Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox hits his 500th home run in the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
A week or so ago I poked fun at Jose Canseco for wanting a tryout with the Red Sox. Canseco, in case you don't know, is now 47 years young and last played baseball in the majors for the Chicago White Sox in 2001. So that wasn't happening. Now comes news that another old slugger wants back in. No, good guess, but that itch Sammy Sosa has doesn't have a thing to do with returning to baseball. It's old friend Manny Ramirez who wants to play again. is being looked at by both the Oakland A's and Baltimore Orioles.
Neither Oakland or Baltimore is going anywhere in 2012 except maybe if they're lucky second-to-last place. If it happens it won't be much beyond another line on Ramirez's Hall of Fame plaque (assuming the moralizing committee ever acquiesces and votes him in). "Baltimore A.L. 2012" will be like "Boston N.L. 1938" on Babe Ruth's plaque or "New York N.L. 1973" on Willie Mays'. An odd afterthought to distract momentarily from the greatness of the rest of the career.
The A's make as much sense as Manny signing with the Astros. I mean that in the sense that neither team makes any sense whatsoever. What would the A's possibly get out of signing Manny? I suppose if he hit like 2001 again for half the season they might get a decent B prospect for him, which has value. If he does nothing, then they can always cut him or deal him for [insert Clayton Mortensen joke here]. So I guess that sort of makes sense from the team's perspective, though I confess I'm still left wondering just a bit due to things like 25 man and 40 man rosters, money, club house chemistry, upside, and the like.
Can you picture Manny in an Orioles uniform? I'm not even sure him putting the thing on would be cause enough to believe it. Nothing against Orioles fans who uniformly deserve better than they've got over the last two decades, but that uniform has become a universal baseball signal for "one foot out the door."
In Manny's case he'll start with two feet out the door anyway. You may recall Ramirez signed with the Tampa Rays last year, alongside former Red Sox team mate Johnny Damon. Soon after the season started - 17 Ramirez at-bats later in fact - it was revealed that Ramirez had failed a drug test and would be suspended for 100 games. That suspension was never served as upon receiving it Manny quickly retired.
So if he signs with Oakland or Baltimore he'll spend the first 50 games suspended (his suspension was reduced; something of a "time served" angle due to that bout of retirement). He won't be able to play for his team of choice until somewhere around mid June. Manny will be 40 on May 30th and at that point will have played in five major league games over almost the last two calendar years. If anyone can pick up a bat after two years and hit .300/.400/.500 it would be Manny Ramirez, but you have to concede that the odds aren't in his favor. It would be easier to buy if he were in his early 30's, but in the end age gets all of us, and it goes after baseball players pretty quickly relative to the rest of us.
So what can we expect from Manny this season?
To be succinct, I have no idea. I'm sure the various projection systems out there will put forth adequate guesses if it comes to that, but since I don't have access to any of them now, I'll just say that I think an optimistic projection puts Ramirez at around a line of .265/.360/.440. That has value, but that value will be diminished by two things: 1) Ramirez won't be playing the field at all, and 2) it's going to come in fewer games. Teams know by signing Ramirez they're getting 112 games of total availability, but realistically after bumps, bruises, egos, and strains, maybe more like 85.
I titled this piece Manny Being Done because I am hopeful he is. I don't begrudge him the opportunity to keep playing. I'm sure someone will give Manny a Spring Training invite and a chance to make the big league club. Wouldn't shock me if he hit well enough in Spring Training that he made some team's roster going north.
But just as I don't begrudge him the ability to extend his career as long as he physically can do so, as a fan I can cling tight to my memories of Manny as the preeminent slugger of his day. Steven Goldman at Pinstriped Bible wrote eloquently about the aging of Mariano Rivera recently. Mr. Goldman remarked that:
Who wants to see a great player struggle? During this offseason, there has been much speculation as to when Mariano Rivera will choose to retire, something he dropped hints about last season. My only preference is that whenever he does it, it’s too soon rather than too late. I don’t want to see Rivera fail.
Manny has played more games with Boston than with any team. He's hit more homers with Boston, has more RBIs, and been hit by more pitches wearing a Red Sox uniform than any other. He's one of The Twenty Five, and he was a huge part of winning it all again three years later. Like it or not, Manny is a Red Sox. So, can we all skip forward a few chapters, past Bouncing From Team To Team and Desperation: How to Flail at Pitches You Used to Crush, and all turn our hymnals to the first page of Manny The Loveable Retired Hall of Fame Red Sox Guy With The Infectious Smile?