How Should Baseball Fans Remember Manny Ramirez?
If the career of Manny Ramirez is truly over after his release from his minor league contract with the Texas Rangers, baseball fans will finally say goodbye to one of the most unique, prolific and enigmatic superstar hitters in the history of the sport. From a 1993 debut with the Cleveland Indians to 108 at-bats with Triple-A Round Rock of the Texas Rangers organization this summer, Ramirez lived in his world, but raked in ours.
Before diving into the legacy and personality quirks of one of the greatest right-handed hitters in the history of the sport, the performance-enhancing drug disclaimer must be divulged. Unlike those implicated in the Biogenesis hunt or Mitchell Report or survey testing during the 2003 season, Manny Ramirez can't hide behind the idea of a witch hunt, due process or a list that wasn't supposed to become public.
Due to testing positive twice for PEDs since testing came into place, Ramirez's accomplishments are sullied. Despite playing in an era that featured widespread abuse of PEDs, Ramirez has the distinction of flunking tests. His chances at Hall of Fame induction, considering the nonsensical reasoning some have against pre-testing stars like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, are almost nonexistent.
Of course, Ramirez did play in the Steroid Era. Two suspensions might keep him from earning a plaque in Cooperstown, but don't let it diminish his overall career accomplishments. Against other stained and enhanced players, Ramirez rose above, hitting at levels few have every risen to in the history of the sport.
From the start in Cleveland to the strange, twisting ending in Chicago, Tampa and Taiwan, Ramirez put on a show. In his prime, mostly as a member of the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox, Ramirez became one of the most feared hitters in the sport.
Over the course of over 8,200 big league at-bats, Manny posted a .312/.411/.585 slash line. Even in the context of the offensive boom that the Steroid Era created, those numbers are outstanding. His 555 home runs rank him 14th all time. Ramirez's career OPS-plus, factoring in league scoring and ballpark effects, stands at 154. That figure is good for 24th all time, ahead of names like Piazza, Mike Schmidt and Alex Rodriguez.
Usually, a quick look at bWAR (Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement measure) is a great way to put context into a long-term career. However, due to Manny's otherworldly offensive gifts, but lack of value on defense, his overall WAR (69.1) ranks tied (with Tim Raines) for 105th in MLB history.
But as in almost every case, Manny's story needs more context. Ramirez didn't make over $206 million in his career to play defense. He was paid to hit, and few could hit the ball harder, farther and more consistently.
Using bWAR's offensive WAR metric, Ramirez contributed 81.2 oWAR to his lineups over 19 big league seasons. That number ranks 31st in MLB history, ahead of Cal Ripken, Joe DiMaggio, Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas. Simply put, the guy could rake.
If Ramirez never played an inning outside of the regular season, the aforementioned stats and numbers would make him an all-time great, but it's what he accomplished in the month of October that cemented his legacy as a big-game monster.
In 493 postseason at-bats, or, in other words, less than 70 percent of a regular season slate, Ramirez posted a .285/.394/.544/.937 slash line while blasting 29 home runs. The 2004 World Series MVP was nearly as prolific of a hitter in October facing the best starters and bullpens as he was in the regular season. Pressure didn't faze Ramirez on his way to becoming the all-time postseason home run king.
If the words "cheater" and "slugger" and "clutch" emanate from your lips when speaking about Ramirez, so should this one: winner.
From 1995-2009, Ramirez played at least 100 games in every season. During those 15 years, his teams qualified for the postseason 11 times, advanced to the LCS on seven different occasions, qualified for the World Series in 1995, 2004 and 2007, and won a pair of World Series rings.
His runs in Cleveland and Boston should have cemented a legacy as a winning player, but the Mannywood run in August and September of 2008 left no room for debate. Upon a controversial trade that removed Manny, at a time where many believed he quit on the Red Sox franchise, from Boston to Los Angeles, the mercurial star found a way to finish fourth in the MVP voting despite playing 53 games in the National League.
How? By hitting .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs in Los Angeles to lead the Dodgers back to the postseason. To put that run into perspective for today's fan, Yasiel Puig has hit .373/.436/.589 with 11 home runs in 62 games since arriving in Chavez Ravine this summer. Manny was significantly more prolific just five years ago.
With the career and legacy of Manny Ramirez, it's not quite as simple as production vs. cheating. Unlike the career of other PED-tainted stars (fairly or unfairly), the personality quirks and actions of Manny made him unlike almost any other star in generations.
He was aloof, wore his uniform as baggy as possible, removed himself from the lineup, was arrested on charges of domestic battery, quit on his teammates, famously disappeared into he Green Monster during play, and potentially became the first outfield cut-off man in the history of the game.
More than anything, he was different. At the plate, Ramirez gave off a sense of indifference, breaking down the complicated science of hitting into a "see the ball, hit the ball" attitude. While it's clear that his work ethic and drive superseded that persona, his demeanor endeared baseball fans to his style.
Nearly 1,000 words from the start of this Manny rant lies the only answer that makes sense here: View Manny any way you choose. Respect the facts and his ability, of course, but viewing Ramirez in a box would go against everything he stood for as a player.
An all-time great? Horrible teammate? Cheater? Postseason genius? Hitting savant? Manny being Manny?
For the kid from Washington Heights that came into the league with a reputation of unforgettable power, the game is left with an unforgettable career.
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