I only saw Manny Ramirez play one time in my life. It was last May when the Los Angeles Dodgers came to Chicago for a three game set against my Chicago Cubs. It was the last game of the series so the Dodgers were resting a bunch of their starters, including Manny, and I was more than a little disappointed. Fast-forward to the top of the ninth and the Dodgers are down 1-0 with a man on first. I didn’t have the best seats, but even from where I was sitting I could see the stocky, dreadlocked Manny walk into the batter’s box as a pinch hitter. I was petrified.
That’s the best way I can put Manny’s career into words.
If you’re as big a baseball fan as I am (assuming someone of that description exists), there are certain players who, when they come up to bat, keep you absolutely glued to your seat. Think Albert Pujols or David Ortiz before he stopped taking steroids (don’t give me that look, Boston fans, you know he did). During his final years in Boston, Manny Ramirez was one of those guys. His unkempt dreadlocks hanging out from his pine tar covered helmet was one of the most frightening sights a pitcher could see in those days, not to mention his lightning quick hands. Simply put, Manny is one of the greatest right-handed hitters to ever step to the plate. His 555 career home runs put him 14th all-time and he has a higher career batting average than 12 of the players in front of him. However, he will forever be remembered as the best player on the 2004 curse-breaking Boston Red Sox World Series team.
Well, forever remembered with an asterisk next to his name. He was suspended for 50 games in 2009 for testing positive for a banned substance, by far the highest profile player to fall victim to Major League Baseball’s drug testing system. He tested positive at least two other times in his career: once in 2003 during a test that was supposed to be anonymous and again this past week, which is what prompted his retirement.
The big question now, one that will be asked countless times over the next several years, will be if Manny is a Hall-of-Famer. It’s a story we’ve seen before and we’ll see again: his numbers say yes but his steroid use says no. At some point maybe the voters will come to their senses and start inducting the best hitters of this generation, but for now it looks like we’ve seen the last of Manny Ramirez.
It’s a sad end to a prolific and tainted career, but for those who have watched him play, it maybe came a year too late. Last year he spent time with both the Dodgers and Chicago White Sox, playing in only 90 games and hitting nine home runs.
Manny steps to the plate and a weird vibe takes over the crowd; everyone knows we shouldn’t be scared, but his name is still Manny Ramirez. As long as that was true, we would still have the fear in our bellies. Horrible flashes of Manny hitting ball after ball onto Waveland Avenue went through my head, right up until Carlos Marmol struck him out on five pitches. Steroids or not, that feeling is what I’ll remember most about Manny Ramirez.