“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
1974-1989
#3   MANNY RAMIREZ

This is Manny Ramirez’s world. The rest of us just live in it. That is one way to wrap your mind around one of the most outrageous—and outrageously talented—athletes in all of sports. The slugging outfielder is more than a mere superstar. Manuel Aristides Ramírez Onelcida was born on May 30, 1972 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. His mother, Onelcida, worked in a dress factory. His father, Aristides, drove a cab and was a fix-it man for small appliances and electronics. Manny had three older sisters, Rosa, Evelyn and Clara.

Manny’s days were filled with baseball. He was obsessed with the sport. When Manny was eight, his grandmother gave him his most prized possession—a Dodgers uniform with number 30 on the back. In 1985, at the age of 13, Manny moved with his parents to Washington Heights, a heavily Dominican neighborhood in upper Manhattan. They lived in a sixth-floor walk-up on 168th Street. The stairs were a hardship for Manny’s parents, but he literally took them in stride. Although Yankee Stadium was a 20-minute walk from the Ramirez apartment, Manny rooted for the Blue Jays. Their stars included two of his heroes from the Dominican Republic, George Bell and Tony Fernandez. He and his father bought bleacher tickets when Toronto came to the Bronx.

Manny attended George Washington High School on 193rd Street. Among the school’s illustrious alumni are Rod Carew, Harry Belafonte, Alan Greenspan, Jacob Javitz, Maria Callas, Ron Perlman and Henry Kissinger. Between suspensions for truancy and other academic transgressions, Manny played three varsity seasons for Coach Steve Mandl’s varsity. He was a third baseman and center fielder for the Trojans during three seasons.  The field was long to left and center fields, but less than 300 to right. Manny became quite adept at waiting on outside pitches and drilling them in that direction. When the scouts started showing up to watch him play, they were astounded by this talent, which is exceedingly rare in a young slugger. His teammates called him the “Hit Man.” He socked 14 homers in 22 games as a senior in 1991. 

After leading the Trojans to three straight division championships, Manny was on the radar for several teams. He was selected in the first round of the draft by the Cleveland Indians.  Manny made his pro debut for the Burlington of the Rookie-level Appalachian League. He tore up the league, edging Dmitri Young for Top Prospect honors from Baseball America—which also named him Short-Season Player of the Year. Manny batted .326 with 19 homers and 63 RBIs in just 59 games. He was first in all three Triple Crown categories but had a poor final week and lost the batting title, finishing third behind Ricky Otero and Quilvio Veras. Burlington finished first in the North Division and then lost the championship in a sweep to the Pulaski Braves.  Manny got bumped three levels in 1992, landing in Kinston of the Carolina League. He played just over half a season before bruising his left hamate bone, which essentially ended his year. Manny batted .278 with 13 homers and was an RBI machine, driving home 63 runs in 81 games. After the Southern League season ended, he returned to the field in the Florida Instructional League and batted .300.  Manny split 1993 between Double-A Canton/Akron and Triple-A Charlotte. He batted .340 in 89 games before his promotion and finished the minor league campaign by leading the Knights to the International League championship. It was during this season that he developed a friendship with pitcher Julian Tavarez. They would play together on both the Indians and Red Sox. Manny belted 14 homers in 40 games for Charlotte, earning him a cup of coffee with the Indians in September.

Limited to pinch-hitting duties, Manny got a dose of reality against big-league pitchers. The 21-year-old failed to bat his weight. However, he showed flashes of great things to come in his second game with the Tribe. With friends and family jamming the stands at Yankee Stadium, he cracked a double off Melido Perez for his first major-league hit, and then belted two home runs to send the fans home to Washington Heights in near delirium.  Manny spent the entire 1994 season in Cleveland. He started the year on fire, belting six homers in April. AL pitchers adjusted in May and owned Manny for several weeks in a row. But he adjusted right back and hit .300 in the second half.

The power-laden Indians chased the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central, finishing second when the season ended abruptly in August. Manny was one of eight Indians to reach double figures in home runs and was among the leading rookies in almost every offensive department. Sharing the outfield with Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Wayne Kirby, he launched 17 round-trippers and batted .269,.  The question was no longer whether Manny would be a star in the majors. It was how soon he rise—and how brightly he would shine. Manny provided an answer in 1995, batting .308 with 31 homers and 107 RBIs in 137 games. He made the All-Star team and combined with Belle to set a new record for home runs by two Cleveland teammates with 81. After the season, the Indians signed Manny to a new contract that would lock him up through 2000. Manny cemented his reputation as an RBI machine in 1999. He produced 165, shattering the club record of 163 set 68 years earlier by Hal Trosky. Manny led the AL in slugging and was second in on-base percentage. He finished the year with a .333 average and 44 home runs. He was also named to the starting lineup of the All-Star Game for the first time.

The Indians decided to let Manny walk after the 2000 season. One of baseball's most sought-after free agents, he received calls from a large number of clubs. The Red Sox emerged as the winners of a bidding war that promised to change the balance of power in whichever division Manny landed. The Yankees and Mariners were also in the mix. The Red Sox offered a deal worth $20M a season through 2008, with a couple of option years tacked on. The Red Sox still needed to cobble together a team to fit around their new acquisition. Boston’s lineup was a hodgepodge of  journeymen, rookies and injured stars. It showed in 2001, as the Red Sox struggled to stay above .500. Manny was a stud, smashing 41 homers with 125 RBIs and a .306 average. Fifteen of hit four-baggers went over the Green Monster. Another 10 balls that might have left another park banged off the wall. Manny got off to a great start, winning AL Player of the Month honors in April and becoming the first Boston hitter to drive home 30 runs in a month since teammate Nomar Garciaparra in 1999.

Unfortunately, the Nomar-Manny combo that had Fenway fans drooling never quite materialized. After winning consecutive batting championships, Garciaparra broke his wrist and played in just 21 games. The Red Sox were healthy again in 2002, but they still lacked the depth needed to challenge the Yankees for the division crown. A more consistent lineup helped Manny win the batting championship. He was an All-Star starter for the fourth time, and might have challenged for the MVP award had he not fractured his left index finger in May and missed 39 games.  For the year, Manny hit 33 homers, knocked in 107 runs and finished on a .400 tear, lifting his final average from .310 to .349 in the final seven weeks. He also drove home 31 runs in September.

The Red Sox posted a respectable 93 victories on the strength of 20-win seasons from Martinez and Derek Lowe. However, the Wild Card race went to the Angels, who won 99 games and eventually the World Series.   The Red Sox did manage to snag the Wild Card in 2003. The season marked the arrival of David Ortiz in Boston. “Big Papi” combined with Manny and a healthy Garciaparra to give the Red Sox a powerful lineup. The trio slammed 96 home runs and drove in 310 runs. Manny’s numbers (37-104-.325). He finished second to teammate Bill Mueller in his quest for a second batting title. Manny, however, led the league for the second straight year with a .427 on-base percentage. He passed on an All-Star starting assignment because of a sore hamstring.

Manny’s reputation as a self-indulgent superstar had been growing since his days in Cleveland. The Red Sox jokingly called his obtuse behavior “Manny being Manny.” Even so, incidents at summer of 2003 wore on called his decision-making into question. In August, Manny begged out of the lineup with pharyngitis, but was seen in a bar that evening with Enrique Wilson of the Yankees. This right came after Manny told reporters he wouldn't mind playing for the Bronx Bombers. A day later, manager Grady Little asked him to pinch-hit against the Philadelphia Phillies. Manny refused, and was benched.

Things had cooled off by playoff time, as the Red Sox met the A’s in the Division Series. Oakland took the first two games in the best-of-five confrontation, but the Red Sox charged back by winning three close games in a row. Manny scored the winning run in Game 4 and hit a three-run blast in Game 5 to lead the Red Sox to a 4­3 victory. Against the Yankees in the ALCS, Boston won the opener behind a home run by Manny. After that, the series see-sawed back and forth as it careened toward a Game 7 showdown in the Bronx. In the infamous finale, the Red Sox squandered a 4–0 lead and allowed the Yankees to tie the game in a disastrous eighth inning that ended up costing Little his job. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Aaron Boone deposited a knuckler by Tim Wakefield into the left field seats to win the pennant.

After the season, the Red Sox—feeling that Manny’s salary was the thing keeping them from assembling a championship team—placed him on irrevocable waivers. They were willing to hand him to anyone willing to relieve them of Manny’s $20 million annual paycheck. There were no takers.  Heading into 2004, the Red Sox made a change at the top by hiring Terry Francona to manage the club. Boston fans also cheered the acquisition of big-game hurler Curt Schilling. Boston was eager to erase the memory of their bitter loss to the Yankees. Manny was simply sensational in that regard. He led the league with 43 homers and a .613 slugging average. His 130 RBIs were second on the team Ortiz’s 139, giving Boston an historic one-two punch in the middle of the lineup.  The last time two teammates turned in 40–100–.300 seasons were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1931.

Manny finished the year with an 11-game hitting streak. The Red Sox, meanwhile, won 98 games to capture the Wild Card again. He kept up the hot hitting in an ALDS sweep of the Angels, driving in seven runs and batting .385. Next up were the dreaded Yankees. New York took the first three games of the ALCS, outscoring Boston 32 to 16. With the Red Sox all but dead in Game 4, they mounted their now-famous comeback to snatch the pennant away in seven games.  The Yankees pitched around Manny the entire series. Instead they challenged Ortiz to beat them—which he did. In an awesome display of clutch hitting, he batted .387 with three homers and 11 RBIs. Ortiz had a pair of extra-inning walk-off hits.  Manny was all over the St. Louis Cardinals pitchers in the World Series. He topped both rosters with seven hits and batted .412. In Game 3, Manny cracked a first-inning homer and then threw Larry Walker out at the plate in the bottom of the inning to get Martinez out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam. After Boston's for-game sweep, Manny was named World Series MVP. More important, the Curse of the Bambino had finally been broken.

The 2005 season was a weird follow-up to the success of '04. Manny and his teammates smoked the ball all season long. But game after game, the Boston bullpen gave up leads and let precious wins slip away. Manny’s regular season only added to his future Hall of Famer status. He tied his career high with 45 home runs, drove in 144 runs, and finished the year with a flurry of long balls, launching nine in his final 12 games. Manny also hit three grand slams to boost him into second place on the all-time list with 20. With Ortiz launching 47 homers, he and Manny broke the club record for round-trippers by teammates. In the field, Manny had become the master of the Green Monster, gunning down 17 runners trying to take an extra base. It was his second double-digit season in assists since joining the Red Sox. Manny also showed a little toughness after colliding with shortstop Edgar Renteria on a pop fly. Despite cuts and bruises to his face and chest, he did not miss a game.  Manny’s stellar campaign aside, many in Red Sox Nation suspected he might try to force a trade before the July 31 deadline. He sat out the start of that 7/31 game against the Minnesota Twins until he knew his status. Manny then entered the contest to a standing ovation and delivered a game-winning pinch hit.

The Red Sox slipped a little further in 2006, finishing out of postseason contention. Ortiz had a monster year with 54 homers and 137 RBIs, and Manny contributed 35 and 102. Their numbers went to waste amidst a year of injuries and ineffectiveness. Manny was part of the problem. He sat out 30 games with nagging tendonitis in his right knee. Even so, when healthy he was terrific. In July and August, he fashioned a career-best 27-game hitting streak.

The 2007 season marked a turning point for the Red Sox. The team had plowed a lot of resources into scouting and development in the early years of the 21st century, and now the talent was beginning to bubble to the top. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen, Clay Buccholz and Jonathan Papelbon all made valuable contributions as the Red Sox won 96 games and finally finished ahead of the Yankees in the AL East. Japanese imports Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima bolstered a staff that was now led by Josh Beckett, a newly minted 20-game winner.  These changes also signaled a change in attitude toward Manny, who some in the organization were starting to see as expendable. He did nothing during the regular season to dissuade them, as he hit just 20 homers and knocked in a meager 88 runs—although he tied for the AL lead with 17 game-winning RBIs. 

The combination of an ice-cold April and a strained oblique in September ruined Manny’s season, but once the playoffs rolled around, he was a different man. He hit .348 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 14 games as the Red Sox beat the Angels, Indians and Rockies to win their second championship in four seasons.  Manny beat Francisco Rodriguez in Game 2 of the Division Series with a three-run walk-off homer in front of more than 40,000 delirious Fenway fans. In Game 3, he and Ortiz nailed back-to-back homers off of Jered Weaver. In the seven-game battle with his old team in the ALCS, Manny helped Boston come back from two games down. He batted .409 with a pair of homers, nine walks and 10 RBIs. His second home run of the series was the third of three straight hit off of Paul Byrd in Game 4. In the World Series wipeout of the Rockies, Manny had three hits in the opener.  After the season, the Red Sox were invited to the White House. Manny was unable to make it. During the congratulation ceremony, President Bush acknowledged Manny’s penchant for blaming absences on family emergencies when he joked, “I guess his grandmother died again.”

The Red Sox entered 2008 as the team to beat in the American League. However, all was not well in the locker room. Manny was starting to chirp about a new contract. He was becoming more and more of a distraction, and the team began to consider a deadline deal for the increasingly unhappy slugger. A June confrontation with Kevin Youkilis and a clubhouse tussle with the team’s traveling secretary ratcheted up the ill will. When Manny begged out of a July game against the Yankees with a sore knee—and followed that by failing to run out several grounders—the wheels were set in motion.  Manny certainly didn't help his case. In a July game against the Yankees, he watched three strikes go by from Mariano Rivera with the game on the line in the ninth inning. A few days later, he made a cell phone call in left field during a pitching change. Manny had been known to duck into the Fenway scoreboard to relieve himself, but this crossed the line.

When asked where he would be willing to play if the Red Sox dealt him, Manny said he’d play in Iraq if they wanted him. In his final game as a member of the Red Sox, he held up a sign in the dugout for TV cameras that said he was being traded for Brett Favre—straight-up.  On July 31, Manny was shipped to Los Angeles in a deal that brought Jason Bay to Boston.

In 2011, Ramirez agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. The 38-year-old Ramirez cut short his tenure with Tampa Bay and in major league baseball on April 8, 2011, when he abruptly retired after batting .059 (1-for-17) in just five games. Ramirez reportedly tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug in his spring training drug test. Manny told MLB that he would immediately retire. MLB issued a statement that Ramirez had been informed of an issue under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program, and chose to retire rather than continue with the appeal process. Ramirez was facing a 100-game suspension, which would still apply if Ramirez ever decided to return to the MLB at any point in the future.  Ramirez apparently did not personally inform the Rays about his decision. The team announced that they had been informed of his retirement by the MLB Commissioner's Office. 

In September 2011, reports surfaced that Ramirez was planning on playing in the Dominican Winter League for the Cibao Eagles. In a statement, the team said that Ramirez hoped to motivate other MLB stars to play in the country. However, the MLB Commissioner's Office issued a statement that since the Dominican League is affiliated with MLB, Ramirez would not be eligible to play without first serving his mandated suspension. Upon hearing that his plans to play in the winter league would not work, Ramirez decided to formally request reinstatement with MLB and that he was willing to serve his 100 game suspension for the second violation of the drug policy. He stated that he was not prepared for retirement and that he will be available for any MLB team and if none show interest, then he will "play in Japan or some other place. On February 20, 2012, Ramirez signed a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics. However, he needed to serve the 50-game suspension before he could play for the team.  He was eligible to play again on May 30, 2012, when his suspension was completed.  With the Sacramento River Cats he hit .302 in 17 games, but had no homers and only a .349 slugging percentage. On June 15, Ramirez requested and was given his outright release by the Athletics

The real problem for Manny is the lack of patience that teammates, management and fans always seem to have for him. There's no doubt that he has already assembled no-brainer numbers for the Hall of Fame. Manny is the owner of two World Series rings as well. But he has never seen any reason to conform to acceptable standards of behavior. His odd and unique view of the world works for only so long. In the end, everyone grows tired of "Manny being Manny"