Manny Ramirez can still hit


While following the Red Sox new Cuban import, Rusney Castillo in his quest for plate appearances in advance of his first full season with the Red Sox, keeping up with Red Sox players in the Winter Leagues has been an avid pastime of mine. While working on an upcoming piece about the Dominican Winter Leagues, which end on December 21, the name Manny Ramirez came up on the list of hitting leaders.

Breaking in to the majors at age 21 in 1993, Manny became a middle of the order masher in the Cleveland Indians lineup. After the 2000 season in which he posted an 1.154 OPS, Manny signed what is still the largest contract (eight years, $160 million) in Red Sox history for then-GM Dan Duquette. From 2003 through 2007, the one-two punch of Manny and David Ortiz sent the Red Sox to the playoffs four times. In the last year of Ramirez’ contract, though he was still hitting, fans noticed a distinct disconnect with Ramirez, including a lack of hustle and requests to get days off and take Ortiz’ place when he was not at DH. After two rings and many suspicious injuries, an ugly incident with the Red Sox traveling secretary in 2008, prompted a trade to the Dodgers.

The Dodgers completely embraced Manny’s eccentricities, creating the stadium section of Mannywood as Manny put up a ridiculous 1.232 OPS in 53 games there with 17 home runs in the second half of 2008. He continued to destroy the ball in the playoffs, hitting four homers and driving in 10 runs while batting .520 in eight games. His $45 million dollar two year deal after that season with the Dodgers was essentially his last hurrah as a player. Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for a positive PED test in 2009, still managing to slug 19 homers in 104 games with a .910 OPS.

Despite solid numbers in 2010 (.915 OPS, though only eight homers), the Dodgers put him on waivers in August and did not block a claim by the White Sox which allowed him to DH, and like 2008, he was playing for his next contract. The magic did not happen in Chicago, as Ramirez slumped to a .739 OPS with one homer in 88 plate appearances for the White Sox. The Tampa Bay Rays then took a chance on Ramirez and signed him to a one year deal for 2011. Only five games into that season, Ramirez tested positive for PEDs for a second time resulting in a 100 game suspension and his immediate retirement, seemingly spelling the end of his playing career.

Ramirez tried to get back to the majors again in 2012, taking a deal with the Oakland Athletics, but he could no longer hit for power, managing only three doubles (though a .302 batting average), so the A’s would not bring him back to the big leagues. Another opportunity for Texas in 2013 was essentially the same story, a lack of home run power kept him from the big leagues.

At the Red Sox 2004 World Series championship tenth anniversary celebration this past May, all seemed to be forgiven as Ramirez was cheered again. Still holding out a slim hope of returning to the majors, Manny took a job with his old GM Theo Epstein as the hitting coach/occasional outfielder with the Iowa Cubs, hitting .222. Ramirez has taken Cubs power phenom Javier Baez> (60 homers at AA and AAA in 234 games in 2013-14) under his wing.

At the ripe old age of 42, Manny has continued his professional career in his native Dominican Republic (he grew up in New York City) for the Aguilar Cibaenas. Take a look at a recent home run and his signature admiring home run trot.

It is a long shot that Ramirez will get another shot at the majors at his age, but he is still hitting .280/.377/.477 with eight homers in 36 games for Aguilar. With Baez, perhaps he will become known for his skill as a coach as much as he was known for his otherworldly hitting prowess. Baez rookie struggles (.551 OPS in 229 plate appearances) mirrored Ramirez’ own (.502 OPS in 55 plate appearances). There are few players better for Baez to emulate as a hitter. Hopefully, Manny will be able to counsel Baez to avoid his struggles off the field

Stay tuned to BoSoxInjection for more coverage of the Red Sox in the Winter Leagues as Spring Training approaches.