Looking Back at Baseball – Manny Ramirez

"Looking Back" is a series of articles that review the history of Major League Baseball. Today, we are looking at the legacy of the newly retired OF/DH Manny Ramirez.

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This past week, baseball fans everywhere were shocked to find out that one of the biggest stars of the past 20 years was hanging up the cleats for the last time.  Manny Ramirez, one of the most feared sluggers in all of Baseball from 1993-2008, retired amid a flurry of controversy on April 8.  There was no celebration, no honors.  Manny simply walked away from the game because he did not want to face a possible suspension under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program.  Manny had failed a drug screen, testing positive for an unknown performance enhancing substance. 

That Manny Ramirez chose to walk away may seem odd to novice fans.  No less than 3 full years ago, Manny was considered one of the most talented players in the game.  Regardless of his antics – “Manny being Manny” – Ramirez always put up the numbers to help his team win ballgames.  As a Boston Red Sox from 2001-2008, Manny was a major piece of the puzzle in leading the franchise to its first World Series Championship in 2004, and again during their run to the crown in 2007.  During that time span, there may have been nobody in baseball better than Manny Ramirez in clutch situations.  During the 2004 World Series, Manny was a monster.  He hit .412 for the series, with a HR and 4 RBI.  The “Curse of the Bambino” ended, in a large part, on the back of Manny Ramirez.  In 2007, he led the Sox back to the World Series by hitting .296 with 20 HR and 88 RBI despite missing over 30 games due to injuries.  The 2007 Red Sox coasted through the postseason, with Manny dominating both the ALDS and ALCS series against the Angels and Indians, hitting a combined .394 with 4 HR and 14 RBI.  The Red Sox went on to win their second World Series title in 4 years, and claimed their place in history as one of the best teams of all time. 

The Manny Ramirez story wasn’t always controversial, however.  From 1993-2000, as a young slugger in the middle of the Cleveland Indians powerful lineup, Manny quickly became one of the games premier sluggers on the best young team in baseball.  As part of a group of talented young studs all brought up to the Major Leagues by Cleveland in 1993-94, Manny teamed with Jim Thome, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Charles Nagy, and Sandy Alomar Jr. on a team that won the AL Central title every year until 2000.  Manny was the main cog in the offensive powerhouse, making 4 All Star teams and winning 3 Silver Slugger awards.  His 1998 and 1999 seasons put the exclamation point on his young career, as he hit over 40 HR in each season and drove in an astonishing 310 RBI between the two seasons, finishing in the top 10 in the AL MVP voting both years.  Manny Ramirez had arrived as one of the best players in all of baseball.

In 2000, the Indians team began to falter after their amazing run of success.  Manny continued his slugging, hitting .351 with 38 HR and 122 RBI for a team that finished 2nd in the AL Central.  After the season, Manny became a Free Agent for the first time in his career, and cashed in on his success by signing an 8-year $160 million deal with Boston.  With his Cleveland days behind him, Manny was heading to one of the most storied franchises in professional sports.  The signing was heralded as the biggest in Red Sox history, and expectations were high heading into 2001.  In typical Manny fashion, he did not disappoint.

Image via Wikipedia

The Manny Ramirez/Red Sox combination was huge from day one, as Manny put together a fantastic season (.306/41/125) in his first summer at Fenway Park.  Over the next 6 seasons, Ramirez was the unquestioned force in the American League, averaging over 35 HR and driving in over 100 RBI every year.  He continued to rack up accolades, appearing in 8 straight All Star Games, winning 6 more Silver Slugger awards, and finishing in the top 10 in MVP voting every season.  Manny was on his way to a sure-fire Hall of Fame career, but on the personal side he began to have issues.

In the summer of 2003, Manny was diagnosed with pharyngitis, a painful illness that affects the throat.  He missed several games due to this, and controversy occurred when Manny was spotted in a hotel bar with close friend Enrique Wilson of the New York Yankees.  The Boston media and fans can be as unforgiving as they are passionate, and Manny was officially in hot water with them.  He was benched for one game by Manager Grady Little, and the Red Sox began to debate whether or not he was fully committed to the team.  The club placed Ramirez on waivers after the season, giving all other 29 MLB teams a chance to claim him (and his huge contract).  Nobody claimed Manny, so he returned to the Red Sox for 2004.  From this point forward, Manny seemed to change.

In 2005, Ramirez was involved in several trade rumors that underlined the teams desire to move on without him.  Teams such as the New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles were rumored to be in the “Manny Market”.  No trade occurred, and after the Red Sox were eliminated from the Playoffs by the Chicago White Sox, it was Manny who was demanding a trade.  In January 2006, Ramirez dropped his trade request in an interview with ESPN.  The feud between the Red Sox and Manny went forward for the next few seasons, although his play was nothing short of remarkable. 

By 2008, Manny Ramirez had 2 World Series rings and was the face of the Boston Red Sox.  On June 5, a heated exchange with fellow teammate Kevin Youkilis that led to blows being thrown between the players.  The entire exchange was caught by the TV cameras, and once again Manny was in hot water with the media and fans.  Things only got worse that year when during a series with the Houston Astros, Manny had an altercation with elderly Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick.  In a fight over tickets allotted to the game,  Manny pushed the 64-year old McCormick to the ground, telling him “Just do your job”.  Ramirez was fined by the club for this event, and his reputation had taken another hit.  The final nail in the coffin for Manny and the Red Sox occurred in late July of 2008, when he informed the team that he was unable to play due to soreness in his knees.  After MRI tests revealed no issues, Manny returned to the team.  From that point forward, he essentially stopped trying on the field.  He failed to run out ground balls, turned routine plays in the outfield into errors, and his overall demeanor was of a man unhappy with his situation.  The Boston Media and fans all called for  Manny to be traded, and finally on July 31, 2008 everybody got their wish.  Manny Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 3-way trade with the  Pittsburgh Pirates.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

The Manny Ramirez story seemed to have a good fit in Los Angeles.  A big city for a big personality, and for the first time a chance to hit in the National League.  Manny got off to a torrid start with the Dodgers, hitting .396 with 17 HR and 53 RBI over the months of August and September.  The Dodgers rode Ramirez into the NL Playoffs, and eventually all the way to the NLCS before being dispatched by the eventual World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies.  Manny was sent to become a free agent, but after a drawn out process concluded, resigned with the Dodgers for 2 years and $45 million just in time for Spring Training. 

Manny Ramirez began to officially fall apart in 2009.  He was suspended for 50 games for violating the MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program on May 7.  He returned in time to hit his 537th career HR on July 21, passing the great Mickey Mantle on the all time tally.  The celebration was short lived however, when on July 30 it was reported by the New York Times that Manny was one of the 104 players who had tested positive for banned substances in 2003.  The 2010 season was a long year for Ramirez, with three stints on the Disabled List.  On August 29, he was ejected from a game for arguing a strike call with the home plate umpire, and his career as a Dodger was over.

Manny was claimed by the Chicago White Sox off waivers on August 30, and played in 24 games with the club.  He was unable to regain his stroke, and once again was a free agent heading into this past offseason.  The Tampa Bay Rays took a flier on Ramirez on January 21, signing him to a one-year $2 million deal.  After starting the season a pitiful 1-for-17, Manny retired from the game of baseball rather than face another charge from the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

Manny Ramirez will always be remembered as one of the most feared sluggers of this generation.  When he was in his prime, there were few that could match his ability.  Unfortunately, he will always be remembered as a man who never seemed to be able to keep himself on the straight and narrow.  His career numbers are impressive – over 500 HR, 2500 hits, over 1800 RBI, and a career .312 batting average – but cutting his time short may have cost him the Hall of Fame once he is eligible.  Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox fans will always remember the man who helped both of their clubs to new found success in the 1990’s.  How Manny will be remembered by fans everywhere remains to be seen. 

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