certainly didn’t help show Manny how to act, what with the 2001 team, the firing of Jimy Williams, and just the general incompetence that reigned at that time.)
Of course, I can’t write a review of Ramirez’s time with Boston without mentioning the fabled “Manny being Manny” line. Manny was and is full of quirks, despite all the shortcomings that we’ve certainly covered above. When he’s happy, there may not be a more entertaining player in baseball despite most of his antics being unacceptable by, say, a bench player.
- Manny cuts off a throw by Johnny Damon? (2004.) Manny being Manny.
- Manny trips over his own cleat and forms a divot in left field as the ball skips around? Manny being Manny.
- Manny taking a call inside the Green Monster during a game? (2008.) Manny taking a leak inside the Monster in 2005? Manny being Manny.
- Manny catching a ball on the run and then high-fiving a Red Sox fan on the fly… only to then double the runner off first? (2008.) Manny being Manny.
(Kind of funny how the last two were in 2008, the year he was jettisoned.)
There’s no question that he brought so much cheer to Red Sox fans nationwide. It’s just a shame how it ended.
I’ll now leave you with a parody of “the most melodramatic piece of English literature, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’” that was originally penned August 2005 by guest columnist Sam Killay here at Fire Brand and sums up Ramirez’s legacy in Boston:
Base by base, base by base,
Base by base onwards,
Assaulting baseball’s record books,
He’s headed for the Hall of Fame,
But it’s his bat that makes his name.
His glove … well, see, that’s not his game,
He hits whatever pitches come,
He hits them all, he hits them some,
He hits in Yankee Stadium,
His is not to question why,
His is not to make reply,
His is but to do and dye,
Scandal to the right of him,
Scandal to the left of him,
Scandal in front of him,
Not legging out a double play,
Not catching baseballs hit his way:
That’s Manny. What else is there to say?
He hits the ball a country mile.
He does so with a goofy smile.
He wears his clothes in baggy style,
His hair’s a dreadlocked, frazzly mess,
As ragged as his rumpled dress.
For that’s his trademark, sloppiness,
Scandal to the left of him,
Scandal to the right of him,
Scandal surrounding him,
He wants a trade. He wants to stay.
He gets picked off too far astray.
His hammy’s sore now, he can’t play.
He makes a catch that saves the day.
He drives in runs in every way,
No matter what the papers say,
His buddy Papi would agree,
He’s somethin’ else, a sight to see,
A mashing Monster mystery,
His bat is ours (his glove is, too).
He’s zany, but that’s nothing new,
So what’s a Red Sox fan to do?