Manny Ramirez’s career is over.
It passed us by like a warm summer breeze. Where did all the years go?
The year was 1997. I decided that spring that I was a Manny Ramirez fan. He was hitting in the middle of a fun Indians lineup. He was a right handed power hitter that played a corner outfield spot, just like me. I began to VHS record his games and study the way he swung. I watched the way that he went through the baseball on every swing and how he seemed to enjoy hitting the ball the other way. Up until those days, I thought that hitting was about yanking everything. Beautiful was pulling the ball to me. I thought hitting was about hitting home runs and if it wasn’t something for extra bases it wasn’t worth anything. If you didn’t homer or at least hit one off the wall in a game, it didn’t count as any type of good game.
But Manny hit the right way. He hit line drives. And he loved to go back-side. Pretty soon, I was realizing that a beautiful piece of hitting was a single the other way, and I started hitting behind runners in hit and run situations and doubling the other way. It was a thing of beauty, just like when Manny did it. Like when a young aspiring artist takes a piece of Clapton’s musical genius and incorporates a bit of it into his own instrumental repertoire; I had my artist in which to influence me as a hitter.
Manny was slumping back then to begin 1997. He was actually hitting .214 on April 15th. Scouts were talking about Manny’s bat speed being way down and there were whispers that the organization was worried about him. Then Manny caught fire. He ended up hitting .328 in his ‘down’ year. He was absolutely incredible. The Indians went all the way to the World Series and the Baby Bull homered four times in the postseason.
He was our anti-Yankee. He thrived crushing in the Bronx and he loved hitting with the bases loaded it seemed.
His next three years in Cleveland were absolutely storybook. The numbers that he put up were absolutely incredible and it’s unreal to think in those years that he finished no higher than 3rd in the MVP voting. This in itself should have been a clue that something was in the water all around baseball, because in 1999 the 27-year old Manny Ramirez would drive in 165 runs. People brought up the name Hack Wilson and if Manny hadn’t missed 15 games there are some peers of mine that believe Manny would have found a way to break Hack’s record of 181 RBI.
We didn’t know then what we do know now, but I’ll say this; Manny Ramirez was probably the finest all around right-handed hitter of my lifetime. Just like in the movie Blow, when Ray Liotta tells a young George Jung that ‘he could have been anything he wanted’, Manny Ramirez would have hit no matter what he was or wasn’t taking. His excellence was God-given, and it was clear to anyone that watched him hundreds of hot summer afternoons like I did growing up that the guy could roll out of bed and drop four doubles on you in 9 innings and get his base coach fired all in a day’s work.
I remember when his possible final day as an Indian came. I had started out a freshman in high school watching Manny Ramirez, and I had grown into a better ballplayer for it by then. It was late in the year in 2000, the first day of October to be exact. I had a fall baseball game that day but like I always did, I recorded the Indians game on my parents VCR so I could get one more glimpse of Manny in an Indians uniform; if indeed he was really leaving the state we both grew up in together.
When I finished my game, I wondered how it went down for Manny and the Tribe in Cleveland. I didn’t even have to wait until I got home. As I climbed in the car my mother–who has a very basic knowledge of sports, so if it’s not kind of a big deal she doesn’t even know about it–let me know that Manny Ramirez had homered in his final at-bat as an Indian. I corrected her and told her that it wouldn’t be his final at-bat in Cleveland, but in my heart I knew better. How amazing he really was. The guy walked up to the plate and took a guy named John Frascatore deep to straightaway center field. His final gift, and his final goodbye to the city of Cleveland came by way of one swing of his mighty bat.
Then that night in November came that I’ll never forget. There were some stirrings that the Indians might lure Ramirez back. They were offering him a record deal for Cleveland, doing their best. The announcement came on Baseball Tonight and I was excited as a young guy could be about something in sports. Then quickly my heart broke as they told us the news that Manny Ramirez was going to the Red Sox. That’s when it really ended for me. The guy who I learned how to hit by watching him perform his craft every day was leaving town. All that was left was all the memories.
Think what you want about Manny. Say what you want. He probably won’t get into the Hall of Fame. But you can’t take away the fact that he’s one of the most incredible talents to ever step foot in a Major League park, and the fact that he was just part of a different breed. They’ll never be another.
And it’s the little things I’ll miss. Hearing about how he grabbed a pitchers bat because he liked the way the grains looked or that he stole a hat out of a coach’s locker and wore it even though it was 2 sizes too small. Or the time he cut off a throw from Johnny Damon. Or the time he rolled 4 times and was laying on top of the baseball in the outfield.
If you watched him enough, you knew exactly when you were watching ‘Manny being Manny’. There was no better way to describe it. And now looking back all these many years later, what a great bunch of times we had together.
Thanks for teaching me what a hitter is supposed to look like Manny. Thanks for making baseball fun, like it’s supposed to be. You did it your way. You did it with ease.