I can still remember sitting at old Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium in Canton, OH, on a spring night in 1993 where the former Akron-Canton Indians, a minor-league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, used to play their home games in the Eastern League. At this particular game, a kid that no one had ever heard of named Manny Ramirez stepped up to the plate and crushed not one, but two homeruns, one of which went all the way out of the stadium and into the parking lot.
I was only 14 years old at the time, but I was struck with such a sense of awe and amazement having never seen a display of power so impressive from a Minor League player, that I just knew I was witnessing the very beginnings of what would almost certainly become a special career in baseball.
That was 17 years ago, and for 14 of those years, I was right.
As the 2008 baseball season drew to a close, Manny Ramirez was widely regarded as one of the greatest hitters ever to play the game of baseball. His statistics as they were would have earned him legitimate consideration as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And even at the age of 36, he was turning in remarkable performances, having finished that season with a .332 batting average, on 183 hits, with 37 HRs and 121 RBIs.
As far as career totals are concerned, he was batting .314 lifetime, with 2392 hits, 527 HRs, and 1725 RBIs. When you consider that there are only about 200 players in the history of baseball who can boast a career batting average greater than .300, and only about 75 who hit better than .314, Manny was sitting in some very exclusive company.
Then came the charges of Ramirez having used performance enhancing drugs, and everything changed. And while we can only speculate as to what his numbers would have been had he NOT used PEDs, there is one thing that we can be sure of – Manny Ramirez has played as only a shell of his former self since his return to the game after having served a 50 game suspension.
Ramirez returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 3rd, 2009, from which time to the end of the 2009 season, he recorded 260 at-bats. Of those 260 ABs, though, he only recorded 70 hits for a batting average of .269. That result is a far cry from Ramirez’s career average, and is matched only by his 1994 season as being the worst performance of his career.
And although he still managed to hit 13 HRs and 43 RBIs during that time, it was not enough performance to bring Ramirez any job security. So in 2010, after he suffered a hamstring injury during the middle of the season, the Dodgers placed Ramirez on waivers.
He was simply getting paid too much money for the level of performance he was putting out, and the Dodgers decided they just couldn’t afford to pay him anymore.
Deciding to make a play for the postseason, then, the White Sox claimed Ramirez, and brought him over to the south side of Chicago . Their hope was that Ramirez’s hitting capabilities would provide a jolt to the White Sox lineup, giving them the last push they needed to compete for a postseason spot.
How has that decision worked out for the Sox?
In his 17 games since joining Chicago, Ramirez is a pathetic 13 for 64, with only one HR and one RBI (which came as a token run scored in a 9-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers. He has, however, struck out 18 times, has gone hitless in more than half of his games since joining the White Sox, and has only been good for five runs.
Corresponding with that very poor performance, the White Sox as a team have played to a record of 7-10, including being swept twice by the Detroit Tigers, and a third time by the Minnesota Twins. And now, the same White Sox team that was hoping to make a push for the postseason (as they were only four games behind the AL Central leading Minnesota Twins when Ramirez arrived on September 1st), are today a full ten games back from the Twins, and have virtually no shot at playing October baseball.
It has been a tale of two Mannys, and the Manny that we see today is doing no one any favors by sticking around, especially himself.
Before the 50-game suspension, Ramirez was a World Series champion, a 12-time All Star outfielder, and a nine-time Silver Slugger. After the 50-game suspension, he has become a financial liability and an injury risk that cannot produce any offense. He WAS a feared hitter who no pitcher wanted to face, especially in a clutch situation. Now, he is a 38 year old player who can’t run, apparently can’t hit, and is in grave danger of further damaging a legacy already marred by scandal.
His Hall of Fame candidacy is already in question, simply from the merits of having admitted to cheating in the game of baseball. But thanks to his decision to hang around still, two years removed from having made any REAL contribution to his team, he sits in danger of destroying what little hope he had remaining.
Perhaps it is sentimentality speaking, but as a longtime fan of Manny Ramirez, I hope for his sake that he retires from the game BEFORE it is too late.