Tracing Manny Ramirez's Sad Tumble from Hall of Famer to the Taiwanese League
Manny Ramirez will retire from baseball eventually, but seemingly not until his magical mystery tour to the bottom of the sport is concluded.
Ramirez, 40 years old and out of Major League Baseball since early 2011, hit pretty well in the Dominican League this winter. Now, the word from Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com is that the man with 555 career home runs is considering taking his talents to...[Drum Roll]...Taiwan:
Manny Ramirez is in talks to play for the EDA Rhinos of the Taiwanese professional league, a source told me this morning.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) February 5, 2013
Kudos to Ted Berg of USA Today for pointing out that Manny would be easily the most prominent former MLB star to play in Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League. Until now, the best former MLBers to play in the league were John Halama and Mel Rojas.
As for the league itself, well, it's an interesting one. There have been several gambling scandals in the league's brief history, one of which involved a team folding after all but two members were found to be fixing games. Due in part to the controversies, the popularity of the league tends to come and go.
That Manny is gravitating toward a league such as this fits pretty well with the trajectory his career has been on. Ever since 2008, his baseball journey has been a strange odyssey, filled with some highs here and there, but mostly high-drama controversies, lows and even lower lows.
The tale goes a little something like this.
2008: Manny Being Manny Act Finally Booted from Boston
There were some minor incidents and some general goofiness along the way, but the first 15 years of Manny's career were largely positive.
After his final season with the Cleveland Indians in 2000, Manny was sitting on 236 home runs and a career .998 OPS. He hit 41 home runs in his first season with the Boston Red Sox in 2001, and then went on to win a batting title, a home run crown and two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. He was the World Series MVP when the Red Sox broke the "Curse of the Bambino" in '04.
There were times during Manny's first seven years in Boston when he was a nuisance, as his focus came and went and he made at least one serious trade request in 2005. But for the most part, his antics were chalked up to the "Manny Being Manny" phenomenon and quickly forgiven.
It wasn't until 2008 that "Manny Being Manny" really started to become "Manny Being a Royal Pain in the You-Know-What." It was the final year of the eight-year, $160 million deal he signed in 2000, and he was intent from the beginning on making it a difficult one.
Manny got off to a strong start at the plate, posting an .874 OPS and hitting 10 home runs in April and May. But in early June, he found himself in a heated dugout confrontation with first baseman Kevin Youkilis. One television replay showed Ramirez taking a swing at Youk.
Later that month, Ramirez got into an argument with Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick, a former police officer, over tickets during a trip to Houston. The argument culminated with Manny pushing McCormick to the ground and shouting at him to do his job.
Later on in July, Manny refused to play in a game against the New York Yankees that they lost by a 1-0 score. The Red Sox were so furious that they went so far as to write up a letter informing Manny he was going to be suspended.
Instead, the team kept its cool and decided just to get rid of him. A few days after Manny had kept himself glued to the bench while the Red Sox were getting beat by the Yankees, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team deal that also involved the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Red Sox made the trade, but Manny may as well have been the one who pushed the button. A day before the Red Sox completed the trade, he openly whined about how the team didn't "deserve a player like me."
He added: "Mental peace has no price, and I don't have peace here."
Manny would find peace in Los Angeles...but only for a time.
2008-2010: The At-First Awesome and Ultimately Depressing Dodger Days
Manny was an instant hit in Los Angeles. His new No. 99 jersey become a hot item, and it took roughly four-and-a-half seconds for the term "Mannywood" to be spawned and for Dodgers fans to start wearing faux dreadlocks in his honor.
He was a hit on the field, too. In 53 games in Dodger blue, Manny compiled a 1.232 OPS and hit 17 homers. The Dodgers went 30-23 and won the NL West.
Though the Dodgers bowed out of the playoffs in the NLCS, Manny crushed the ball in the postseason. In eight games, he compiled an absurd 1.747 OPS and hit four home runs.
Manny and the Dodgers looked like a perfect couple, but the Dodgers were going to have to pay to make it last. Manny became a free agent after 2008, and he made it clear he wanted to be paid.
"Gas is up and so am I," he said.
Manny eventually signed a two-year contract worth $45 million, but the deal wasn't signed until March of the following year when the Dodgers were well into their spring training preparations. He and agent Scott Boras waited out then-Dodgers owner Frank McCourt as long as possible, prompting McCourt to provide the understatement of the century when he said Boras was "challenging to work with."
It was all water under the bridge early in the 2009 season, as Manny picked up right where he left off by posting a 1.133 OPS and hitting six home runs through his first 27 games.
But then, the bombshell.
In early May, it was announced that Manny was going to be suspended for 50 games for violating the league's PED program. He was (and still is) the most prominent player ever to be nabbed for PEDs, and it's all too fitting how bizarre it really was. When you think of players juicing, you don't exactly think of them taking female fertility drugs, as Manny did.
Manny returned in early July, but he wasn't the same player. He would go on to post an .881 OPS and hit only 13 home runs the rest of the season. Along the way, The New York Times reported in late July that Manny had first tested positive for PEDs way back in 2003.
It was clear then that Ramirez, long considered one of baseball's very best hitters, was not what he seemed. Some of his production was surely fraudulent, and there was reason to believe that all of it was fraudulent. His legacy was officially damaged.
And redemption, alas, would not be forthcoming.
Ramirez could only manage a .792 OPS and one home run in the 2009 postseason, in which the Dodgers were once again bounced upon reaching the NLCS.
The big storyline concerning Manny in that series was about him hitting the showers early while the Philadelphia Phillies were coming back to win Game 4. Somewhere in Boston, Red Sox executives were nodding their heads and pondering the familiarity of it all. Just as it had turned on them, "Manny Being Manny" was turning on the Dodgers.
The 2010 season didn't bring better fortune. Manny had made three trips to the disabled list and had played in only 66 games by the time late August rolled around. He did have a .915 OPS in those 66 games, but only eight home runs.
Then came the end of Manny's Dodgers career, which was about as controversial as the end of his Red Sox career. He infuriated his bosses by getting himself ejected after one pitch when he was called on him to pinch-hit, and was promptly sent to the Chicago White Sox in a waiver trade.
"Can Manny Ramirez be our savior, I don't know?'' said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "Can he help? Of course he can help.''
2010: Plays with White Sox, Does Nothing. Seriously.
Manny played in 24 games with the White Sox down the stretch in 2010, posting a mere .739 OPS and hitting one home run. The White Sox went 11-13 in his appearances, and failed to qualify for the postseason.
That's pretty much the whole story about Manny's tenure with the White Sox. He became a free agent after the season was over, and he was certainly not in line for a payday as big as the one he had gotten after his brilliant showing with the Dodgers in 2008.
Manny went on to find another job. But looking back on things now, this was the true end of his Major League Baseball career.
2011: Plays with Rays...Very Briefly
When Manny signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in January 2011, he had been given a golden chance to end his career on a high note. He was joining a ballclub that had won 96 games the prior year, and was re-teaming with former Red Sox outfield mate Johnny Damon.
Though he signed for only $2 million, Manny said he was perfectly willing to play for pride rather than money.
"Thanks to Scott [Boras], I already made my money," he said. "I want to show people that I can still play."
Manny had a fine camp with the Rays, hitting .311 with a .933 OPS and three home runs (via MLB.com). He opened the season as the club's DH and cleanup hitter, a position of utmost importance that confirmed that the Rays had high hopes for him.
As it turned out, they only got to entertain these high hopes for about a week.
Manny's career with the Rays lasted exactly five games, in which he recorded only one hit. He had tested positive for PEDs again during spring training, and he chose to retire rather than serve a 100-game suspension. He didn't bother apologizing to Rays manager Joe Maddon.
Manny never changed his mind about retiring at any point during the season, and he likely would have stayed out of the headlines altogether had he not been arrested and charged with domestic battery in September for striking his wife.
Ramirez could have taken that as his cue to finally fade into the background. Instead, he decided to go in the complete opposite direction.
At least, such was the plan.
2011-2012: Reinstated and Signs with Oakland A's...And Nothing Happens
Not long after his arrest, Manny decided he wanted to play baseball again. But since he was barred from the Dominican Winter League for being on MLB's inactive list, he decided to fix that by formally requesting reinstatement.
His wish was granted in December, and with a favorable ruling on his outstanding PED suspension to boot. The league decided to reduce the 100-game suspension he owed MLB to only 50 games, to start whenever he signed with a new team.
The Oakland A's decided to take a chance on Manny, signing him to a minor league deal in February worth half a million dollars.
"Everything starts with the number one. To me, it's like a new beginning," said Manny when he reported to spring training. "God has given me a second chance and I'm not going to waste it. My arrival in Oakland is not a coincidence, it's a God-incidence."
It would be A's general manager Billy Beane, not God, who ultimately decided Manny's fate, however. He had the option of calling Ramirez up to join the A's when his 50-game suspension came to an end in late May, but he was going to need to be convinced that Manny belonged first.
Manny didn't do much convincing with his bat down in the minors. He did hit .302 in 17 games with Triple-A Sacramento, but all but three of his 19 hits were singles.
Oakland's offense, which would eventually become a juggernaut, was struggling along in early June, but Beane still hadn't called Ramirez up. His reasoning was that he didn't have "all the information to make a good decision."
Instead of waiting on Beane, Manny requested and was granted his release in mid-June. He thanked the A's for giving him a shot and for treating him kindly, but his agents insisted that the majors were where he belonged, not the minors.
This wish was never granted. The rest of the 2012 season came and went without Ramirez taking another at-bat in either the minors or majors. The writing was on the wall in big, bold letters that he was done.
...But is he?
Now: The Spirit is Still Willing, and the Bat is Still Somewhat Alive
In October, George A. King III of the New York Post reported that Manny was on his way to play in the Dominican Winter League with the idea in mind to put on a show for interested teams.
Not from Major League Baseball, mind you. From Japan.
Manny was so pleased by his progress that his agent told Jon Morosi that Manny was looking to make a comeback in MLB rather than in Japan:
Manny Ramirez has 4 HR during Dominican Winter League postseason and wants to continue MLB career, according to agent Barry Praver.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 16, 2013
The response: crickets.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that there was a "hint of a buzz" about a possible reunion between Manny and the Indians. But at the same time, he wasn't considered to be on the club's radar. Though the Tribe still has a big question mark at DH, there's been nothing written about a potential reunion since Heyman's report.
There's also been nothing written about Japanese teams showing serious interest in Manny. And if he's not going to play in MLB, and he's not going to play in Japan, then that leaves...
Taiwan, of course. It certainly sounds like a fitting union: One of baseball's all-time headcases joining forces with a league where anything goes. From there, the next stop can only be...
Well, the end. Whether it's tomorrow, next week or next year, Manny's going to give up the ghost eventually. When he does, he'll have to try and settle down and live a normal life while awaiting Hall of Fame eligibility.
This being the Manny Ramirez of two PED suspensions and the Manny Ramirez of "Manny Being Manny" fame, I wish him luck with the Hall of Fame.
Oh, and with the whole normal life thing, too.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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