|Manny Being Manny in Tampa||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on March 31, 2011
Manny Ramirez was once considered one of the greatest pure hitters of the modern era. He was also widely considered to be a bit, well, strange or perhaps egocentric, something which provided amusement to fans and sportswriters, but often gave management fits. But even if he lived in his own head and it was "all about Manny" rather than the Red Sox, he could hit and seemed destined for the Hall of Fame.
But after claiming to be injured despite clean bills of health from MRIs and several incidents over seven and a half years - including Ramirez supposedly shoved the team secretary during an argument about tickets and going after teammate Kevin Youkilis in the dugout during a game - the Red Sox decided Ramirez was no longer welcome. Certainly his age, and upcoming free agency, may have had something to do with it. He was 36 and diminishing returns were certainly to be expected in the coming years.
So midseason in 2008, in a move seemingly out of the blue, the Sox sent Ramirez packing, sending him across the country to Los Angeles and the Dodgers. And he was exactly what Dodgers fans and management hoped for. In 53 games he hit .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs. That carried to the playoffs where Ramirez lead the team to the NLCS, a series in which he hit .533, but which the Dodgers eventually lost to the Phillies.
The Dodgers were ecstatic, and signed Ramirez to a two-year deal worth $45 million. And then the wheels fell off. It wasn't age or injury that threw Ramirez off the tracks. It was a positive test, and a 50-game suspension, for use of performance enhancing drugs, something Ramirez denied intentionally doing, but didn't try to fight. He came back and in just 104 games he posted a season that for anyone but the most elite players would have felt was quite good (.309-19-63), but even proportionately that number was below Ramirez's career norms.
But it wasn't so much the numbers that seemed to be beginning to tell in LA as the attitude. But if he could hit the Dodgers could tolerate it. Or at least they could until 2010 when Ramirez landed on the DL three times, and became such a distraction that he was actually benched by the team for a number of games.
Whatever was going on in his head affected him on the field too. His power vanished and a calf injury made his already suspect defense even more of a liability. The Dodgers waited for him to bounce back, but after 66 games, he managed only eight home runs despite a .311 average. Management decided that Ramirez's attitude wasn't worth the stress and the team dealt him to the White Sox where Ramirez failed to contribute, hitting just .261 with a single home run over 24 games.
After the season, Ramirez for the first time found himself a free agent without big time suitors lining up at the door. That's not to say he wasn't discussed. The Yankees, Rangers and Tigers all at least discussed Ramirez Ramirez, as did a bunch of non-contenders. But the offers were thin. After seeing Ramirez play the outfield, few NL teams would touch him, and not that many teams needed or wanted a DH known to have a bad attitude.
Enter the Rays, a team seeming offensively gutted after losing the power bat of Carlos Pena and the all around talent of Carl Crawford to free agency, and without a lot of money to spend. For $2 million, the Rays decided to gamble on a man who had Hall of Fame talent but who had fallen on hard times.
The Rays had an opening for a DH, and if Ramirez can hit like the Ramirez of old, he not only provides the Rays with a chance to remain competitive, but to actually make the playoffs again in 2011. The fact that he's a superstar and might put some extra fans in the seats is a nice bonus too. For Ramirez it's a chance for redemption, perhaps fueled a bit more by the chance to stick it to the Red Sox for trading him, and to the Yankees who passed on him more than once.
Revenge certainly isn't the main motive. Ramirez as usual has something to prove to Ramirez, not to mention the sportswriters and fans. And he's chasing that goal with a vengeance, hitting the weight room and batting cage to such an extent that coaches and managers in Tampa are using him as a "good" example and even calling him "a joy to be around." He certainly seems thrilled to be playing in Tampa and at least for now the Rays as a whole are feeling the same way about having Ramirez aboard.
If it can last, and Ramirez can prove 2010 was a fluke, the Rays will be very happy to have him aboard. But he'll have to avoid the altercations and ego trips and find his home run stroke again. That's why the Rays signed him. The Rays desperately need the power and need him to be a good teammate to the bunch of youngsters that make up the core and future of this team. If he can't do that the Rays certainly could cut him loose anytime. They don't have much invested in Ramirez and they know their future is in the youth.
So long as Ramirez is having fun that probably won't be an issue. Ramirez has certainly looked like a man with something to prove this spring, not just to himself or the sportswriters, but to his old teams and the Yankees.