The man must have an RBI chromosome, so natural is his knack for knocking runners home. Nobody in baseball drives in runs like Ramirez. Last year he had 165 RBIs in 147 games, marking the most runs batted in and the best rate of RBIs per game (1.12) since Foxx's 175 and 1.17 in 1938. His career .83 RBIs per game trails only the rates of five Hall of Famers: 19th-century stud Sam Thompson, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth.
"He and [ Seattle Mariners designated hitter] Edgar Martinez are the most dangerous hitters in our league," says Pedro Martinez. "The breaking ball, Manny hits. The fastball, he hits. The high pitch, he hits. The low pitch, he hits. If you make one mistake, he's all over you. So I just try to keep it simple and hope that he hits it at someone."
Perhaps one reason Ramirez succeeds in clutch situations is that he's impervious to the stress of such occasions—or of any others. His naivet� is so evident that people in the Cleveland organization tell Ramirez stories as if they were knock-knock jokes: One begets another and another. There was the time in 1993 when his teammates asked him on his first flight to Texas if he had packed his passport, which, they told him, was required for entry. A worried Ramirez fretted he would be turned away upon arrival. Another time early in his career he spent three days in Detroit without the contents of his luggage. He didn't know he was supposed to claim his bags in the hotel lobby, where players' luggage routinely is brought on trips, and was too shy to ask anyone about it. He received a phone call from a concerned person in the Indians' accounting office because records showed he hadn't cashed five consecutive paychecks. Ramirez said he simply hadn't gotten around to it. There was the time he was worried about teammate Chad Ogea upon hearing a news bulletin that Los Angeles police were pursuing O.J. Another time he told a clubhouse attendant to wash his car, alerting the youth that there was "some money" in the glove compartment. That turned out to be the $40,000 in cash.
"Part of what makes him so good is that he is unaffected by extraneous factors that get to most players," says Cleveland assistant general manager Mark Shapiro. "He has an uncanny ability to block everything out." Like others, Shapiro is amazed at how a player who makes as much money as Ramirez does ($4.25 million in this, the final season of a five-year, $14.6 million deal) is such a modest spender. "Have you seen his car?" Shapiro asks. "It's an Impala. I've known Manny since he was 18, and I still feel as if I really don't know him. I do know his teammates have always had tremendous respect for him, they get along with him and consider him a positive influence. That speaks volumes about a player."
"He usually doesn't say anything," says Indians coach Ted Uhlaender, "but when he does say something, he's funny." On July 2 Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel announced that he was taking away the clubhouse Ping-Pong table and banning card games as punishment for the players' slump. "Uh-oh," Ramirez said. "If we don't start winning, he's going to take away the George Foreman grill next."
Ramirez prefers not to speak to the media, mostly because of his shyness but also because of his uncertainty when speaking English, though his command of the language continues to improve. He did agree to speak to SI last week when the Indians were in Boston, smiling boyishly when answering questions about...
?Why he hits with his hands apart: "I don't know I do that. It just is natural, I think."
?Why he hits so well with runners on base: "I am just lucky, I guess. I don't know how I do it. Nothing special. All you can do is try. Sometimes you hit the ball, and sometimes you don't. All I want to do is have a good at bat. I know if I don't do it, we have many other good hitters who can do it."
?How he avoids tension and frustration: "Hitting is hard. It comes and it goes. You can't tell which way it is going to go for you. So you just have to go with it. I'm not going to go crazy worrying about it. It just comes and goes. Nothing you can do about it."
"Wow, you really spoke to Manny?" Alomar said, laughing. "Congratulations!"