Seasons in Boston: 2001-2008
Honors: 2x World Series Champ, 12x All-Star, 9x Silver Slugger, 2002 AL Batting Champ
Red Sox Numbers: .312/.411/.588, 274 HR, 743 R, 868 RBI, 7 SB, 154 wRC+, 29.6 fWAR
Signature Season (2004): .308/.397/.613, 43 HR, 108 R, 130 RBI, 2 SB, 153 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR
Any discussion of Manny Ramirez is going to be more complicated than it ought to be when discussing a baseball player. Ramirez had a brilliant career at the plate.That much cannot be denied even by his most ardent critics. As special as his performance was at the plate, however, that’s only half of what makes a great player. On the bases and in the field Ramirez frequently made head-scratching choices, ultimately forcing us to weigh whether or not his brilliance at the plate was worth what he gave up in the field. Almost always that calculus was unequivocally yes. It was only when his behavior off the field started to go from quirky to unacceptable did the public turn on Ramirez.
Ramirez was born in Santo Domingo and moved to New York at 13 years old. He starred at George Washington High School before being drafted by the Indians with the 13th overall pick in 1991 draft. Ramirez was a brilliant hitter from the beginning and shot through the minor leagues quickly, requiring just two seasons before making his debut in 1993 at age 21. By 22, Ramirez was becoming a star for a very good and young Cleveland team, eventually finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. He continued to improve year after year for the Indians, becoming one of the most dominant hitters in all of baseball while manning right field.
After the 2000 season Ramirez became a free agent and was said to be seeking a contract of $200 million. This was an unprecedented amount of money at the time, but it was shown to be possible when Alex Rodriguez signed his $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers. This happened just 24 hours before Ramirez would sign his deal. Dan Duquette got his man signing Ramirez to an eight-year contract worth $160 million with two team options for $20 million on the back end. This was a signal to the baseball world the Red Sox were serious about contending and while also directly and negatively impacting Cleveland, who the Red Sox had played in the ALDS in 1995, 1998, and 1999, with the Indians winning two of those. At his press conference, Ramirez said, “I’m just tired of seeing New York always win.” Even the frequently negative Boston media couldn’t complain about this move.
Signing a free agent to a deal of this magnitude always comes with a lot of risk, but from the second Ramirez arrived, he produced. Over 967 games played with Cleveland he had slashed .313/.407/.592 with a 150 wRC+. If he was anywhere close to that with Boston his contract would be well worth it. He was. In 1083 games with the Sox he slashed .312/.411/.588 with a 154 wRC+. This performance put him in some truly rare company in Red Sox history. Ramirez’s .588 slugging percentage ranks fourth in team history behind only Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, and J.D. Martinez. His 154 wRC+ also puts him fourth in team history behind Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and Tris Speaker both marks are minimum 1000 PA. On offense alone he ranks as the eighth most valuable player in team history barely behind Hall of Famer Jim Rice, the rub being that he did so in over 1000 fewer games than Rice.
Even though 2004 was not Ramirez’s best statistical season, I chose it as the year I want to highlight him for because it was the year he put distraction behind him and helped the Red Sox reach great heights. The distraction being the fact that he was nearly traded in the off-season as part of a package for Alex Rodriguez, the saga of which is worth reading about. It was this same winter that the Red Sox also placed him on irrevocable waivers which would have allowed any team in the league to claim him for purely cash. Instead of spending the entire year upset about the near trade, Ramirez dominated, leading the American League in home runs with 43 and winning the Hank Aaron Award for best hitter. His success extended to the playoffs where Ramirez hit safely in every postseason game and batted .412 vs the Cardinals in the World Series to win MVP. His 29 postseason home runs are still the most all-time.
Ramirez would continue to tick along like a metronome, producing at the plate year after year as part of the most dangerous one-two, punch in baseball along with David Ortiz. He did this all while getting into small spats with ownership where he would demand a trade and then return to his usual high level of play. There were numerous “Manny being Manny”, moments during his time, most of which were funny and harmless and some of which raised red flags. On the funny side there were his periodical disappearances into the Green Monster, high fiving a fan in the middle of a play, and his cutoff of Johnny Damon’s throw. The red flags were fighting with Kevin Youkilis in the dugout, removing himself from the lineup, and pushing down traveling secretary Jack McCormick. By 2008, following the McCormack incident, it seemed clear this relationship had run its course.
On July 31 of that year,Ramirez was sent to the Dodgers as part of a three-team trade also involving the Pirates. Boston shipped out Ramirez, Brandon Moss, and Craig Hansen and received Jason Bay. Ramirez went on to dominate the remainder of the year at a level few have ever dominated, posting a .396/.489/.743 line with 17 home runs and a 210 wRC+ over the final 53 games. It was hard not to take his hitting like prime Babe Ruth personally after seemingly doing everything in his power to skip town. I always figured it would end ugly with Ramirez, but it was still hard to take.
I couldn’t keep Ramirez off this all-time roster because offensively he had few peers while also being a key cog in two World Series runs. He deserved to make this team and considering all of his warts he was worth it for nearly the entirety of his eight year deal. Things continued to go south for him later in his career with a positive test for banned substances in 2009 and then again in 2011. The second of those two tests effectively ended his career and likely his chances at the Hall of Fame. None of this changes the fact that Ramirez was one of the greatest right handed hitters in baseball history or that he did the majority of that damage playing left field for the Red Sox.