Friday was an absolute whirlwind of sports emotions, for two reasons. I was prepared for one of those reasons. The other one snuck up on me like a shark attack.
The one that I was prepared for was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and the Cavaliers. Heading back to Cleveland with a 3-2 lead in the series, I was hopeful that the Celtics would find a way to overcome their ghastly playoff struggles on the road and keep LeBron James out of the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. But I’ve always been a realist. As hopeful as I was, deep down I knew there was no way LeBron was going to allow this undermanned Celtics team to eliminate him in a Game 6 on his home court. He exploded for 46 points – mercilessly obliterating my hopes and dreams as he’s done many times before – to force a Game 7 on Sunday in Boston. And nobody batted an eye.
I was ready for LeBron’s ferocious assault. I saw it coming from a mile away. What I didn’t see coming was the news I woke up that morning: the Red Sox had designated Hanley Ramirez for assignment to make room for Dustin Pedroia to return to the roster, officially ending his polarizing tenure in Boston. Talk about a jaw-dropper. And amazingly, the humongous topic of the Sox deciding to move on from Ramirez got brushed off under the excitement of the Celtics-Cavs game. Poor Hanley didn’t even get the farewell attention he deserved.
But seriously, this was a stunning move. It’s like a few months ago when the Patriots decided to ship Brandin Cooks off to Los Angeles for the Rams’ first round draft pick, right after he spent the entire 2017 season being their No. 1 receiver. That move threw me through a loop … or at least I thought it did. Turns out, it was nothing compared to this shocking Hanley Ramirez decision. We all knew Pedroia was coming back, which means we knew that somebody would be getting the boot. Most just assumed it would be somebody like Blake Swihart. Not somebody who was a central part of this lineup. Just a complete loss for words.
Ever since Ramirez came to Boston in 2015, Red Sox Nation has been split into two camps. There was the “I can’t believe we’re paying $88 million to this overrated bum who is never going to even play a full season” camp, and there was the “Hanley has had his ups and downs, but he’s still a well above average power hitter when he wants to be and he deserves the benefit of the doubt” camp. I was always firmly entrenched in the second camp. I never gave up on Hanley, even though most of my baseball friends told me I should.
Anytime someone said “Hey, I bet you’re regretting that Hanley Ramirez deal, aren’t you?” to me, my immediate response was always, “No, I’m regretting that Pablo Sandoval deal, but that’s it.” I always believed that Ramirez would bring more positives to the Red Sox than negatives. Even after his disappointing 2015 campaign, in which he only played 105 games and might’ve been the worst defensive left fielder in the history of baseball, I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel on Hanley yet. We needed another big bat in the lineup alongside the aging David Ortiz, and Hanley was more than capable of being that guy. You know, when he was healthy.
Sure enough, he bounced back the very next year. In 2016, Ramirez drilled 30 homers and 111 RBIs, played in 147 games, and made the transition to first base rather smoothly. Nobody ever gave him credit for his defensive play at first base, but I lost count of how many times I watched him scoop balls out of the dirt, or make the jump to keep them from flying into the stands. Nobody ever brought it up, but I noticed it, and I appreciated it.
Ramirez slipped again in 2017 – only 62 RBIs and a career-low batting average of .242. That was when he vowed to get things turned around for good this season, even setting a lofty goal for himself to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases. Like I said, he could be a really, really, really good baseball player when he wanted to be, and I loved seeing him recommit himself to being successful in Boston.
And at least for the month of April, he came through on his word, hitting .330. He started slumping a bit in May, but that’s to be expected. There isn’t a player in baseball who can stay red hot for an entire 162-game season (that’s right, Sox fans, even Mookie Betts will have to cool off at some point). Hanley still had plenty of time to get back on track.
But if it does happen, it won’t be happening with the Red Sox. I never expected his time in Boston to end so suddenly and so abruptly. I think he truly enjoyed and appreciated playing for this team and for this city. He felt very special and fortunate to be a member of Red Sox Nation. One thing I’ll never forget was during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, when the Bruins were playing in Toronto, the Sox were also in town for a series against the Blue Jays and they showed up at the hockey game. Hanley was the only one decked out in a Bruins jersey. He looked like a diehard hockey lifer, even though it was his first NHL game. He was just excited to be a part of it, and to be supporting the other Boston sports teams.
That was barely a month and a half ago, and now he’s gone. Sports is a cruel business, and sometimes your world gets turned upside down when you least expect it.
So all I can say is good luck to Hanley, wherever he ends up. This wasn’t how I thought it would end, but I guess business is business.
(Alright, let’s get back to playing baseball.)