With the 13th pick in the 1991 Major League Baseball Draft, the Cleveland Indians selected Manny Ramirez. On September 2, 1993, Ramirez made his Major League Baseball debut against the Minnesota Twins, wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform for the first time. From that day, until May 6, 2009, Ramirez earned and wore the distinction of being his generation's finest hitter. May 7, 2009 was the day Ramirez was suspended for taking human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which is a fertility drug for women that is used to restart natural testosterone production as a steroid user comes off a cycle. As Manny Ramirez's career comes to an end, I can't help but reflect back on one of the players who was one of my favorites as a youngster.
When Manny Ramirez finished his Cleveland Indians career, he finished with 236 home runs, 804 RBI's, all in 967 games played. The memories of Ramirez as an Indian were plentiful. I remember seeing Ramirez hit a home run off of Dennis Eckersley that the venerable closer Eckersley remarked "Wow" as he turned seeing the ball fly over the fence. It was a game winning home run too. In 1998, Manny Ramirez hit 45 home runs. In 1999, Ramirez had 165 RBI, a club record that stands to this day. Simply put, the man raked everytime he got to the plate.
When Ramirez left Cleveland for the Boston Red Sox, I thought the backlash against him in Cleveland would be a lot worse than it was. Instead of boos when Ramirez returned, there was a mixed reaction. Over the course of time, many Cleveland fans returned to loving the guy who once paid a club house attendant $35,000.00 to wash his car. An eight year $160 million dollar deal was too much for Ramirez to say no to. On the field, Ramirez was the same Ramirez who hit everything he saw. In the field, Ramirez was moved to left field. Ramirez was a poor fielder with a strong arm to begin with, and moving positions did not help. It didn't matter though, Ramirez's first season in Boston ended with a .306 average, 125 RBI's, and 41 home runs. Totally typical for Ramirez. It didn't matter where he played, he hit.
During his time in Boston, Ramirez won two World Series Championships. Arguably the best season of Ramirez's career was 2004. He led the league in home runs (43), slugging percentage (.613), and OPS (1.009). Ramirez also had 130 RBI's good enough for third in the American League; he also had 82 walks, 108 runs, and a .308 batting average. Not bad, and played well enough to be named World Series MVP as the Red Sox ended the curse of Babe Ruth.
Before exiting Boston, a series of off field events led to issues for Manny Ramirez. Manny Being Manny was no longer a valid excuse for Ramirez's strange behavior. During a game with Tampa at Fenway, Ramirez and teammate Kevin Youkilis had an altercation. Ramirez complained about Youkilis's complaining over the strike zone. The two traded verbal barbs and had to be separated. Both had acted unprofessional but it was clear this was the beginning of the end for Ramirez in Boston.
Later on that season Ramirez shoved down travelling secretary Jack McCormick. This issue stemmed from Ramirez demanding sixteen tickets for that night's game with the Astros in Houston. On July 25 of 2008, Ramirez sat with a sore knee. Tests showed no damage and it was assumed this was a contract issue between the club and Ramirez. Fans and reporters had enough, and called for Ramirez to be sent packing. Soon, he was, to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
New league, no problem. Ramirez hit the ball like normal. Named National League Player of the Month in August, Ramirez hit .415 with seven doubles, nine homers 21 walks, and 25 RBI's. Not bad for a guy who had faced only two of the pitchers he saw that month before. Upon his exit from the playoffs with the Dodgers, Ramirez was quoted as saying "Gas is up and so am I" in reference to his contract demands. That comment was typical Manny Ramirez. Nothing had changed, he hadn't grown up, and there was no way he ever would.
Less than a year later on May 7, 2009 Ramirez failed a Major League Baseball issued drug test. Ramirez sat for 50 games as per his punishment. During his time away, Ramirez played for the Inland Empire 66ers, the Dodgers Single A team. Ramirez homered in his first at bat; Manny being Manny. Only 27 days later, The New York Times reported that Ramirez was on the list of players testing positive during Major League Baseball's 2003 survey for steroid users. Nobody cared though, as Ramirez's on field prowess was too strong to be bothered by his test failures.
Ramirez's time with the Dodgers can be summed up in one story. On August 29, 2010 Manny Ramirez was summoned to pinch hit by Dodgers Manager Joe Torre. Ramirez begrudgingly headed to the plate where the first pitch he saw was called a strike by home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom. Ramirez turned and argued, only to be tossed by Cederstrom.
This was the last site Dodgers fans saw, as Ramirez was awarded through waivers to the Chicago White Sox this morning. Ramirez will be in the line up Tuesday night to face his original team, the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field). Everything has come full circle for Ramirez. Career averages of .313, 39 home runs, 130 RBI's, and 110 runs are Hall of Fame level numbers. Ramirez, regardless of drug test failures, is a Hall of Fame players. He's a unique athlete whose behavior was a lot less legendary than his on field skills.
I once saw Ramirez climb a fence in left field, high five a fan, run back toward a ball and throw a runner out at third base. I once saw Ramirez cut off a throw, diving from center field that Johnny Damon was sending back to the infield. I once saw Manny Ramirez rocking shades that had an MP3 player in them so he could listen to music while playing the outfield. He's the best hitter of my generation, he's the most unique player of my generation, and I will always be in support of anything Manny Ramirez does, on the field.