Peace and tranquility for Hanley Ramirez: gone in six seconds
Ramirez was yanked for not hustling after a ball in Monday night's loss
He then griped that manager Fredi Gonzalez "never played in the big leagues"
Gonzalez simply responded, "I know what it takes to play this game"
There was something gut-wrenching about watching Hanley Ramirez dog his way after that ball, wasn't there? I mean, in terms of cause-and-effect, that six-second jog after his own kicked ball probably had little consequence on the game itself. To recap the play quickly, on Monday night Arizona had runners on first and second when Tony Abreu fisted (fisted!) a blooper to left. Best I can tell, Ramirez went hard after the ball but he could not come close to catching it. He then kind of swiped at the ball with his glove -- sort of the way a golfer putts the ball with the back of his putter -- but he missed it, and by accident kicked the ball into the left field corner. That's when the jog began.
Two runs scored -- and I figure both runs would have scored no matter how hard Ramirez ran after the ball. Maybe he could have gotten the second runner at the plate, but I doubt it. With hustle, he probably COULD have prevented Abreu from reaching third base, and Abreu did score on a follow-up single. But all in all, the RESULT of the play was not devastating. It was a lot like watching a guy stand at home plate and admire a fly ball that ends up bounding off the wall... getting held to a double when a triple was certainly possible.
But WATCHING the play was devastating. I love watching Hanley Ramirez play baseball. In my lifetime, I suspect I have not seen even a handful of players as talented. The guy stole 50 bases at age 22. He had a 30-30 season and led the league in runs scored at 24. He won a batting title at 25. He built a reputation as a sloppy defensive shortstop, but he improved dramatically and became at least average, maybe even a tick above. He was one of the few players in baseball, in sports, who you could count on to do something, almost every day, that would make you drop your jaw.
And then... this. Ramirez would later say that he was hurt and running as hard as he could -- on video it doesn't quite look that way to me. Others might say that Ramirez was not hurt at all and was just throwing an on-field tantrum -- it doesn't quite look that way to me either.
No, it's more of a combination. You probably know that an inning earlier, Ramirez fouled a pitch off his ankle. And you probably know that Ramirez has long been a bit of a diva. Hey, as Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters, "You wish they were all Derek Jeters." They're not. So, I suspect what we saw was a player who was frustrated after kicking the ball, frustrated by how far the ball rolled away, frustrated by the pain in his ankle, and he simply shut down. Of course, understanding what happened isn't the same as accepting what happened. It's agonizing to watch someone, hurt or not, show that little respect for the game, teammates, fans and himself.
The aftermath was predictable -- except for one part. Gonzalez pulled Ramirez from the game -- that was predictable. A teammate or two (in this case Wes Helms) bashed Ramirez -- that was predictable. Ramirez was enraged about it and on Tuesday questioned Gonzalez's baseball soul. That, too, was predictable. But Gonzalez' response -- well, that was pretty good.
Gonzalez had waited until the end of the inning to remove Ramirez, which I think was the right thing to do. Yes, he could have pulled Ramirez right away, during the inning -- the announcers clearly wanted him to do that -- but I personally think that's just managerial showboating. That's Billy Martin stuff. That's punishing a player AND rubbing his face in the mud. He waited and pulled Ramirez when the inning ended, in the privacy of the dugout, asked Ramirez if he was hurt, did not get a satisfactory answer, and pulled the guy.
Ramirez popped off today in an interview session with reporters. One of the more interesting tidbits in there is when he said, "We have a lot of people dogging it after ground balls." Yeah, that should really impress his teammates. That tells you that Hanley Ramirez, as great a player as he is, has a persecution complex. It also tells you that the Marlins have a real problem on their hands in the clubhouse, something that won't just go away. Of course, from what I can tell, many players in the Florida clubhouse weren't crazy about Ramirez before.
And, then Ramirez took the predictable shot at Gonzalez. He seemed to be saying that Gonzalez singled him out unfairly and would not have pulled another player for a similar stunt. He said: "Hopefully, he does it with everybody. That's OK. He doesn't understand that. He never played in the big leagues."
There it was. He never played in the big leagues. For as long as there have been baseball managers, there have been players commenting about the mediocrity of their careers. The Cincinnati Reds pitchers used to say that the only thing Sparky Anderson knew about pitching was that he couldn't hit it. The Los Angeles Dodgers hitters used to say that Tommy Lasorda's knowledge of hitting was limited to his inability to prevent it. This is a common refrain. And there can be something to it. Just a couple of days ago, I wrote about how former Royals manager Trey Hillman was at a terrible disadvantage because he had never been in the big leagues.
But that's not true about Fredi Gonzalez -- he never PLAYED in the big leagues, but he coached in Atlanta, and this is his fourth season as manager of the Marlins. He knows what's going on.
Gonzalez was presented with that quote, and he offered one of my favorite responses of the year. I'm not saying that Gonzalez has handled this thing perfectly. No. His job is to defuse the situation, and it has instead gotten out of hand. Maybe he could have prevented the blow-up. Maybe, in a perfect world, he could have kept this thing internal. In one scenario, he might have yanked Hanley into the office, chewed him out, warned him not to make this thing any worse by yapping to reporters and then told the press that Ramirez was hurt and it was all "handled internally." But he also knows a lot more about the situation and his own history with Ramirez so maybe that just wasn't possible. Maybe this thing had to blow up.
What I do know is that when reporters presented him with the "Hanley said you never played in the big leagues," line, Gonzalez did not get angry. He did not get offended. He did not fire back.
He simply said this: "He's right. But I know how to play the game. I played six years in the minor leagues, and I know what it takes to play this game, and I know the effort it takes to play this game, and I know it's hard to play the game. That's it."
That's it. That's the perfect answer. He's right. "...but I know how to play the game." Hanley Ramirez was benched again on Tuesday, and he's probably benched indefinitely, and there's no telling how this thing is going to end. Maybe he will get traded away. Maybe Gonzalez will get shoved out. Maybe, probably, things will simmer down and just go along like normal.
Whatever happens, I just think about how nauseating it was to watch that six-second jog. Hanley Ramirez is a remarkable player. But even remarkable players need to try.