Manny of the Year
A second-half power surge has turned the Indians' Manny Ramirez into an MVP candidate
After Indians rightfielder Manny Ramirez drove in his 100th run of the year, against Tampa Bay on Aug. 17, he was asked how many more RBIs he hoped to have over the remainder of the season. "That's it," he replied. "I'm happy with 100." That Ramirez would admit to harboring such underwhelming aspirations hardly surprised anyone. During his five seasons in Cleveland, the 26-year-old Ramirez has picked up a reputation for flighty, lackadaisical play. Losing track of the count has been one of his repeated blunders: He has headed for first base on ball three and hung around in the batter's box on ball four. Last year he successfully swiped second against the Tigers, only to be tagged out while retreating to first under the mistaken impression that the batter had fouled off the pitch.
Fears that Ramirez would become complacent after reaching the century mark in RBIs proved to be incorrect, though. Over the past four weeks through Sunday, he was on a tear, homering 16 times and driving in 40 runs in 27 games, while sparking talk that his season's numbers—.301 average, 45 homers, 141 RBIs—merited MVP consideration. "I've never seen anyone as hot," says Indians manager Mike Hargrove.
"Manny has been more aggressive lately," says hitting instructor Charlie Manuel. "He's been hitting the ball exactly where it's pitched. He's been real smooth."
Two homers last Saturday off the Royals' Jose Rosado were perfect examples of that smoothness. The first came on a breaking ball, down and in, that Ramirez pulled to left. The second came on a changeup, low and away, that he drove over the right centerfield fence at the 375-foot mark. With that he became only the second player in major league history to crack eight dingers over a five-game span. ( Frank Howard of the Washington Senators did it twice in 1968.)
What's more, Ramirez's late-season surge came at a time when Cleveland's most consistent run producer, Jim Thome, was on the disabled list and the Indians were limping toward their fourth straight American League Central championship. The Indians are encouraged that Ramirez is finally growing up. "Without a doubt he's getting more mature," says Manuel. "Not just from an offensive standpoint, but also in his baserunning and defense."
The 6-foot, 205-pound Ramirez is also maturing physically. "He's definitely gotten stronger," says the 54-year-old Manuel, who stands 6'4" and weighs 210. "Now when we wrestle, he can beat me."
And a Gloveman Shall Lead Them
Arlington, Texas, is a bumper sticker town. Anytime someone comes up with a nifty slogan—DEAR GOD LET THERE BE ONE MORE OIL BOOM AND DON'T LET ME BLOW IT; THE ONLY MAD COW IN TEXAS IS OPRAH—it seems half the drivers there rush to endorse it. There are a lot of cars in Arlington, but little bumper space.
The Rangers—who, in their bid for a second American League West crown in three years, were tied at week's end for first with the surprisingly resilient Angels—have unintentionally come up with what will surely become a $2.95 sticker craze. Ever since 28-year-old shortstop Royce Clayton was acquired from the Cardinals on July 31, all anyone has been saying is "I don't want to say anything bad about Kevin Elster, but...."