The genius of Manny Ramirez
"The reluctance to put away childish things may be a requirement of genius."
-- Former New York Times Book editor Rebecca Pepper Sinkler
The following column is dedicated to the admittedly bizarre proposition that one Manuel Aristides (Onelcida) Ramirez, sometimes known as Man-Ram or Manny Being Manny or just plain Manny, is a genius. Now, it's not an easy case to make that a man who tries to run to third on a ground rule double, who sometimes disappeared into the Green Monster during pitching changes, who gets pulled over by police for having overly tinted car windows is a genius.
Then, nobody is saying Manny Ramirez is an all-around genius.
"You don't know what to throw the guy," says Bill Swift, a one-time Olympic hero and 20-game winner who faced MannyBManny eight times in his career. Ramirez crushed six hits, three of them doubles, two of them homers. "You just look at him in the box, and you know that no matter what you throw -- fastball in, curveball away, slider down, change-up -- it doesn't matter. He will hit it."
MannyBManny joined the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 1. This was less than a month after he pinch hit at Yankee Stadium and blandly watched three Mariano Rivera fastballs go over the plate for strikes in a crucial spot. The bat never moved, and even Rivera was baffled, and his days in Boston effectively ended. After his first game in Los Angeles, the Dodgers were a game worse than .500 and seemingly dead in the water.
Since that day, MannyBManny has hit .401, a homer every 11 at-bats, more than one RBI per game, and the Dodgers have just about run away with the National League West.
"There must be a pitch that can get him out," Swift says. "I never found it."
"There was never a genius without a tincture of madness."
For a while there in the 1990s, it seemed like the Cleveland Indians had some sort of Awesome Hitter Tree, and whenever they felt like it they would pluck some new hitting star from it.*
*We Clevelanders accepted this as a fair karmic payback for 30 years of troublingly bad baseball. When you have seen enough Tommy Veryzers and Miguel Dilones and Jim Norrises you start to feel like you somebody up there owes you something.
In quick succession, the Indians found Albert Belle and Carlos Baerga and Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome. The surplus grew so overwhelming that, ultimately, the Indians simply could not find a place for all the incoming bats. And so Brian Giles (who hit 35-plus homers four straight years in Pittsburgh) and Richie Sexson (who would twice hit 45 homers for Milwaukee) and Sean Casey (who would make three All-Star teams and hit .300 over a lengthy career) rarely made it off the bench.
The great and powerful hitters came fast and furious, and it was easy to miss the fact that one of those young hitters was Mozart. MannyBManny's first game was in Minnesota on Sept. 2, 1993. He went 0-for-4 against Twins' pitchers Kevin Tapani and Carl Willis, though he did hit three balls hard. The next night he was in his town, in New York, at Yankee Stadium, facing the Yankees, and he crushed two home runs. That accomplished, he promptly went zero for his next 15.
From a distance, there seemed something quirky about this guy ... he smiled on the field but did not appear to be having a lot of fun. He appeared pleasant enough, but plainly he did not have much interest in talking. He was a good hitter almost from the start -- when he was 23 years old he had a .400 on-base percentage and hit 31 homers. The last three 23-year-olds to do that were Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey and Reggie Jackson.
The thing was the Indians already had Albert Belle, so the position of "Intimidating And Moody Right-handed Hitter Who Crushes Pitches To Every Field And Does Not Talk Much To The Press And Grounds Into Too Many Double Plays And Often Seems Disinterested In The Outfield," was already filled.
All in all, Belle was moodier, Manny seemingly more disinterested, and together in 1995 and 1996 they probably made for the most lethal right-handed hitting combo since Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda or, if you want to go back, Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons.
In 1997, Belle signed a big money deal with Chicago. In 1998 and 1999, MannyBManny drove in 310 runs, the most in back-to-back seasons since Hank Greenberg 60 years earlier. Other than his overpowering numbers and his odd brush with the law in Cleveland (not only was he ticketed for having darkened windows, he was ticketed AGAIN after making an illegal U-turn as he drove off), nobody knew much about Ramirez. He seemed happy that way. In 2000, he hit .351 and slugged .697. Then he signed the second-largest contract in baseball history, with Boston.
"What Boston didn't know," one baseball executive says, "is that in every possible way but one Manny Ramirez is like a child. The only place he's an adult is in the batter's box. In there, he's like the smartest man in the world."