On July 30th, 2008, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez hit back-to-back in the Red Sox lineup for the last time. It was an unfortunate way to end a pairing that had, for more than five years, made Boston's lineup one of the most formidable in the American League. Ortiz was just coming back from injury, and while his line of .266/.360/.498 may look just fine in these days of diminished offense, at the time it was an alarming drop in production that would continue into 2009 when, after a dismal first half, many assumed his career was coming to an end.
Ramirez, meanwhile, was clearly on his way out in Boston. With his contract coming to a close, Manny was looking for a commitment from the Red Sox they were clearly not willing to give, with his general unrest leading to a series of events that culminated with the trade to Los Angeles that ended his partnership with Big Papi once and for all.
It's crazy to think that it's been longer now since we last saw Ortiz and Ramirez bat back-to-back than the partnership lasted in its entirety. Since that point, the Red Sox have paired Kevin Youkilis and Mike Napoli with Ortiz, providing some pretty positive results along the way (he generally hit fifth during Adrian Gonzalez' tenure) . But we've never seen anything like Ortiz - Ramirez since.
Tuesday, John Farrell put together his first lineup of the year. Batting third: David Ortiz, same as ever. Batting fourth: Hanley Ramirez, playing left field. If you'd spent the last seven years off the grid, you'd take one look at the lineup card and be amazed to see that nothing had changed.
But of course it has. David Ortiz isn't the same hitter we knew back in the heyday of Ortiz - Ramirez. The days of just about anyone hitting to an OPS over 1.000 are gone--not a single qualified batter managed it in 2014--and Ortiz has managed it just once since Manny's departure. It's not about protection, either, when you consider Kevin Youkilis' huge years in 2009 and 2010, and Adrian Gonzalez' 2011 performance. The game has changed, and Ortiz has aged. He's still an excellent hitter if the last five years are any indication--he has a 151 OPS+ over that period--but the frame of reference has changed.
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And, of course, Hanley Ramirez is not Manny Ramirez. At times he's approached his level, and if there's any truth to his 2013 performance--or even his 2013-2014 performance taken as a whole--he might well provide a decent impression of Boston's old eccentric outfielder. He might even be better in left field even with all of zero major league innings under his belt at the position. As bad as you remember Manny being, there's a good chance he was actually worse still.
But these are unfair comparisons to make, even if the name invites them. I may sound like a broken record, but it's a different game now than it was in 2007. Different doesn't mean worse, however. The Red Sox have one hell of a combination in the middle of their lineup, and if the numbers aren't going to be as gaudy as they were in the heydays of 2003-2007, they'll probably be pretty damn good. There are no guarantees--Ortiz is old, and Hanley's had his bumps in the road in recent years. But hopefully this time the combination will end on Ortiz' terms when he chooses to put away his bat once and for all, with no contract disputes or career-ending decline in sight.