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Lavish as Ramirez's stats are, there's a sparseness to his game, no wasted movements or obvious earmarks of exertion. It's the curse of the talented athlete: Physical gifts can veil hard work and effort. But in Ramirez's case it's heightened by an insouciance that can be misinterpreted as indifference. "I don't mean this negatively, but it's a question of, How good does he want to be?" says Giants catcher Bengie Molina. "Because you can tell that the game comes so easy to him." Ramirez began the season slowly, batting .279 and knocking in just seven runs in April, but dismissed questions about his slumplet, declaring, "No worries, I'm going to get hot—and when I get hot, it's hot." Then, as if he simply needed to flip a switch, he knocked in 10 runs in the first four days of May.
Last month reporters asked Ramirez if he was worried about facing the Big Three of the Giants' rotation: Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain. "They're going to have to face me," he responded. Sure enough, in the first game of the series Ramirez drilled a Lincecum offering over the leftfield fence, a game-tying three-run shot. "And I didn't even get all of it," Ramirez asserted.
"People talk about his talent, which is fine, but he doesn't get enough credit for really being geared like a baseball player," says Florida reliever Burke Badenhop. "When I'm pitching, he'll come to the mound and whisper something—he really knows other hitters—and you realize how good his instincts are."
Ramirez hears the praise about his baseball cortex and shrugs. "People say, 'Hanley, you should watch more [video] or whatever,'" he says, smiling and pointing to his head, "but it's all here."
Talking casually with Ramirez, there's nothing that says, "Look at me." In fluent English and in a soft voice at variance with his physique, he'll talk genially about his wife, Elisabeth, and their sons, Hanley Jr., 5, and Hansel, 3. Joy springing from his face, he'll describe the H2R Ranch in the Dominican Republic to which he repairs in the off-season to relax and tend to the chickens, goats and cattle he raises, or his fishing prowess. But when talk turns to baseball, his smile vanishes, he looks at the clock on the clubhouse wall and starts rocking the clichés: "I just want to be a good teammate.... I don't care about my stats, as long as we're winning.... I try to get better each season."
Ramirez likes to describes himself as "easygoing." But he also can be difficult-going; his healthy ego is striking for its delicacy. Before last season the Marlins forbade players from wearing long hair and sporting jewelry on the field. That the get-a-haircut policy was promulgated by a man named Samson (team president David Samson) offered comic relief. But Ramirez, who'd worn his hair in braids and took to jewelry, didn't find anything funny. He took it as a personal affront. During spring training he grabbed a Sharpie and scrawled i'm sick of this s--- on a T-shirt. "I'm angry," he told reporters. "I want to be traded.... It's incredible. We're big leaguers." The adults pulled him aside and scolded him; he calmed down and never complained publicly again.
On Sept. 1, with the Marlins still in contention and Ramirez leading the batting race but cooling off, he removed himself from a game, citing hamstring cramps. In the clubhouse the next day he was explaining to Juan C. Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun Sentinel that some teammates thought he was dogging it to protect his stats: "A couple of the guys [didn't like it] when I came out."
A few stalls away, second baseman Dan Uggla overheard and interjected, "I was one of them."
Uggla didn't stop there. "If you really wanted to win you, would have never come out of the game," he said, then added, "Yeah, you got your $70 million, so f------ win. What the f--- you have to come out of the game for?"
Tensions eased after a closed-door meeting, but teammates recall that Ramirez appeared to be genuinely wounded—as if, says one team employee, "he needed some love." He got some this spring. The player who started the 2009 season complaining about his team's anti-bling policy was rewarded with ... a necklace encrusted with 394 diamonds in the shape of .342, his league-leading, season-ending average. (The decimal point was a teal-colored gem.) Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, an unabashed fan of Ramirez ("I love the young man. I tease him relentlessly just to get him to smile," he says), presented him with the gift at ceremonies during spring training and before the home opener. "Hanley has this star presence, this magic to him," says Loria. "But he also has a very sensitive side."