Manny Ramirez is coming to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011 looking for a new start. The controversial slugger has taken his lumps the last few years. His time with Boston was rife with controversy. He was one of the best hitters in the game during his time there, but that did not stop the Red Sox from trying to get rid of him for nothing after the 2003 season. No other team wanted to take on his salary, so he stayed and helped the Red Sox win two World Series titles. In 2008, Ramirez shoved a Red Sox employee over tickets. His phantom injury problems finally led to the Red Sox feeling they just needed to be rid of him. He was traded at the deadline in 2008 to the Dodgers and suddenly Ramirez was a new man. He took Los Angeles by storm, rechristening it Mannywood. He almost single-handedly got the Dodgers into the playoffs that year and past the Cubs. The hot three months of baseball earned Manny a new two year contract. During the 2009 season he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and got suspended 50 games. That and other incidents helped him wear out his welcome with the Dodgers too. He was put on waivers near the end of the 2010 season to be picked up by the Chicago White Sox in an unsuccessful effort to catch the Twins in the American League Central.
Manny Ramirez is known for his quirky personality that has led to the popular phrase “Manny being Manny“. He is known for his baggy uniform, pine tarred stained helmet, and an ill-fitting cap that allows him to sport long dreadlocks. He is also known for his odd behavior, including picking a song for his walk-up to the plate that had explicit language, going to the bathroom during a mound conference and supposedly listening to music while out on the field. When he was traded to the Dodgers, he had to change from his traditional number 24 (because it was retired for Walter Alston) to something else. He picked number 99, which has sported it’s own set of characters. Turk Wendell wore number 99 for the Mets in 1999. He apparently had a fascination with the number nine and was paid $1,214,998 one year. He also wore shark teeth around his neck, and brushed his teeth in between every inning. Mitch Williams was another notable number 99. He may not have been crazy, but his mullet, his lack of control and his penchant for falling off the mound every pitch suggested he was a little out there. Perhaps the most famous number 99 in baseball was someone who never suited up in a major league game, but epitomized the number just the same. Charlie Sheen, playing Ricky Vaughn in the movie Major League had enough wild antics on the mound to influence future number 99’s. The number certainly does Manny justice.
So, what was Manny like before, well before he was Manny? Just looking at a picture of him when he was a younger man, it’s hard to believe it’s the same guy. He wore his uniform much tighter, his hair was cut short with very little facial hair and he stood at the plate with a much greater crouch than he does now. Watching him on the field, he seemed very shy. An observer might not even notice him on the field. He was uber-talented, but still prone to some mental lapses. For example, during the 8th inning of Game 2 of the 1995 World Series, Ramirez allowed himself to be picked off first by Atlanta catcher Javier Lopez. He was representing the tying run at the time. During the Game 1 of the next year’s Division Series against the Orioles, Manny allowed a run to score on a short fly ball to right. He threw to second instead of using his strong arm to try and nab the runner.
He came up with the Cleveland Indians for good in 1994 in what was a Renaissance period for a long moribund franchise. They became baseball’s best team in 1995 sporting a lineup that featured Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, Sandy Alomar Jr., Omar Vizquel and of course Manny Ramirez. All these players are all stars and most of them have legitimate claims to the Hall of Fame if they aren’t already in. According to Ramirez’s biography Becoming Manny, in those early days he preferred to bat lower in the lineup. Interestingly, Manny felt pressure when he was higher in the lineup. When a manager has the options that Indian manager Mike Hargrove had, it’s easy to see why he complied. Does that sound like the attention-seeking, ego driven Manny that he is perceived by many? He took on greater responsibility in 1997 when Albert Belle left as a free agent and has largely never left the middle of the lineup for whichever team he has played for.
For Manny Ramirez, coming to the Rays in 2011 might mean coming full circle. His salary has been cut down to two million for this year and he is again playing for a small-market franchise. He still has the baggy uniform and dreadlocks, but he has switched back to number 24. His career 555 home runs speaks for itself as does his postseason record of 29 dingers. He is absolutely pasting spring training pitching and is as much of a watch as ever. No matter what he has done in the past, there is still excitement when Manny comes to your team.