Don’t Hate the Player: Manny Ramirez

theondeckcircle dotnetSenior Analyst IAugust 8, 2008

Okay, so the picture probably isn’t a fitting one, since Manny Ramirez more closely parallels The Joker than Batman, but the image is important. It is Manny Ramirez…in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform.

The trade that sent him there has upset some, and it has opened the discussion about whether or not there is a place in baseball for a playercharacter like Man-Ram.

“Manny being Manny” annoyances aside, he is widely criticized for his poor demeanor, lack of seriousness, and apparent idiocy on and off the field. Dreadlocks, a dirty helmet, misplayed fly balls, and the occasional high five to a fan all come together to make the population wonder whether Manny even cares, and whether he’s even worth our time.

Well, you may remember a little feature I wrote about another Red Sox player, J.D. Drew. It was called “Don’t Hate the Player…” and was to be the first in a series where I “shine a little light on a good player that maybe wouldn’t otherwise get that light.”

Obviously, Manny has plenty of light shone his way, so the axiom of the feature has been changed to appreciating the sometimes-disliked. That’s almost as broad a definition as the mission of Gary Roberts Wednesdays, so kudos to me.

Regardless, Manny Ramirez is one of the best baseball players of all time. It’s a fact…don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Now, to clarify, I wouldn’t categorize Manny as a hated player. In fact, I’ve loved the guy as long as I can remember. He (and recently, J.D. Drew) was the only thing keeping me from absolutely loathing the most recent instalments of Red Sox Baseball. Still, Manny has angered traditional baseball fans with his unique approach to fielding, dreadlocks, and general goofiness.

He has angered the fans of other teams with his occasional idiocy and frequent hope-destruction at the plate. And most recently, he has angered Red Sox fans by…wait, what did he do again? Oh, right, he wanted to stay with the team another two years and get a commitment from John Henry and the front office. Anyways, he has somehow angered Red Sox fans, too.

Still, for people like me…he’s the Mecca of fandom. A player who plays the game and enjoys it is rare enough, but for that player to also be one of the greatest hitters of all time is just spoiling us. Manny is probably one of the five best hitters in the league right now, has come up in many big opportunities, and has a cannon for an arm to make up for his poor fly ball judgments.

There is also testimony and evidence suggesting that Manny is one of the hardest workers in the game, constantly working to improve in the gym and in the batting cages. Need any proof?

Well, at age 36 Manny is still going. And that’s at a pace consistent with his entire career, not an otherworldly and accusation-inspiring pace well above his regular stats (see: Bonds, Barry). Ramirez currently boasts an Avg/OBP/Slg line of .314/.409/.558 with 23 home runs and 75 RBI.

His .967 OPS is good for top-10 in the league and his OPS+ 140 means he is still a 40% improvement over the average replacement player. Those rates are consistent with his career numbers, where he has posted a line of .313/.409/.591 for an OPS of 1.000 and an OPS+ of 154. His career OPS and OPS+ are third among active players and he ranks as one of the best power hitters of all time with 1,679 RBI (23rd) and 513 homers (20th).

(Oh, and in the five games since he went to the Dodgers, he has been having by far the greatest season in baseball history with an OPS+ of 340.)

To say Ramirez is one of the best players of his generation is a gross understatement. At the plate, you’d have to put him in a league with only Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, and Alex Rodriguez. Attitude questions or not, haircut questions or not, he is without question a player managers would kill to having hitting third or fourth in their line-ups.

He’s also an instant morale booster for a Dodgers team that lacks personality. Sure, they’re a great team with a lot of very likable players (Kemp, Ethier, Pierre, Furcal, Martin, and Loney all spring to mind, before we even move to pitchers), but they’re a team with an ugly recent history and no real leadership or direction.

Enter Manny, a timely distraction from the pressures of a playoff race, an intimidating bat in the middle of the order to ease pressures elsewhere, and a reminder to all of the good young players that the best way to play the game is relaxed.

You can argue that his attitude, in the long run, can grow tiresome or be bad for a young team, but for a postseason run with a team somewhat low on veterans, Manny is a perfect fit.

At the plate, in the field, in the dugout, whatever. I’ll take Manny any day, however I can get him. Good or bad, goofy or serious, Manny being Manny or Manny being Jeter, he is a talent that simply cannot be ignored for the sake of a few goofy moments.

Straight from The On Deck—by Blake Murphy