August 1, 2008

Thank You, Manny Ramirez!

I first heard the name Manny Ramirez in the summer of 1991. L and I were living in Washington Heights, the neighbourhood near the upper tip of Manhattan. Manny was a senior at George Washington High School -- a mile or so from our apartment building.

Sara Rimer of the New York Times wrote a series of articles about the team -- including Ramirez, the team's third baseman. Even in high school, Manny's work ethic was second to none.

Manny was drafted by Cleveland and sent to the Kinston Indians (A+, Carolina League.) In 81 games, he hit .278/.375/.502, leading the team in slugging and OPS. (One of his teammates was Alan Embree.) I tried following Ramirez's minor league career, but in 1992, that was tough. I thought it would be neat if someone from our then-neighborhood made it to the major leagues. (We used to joke that we'd say we saw all Manny's games if he became a star.)

In 1993, Manny spent time in AA (89 games, .340/.416/.581), AAA (40 games, .317/.424/.690) and the major leagues (22 games, 9-for-53, .170/.200/.302). He made his debut on September 2, 1993 in Minnesota, going 0-for-4. His second game was the following night at Yankee Stadium. He was the DH, batting sixth. A huge group of friends from his neighbourhood were in the left field bleachers, waving Dominican Republic flags and having a huge party. He hit two home runs that night, one in the sixth and another in the eighth.

Ramirez quickly became a star in Cleveland -- an indispensable part of the great Spider teams of the mid-90s. When Manny was eligible for free agency, at the peak of his prime, after the 2000 season, Red Sox GM Dan Duquette signed him to an eight-year deal. And a lot of Dominican men in our neighbourhood went out and bought new "B" caps.

The Red Sox began the 2001 season in Baltimore and returned for the Fenway opener on Friday, April 6. My book on the 1918 team was out that spring and by chance I was in Boston to do an early-morning television interview. I didn't have a ticket to the game, but headed over to the park anyway and ended up having lunch in a pub on Landsdowne Street.

Manny's first at-bat in Fenway Park as a member of the Red Sox came in the bottom of the first inning. Already trailing Tampa Bay 3-0, Boston had two on and one out, when Manny drilled Ryan Rupe's first pitch over the left field wall for a three-run homer! Fenway erupted, the pub erupted, and Boston's love affair with Manny Ramirez was sealed. Boston won the game 11-4. Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek were the Boston battery that day -- the only two players to have been around for the entire Manny Ramirez Era.

Ramirez was Boston's DH for the team's first 54 games in 2001 before making his debut in left field. Trot Nixon was the team's right fielder, so Manny had to learn a new position. He alternated between LF and DH in 2001 and 2002 (even playing seven games in RF in 2002) before becoming primarily a left fielder in 2003.

His career has been astounding. For eight years -- 1998 to 2005 -- Ramirez finished in the Top 10 in the AL MVP voting. He batted higher than .325 five times in seven years (1997-2003), hitting a career-best .351 in 2000 and winning the AL batting title two years later with a .349 mark with the Red Sox. There are only seven players in baseball history with 1,500 RBI, 1,000 walks, 2,000 hits, 450 doubles, 500 home runs and a lifetime .300 average: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Frank Thomas and Manny Ramirez.

Maybe one day we'll have a better grasp on what happened over the last month, as Manny's public attitude about being a Red Sock changed so dramatically. Maybe it will be forever clouded, a mystery of how everything spiraled out of control so quickly ... Either way, he's gone.

When I think back on Manny Ramirez Era, I will think of nothing but the prettiest swing I've ever seen, the no-doubt bombs and the Mummy, the Camden high-five, the bare-handed grabs off the Wall and perfect throws to the infield, the ropes to right-center, the Cairo catch and double point, the quotes, hugs, fist bumps -- the sheer joy he was unafraid to show while playing the game he loved. And the two (two!!) World Series titles.

Despite his imperfections, there are few players I have enjoyed watch play baseball more than Manny Ramirez. He is one of the truly unique characters in the game's history. How many seasons does Manny have left? Will he move on from Los Angeles once this season ends? We'll have to wait and see. As the man said, you make your own destination.

All I can say is: "Thank you, Manny! I hope you can be as happy in your life as I have been watching you play baseball for the last eight years!"


allan said...

Do not miss Images of Manny.

laura k said...

This is beautiful! Thank you.

Gareth said...

This was a great post. It's the swing that I'll miss most of all: when he connected, it was such an amazing thing to watch. I remember seeing him hit a grand slam at Fenway and it was one of those no-doubters, four runs the instant it left the bat. I'm not sure why I enjoyed it so much, since I'm not a citizen myself, but I also loved being at the game - vs. Cleveland - just after he became a citizen and waved the little flag as he ran out to left; somehow the fact that it was such a little flag was nice! It also turned into a nice game for Pedro, too, after a shaky (two-run) first inning: 11 strikeouts on the night.

M@ said...

Great post, Allan. Even a non-baseball-fanatic like me can appreciate that he was a great player -- and greater still because he had some personality and humanity along with his athletic ability.

johngoldfine said...

Thanks, Alan. That's a post and a half. Whatever the pluses, minuses, pros, cons--the end of MBM in Boston brings on the blues.

allan said...

That Images thread is getting better and better and is destined to be a classic. Checkout the video here -- the good stuff starts at 1:07.

I also remember being struck by Manny's expression on that Millar hug picture.

We had this guy in our lives for almost 8 years. We're pretty fucking lucky.

A little night musing said...

This is a lovely tribute.

Thank you.

My amazing source of gratitude last night was that I made it down to Baltimore to see HR #501 (not 500, alas, but even better in a way that's special to me) - and I'm so glad I made myself go down there. I almost didn't go due to life complications, but my Mom talked me into it literally the night before. (While I was on the phone with her, I saw #500 happen.) Thanks Mom!

Tony said...

Well done, redsock. I think history's going to be real kind to Manny - he's been one of baseball's greatest hitters, and he doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves. I'm confident that people will speak of him the way we spoke of Foxx and Mantle and Brett.

I miss him already.

JASon said...

This is a brilliant tribute to Manny's time with the Red Sox. One thing I am probably the most sad about is that he was 76% of the way to getting his number put on the Fenway facade.

Gambrinus said...

That image I'm all kinds of sad now.

One thing that I'm glad to see, though, is that for however much the media tried to make us hate him, the fans saw the truth about Manny.

laura k said...

I find it really sad (and more than bit strange) that so many great players have left Boston under such negative circumstances.

Rarely is there a simple statement from the FO, "He's a great player, but no longer a fit for our team, we wish him well, but we're moving on." Seems there has to be a shit storm first.

The list of players this has happened to is so long! It's a damn shame.

Copa Yard Sale said...

Great post. Best I've seen on Manny today. No question that when the Sox take the field tonight we will not be a better team without him.

I have tickets for the Tuesday Sox vs Royals game and it won't be the same since he's gone.

He was able to be on two teams that won the World Series. Something a lot of great Red Sox players did not do even once.

We will miss him on the team in many ways.

tim said...

Great post, he will be missed :(

The picture/video thread makes me wanna cry, no doubt he was my favorite Sock. The past 8 1/2 years have been amazing, and the Dodgers are getting one of the best.

This is baseball though, and all things must come to an end. We will move on, and we will prevail.

On a sidenote, I had a dream last night where Jay Bay cranked a walk-off grand slam over the monster vs. Huston Street. It was a nice "Hello Boston" moment. I can only hope this comes true today.

truth said...

In my dreams last night, Jason Bay grounded out to short with the bases loaded, and Joe Buck said, "Look at the way he runs down the line! Now that's how you play the game."

I'm in mourning today. Thanks for the link to the Images of Manny.

Joe Grav said...

Aw man, now you gone and made me cry.

Jack Marshall said...

Lovely, heartfelt, generous tribute and farewell, Allan. I hope Manny gets to read it.

Amy said...

Pure poetry, Allan. It brought tears to my eyes. Thanks so much for writing this.

Maybe your next book can be a Manny book?

laura k said...

I hope Manny gets to read it.

Just as Jack was posting that, I was sending the link to a few places, in the hopes that it reaches Manny.

nixon33 said...

awesome redsock. its funny how those miserable fucks who are happy to see him go have become so spoiled with the championships that they cant even see that this guys helped in completing the red sox dream for a lot of us.
i was thinking about why i was so fucking sad last night. because it is the end of an "era". it made you think about that era, and what it meant. the end results being 2004 and 2007. and what does that make you think of? all the years leading up to those world series. the endless pursuit of a red sox title. the failed attempts, the heartbreak. the years where no one was in the centerfield bleachers. growing up playing whiffle ball pretending to be dewey or jim rice. and playing little league wearing number 21 cause the rocket was the greatest thing.
not to sound like a complete baseball psycho, but this whole red sox thing is a big part of our lives
and we can parallel their timeline with our own.
look how far we've come.
ahhh... i love you manny. thanks you crazy home run hitting motherfucker.

Joe Grav said...

I'm so lucky to have seen Manny play in person so many times.

Rob said...

I had a great time reading that. Lots of insight. Top notch, my friend.

laura k said...

Nix, really nice. Not psycho - truth.

andy said...

Maybe if he read that earlier he would not have wanted to be traded.

papa sime said...

that was great, simple and sweet and well deserved.

thanks Manny!!!!!!!

papa sime said...

After reading the comments I also have to say that the saddest thing to me also is the people who are actually so happy he is gone. How crazy is that?

Then again, that sentiment is developed here in Boston initially and spreads, and these people, my neighbors specifically, the radio callers in general, ain't the brightest of the bunch.

Thanks for the post redsock.

allan said...

It may be time to relink to this.

Soxlosophy said...

I'd just like to add my praise- great post.

I wasn't ready for Manny to go- it all happened so fast.

thatdietcokegirl said...

nice post.

i was at that game opening day 01. it was my birthday and i was there with my whole family (they paid to have 'happy birthday elizabeth' put up on the jumbotron during the 7th inning stretch). i remember that HR like it was yesterday. first at-bat, amazing. like a movie.

it's very strange that he's not on our team anymore. i haven't quite soaked it in.

laura k said...

Diet Coke, thanks for sharing the personal memory.

I read this post for the 3rd time and cried again!

I must second Papa Sime's observation: the craziest part is Boston fans who are happy - not resigned, but actually happy - that one of the greatest hitters in history is gone from our team.

Mike said...

Such a great post. Well done.

jron said...

Right On.

Unknown said...

Great hitter; great post. Thanks.

darsenault said...

I was fortunate enough to be present when Manny hit his 500th home run in Baltimore Maryland. I traveled there via bus with dozens of other buses, bursting with die hard red sox fans. The elation and pride that filled that stadium was unbelievable! There was our Manny in visiting a stadium making history! It was GREAT to be a Red Sox Fan that day! I will miss Manny and hopes that he does find happiness, and one day realizes that it is those committed fans that make the teams, the atmosphere and the sport so great!