It was a headline that brought joy to the sports media and visions of being to the Chicago Cubs’ AAA farmhands in Des Moines, Iowa:
Manny Ramirez Hired as Triple-A Player/Coach
To the writers and broadcasters, the possibility of more juicy “Manny being Manny” stories was a pipe dream realized.
And to the players, the thought of learning firsthand how to achieve “Me being Me” status from the man himself conjured thoughts of a real-life Bull Durham, where Kevin Costner’s wily veteran ‘Crash Davis’ mentored Tim Robbins’ can’t-miss prospect ‘Nuke LaLoosh’ in the ways of the game, both on and off the field.
In modern-generation baseball, there was no more legendary a space ranger than Manny. He was a professional terror at the plate and an enfant terrible everywhere else. The Cubbies hired him for the former, but there’s no doubt the balance of humanity was relishing the latter.
After all, name someone else who possesses at least two Social Security cards and five driver’s licenses and is still walking around as a free man. Name another player who was thrown out stealing first base after starting at second base. Just try to find a guy who can do PEDs and still be a folk hero.
Imagine the lessons Manny could impart on his eager charges. To assist, here are ten of them:
10. Manny Can Give Cops More Tickets Than They Can
While with Cleveland, Manny was pulled over for having tinted windows and a stereo on full blast. The officer knew who he was but said he’d still have to issue a ticket.
Manny replied, “I don’t need a ticket. I can give you tickets!”
Whereby he reached into his glove compartment and produced some game passes. Didn’t work. And then he left the scene by doing an illegal U-turn, which earned him another ticket.
Lesson: It’s quality, not quantity, that adds value in a competitive situation.
9. Manny Once Asked A Reporter For A $60,000 Loan
As a 21-year-old rookie in 1993, Manny was still in the early stages of grasping the concept of big league money.
If he was earning it, then everyone else in or around the game must be earning it, too. Which is why he asked beat reporter Sheldon Ocker for a quick $60,000 floater so he could buy a Harley-Davidson.
Stunned that Manny didn’t realize a job with the Akron Beacon-Journal wasn’t paying Truman Capote-type wages, Ocker pulled his pockets inside out to demonstrate the downtrodden fortunes of local sports reporters.
Manny got the picture. Sort of. “OK,” he asked. “How about $30,000?”
Lesson: The best way to fend off the media is to hit ‘em where it hurts.
8. Manny Knows Every Inch Of His Ballpark
While playing left field for the Boston Red Sox, Manny didn’t just become familiar with the quirky angles of Fenway Park, he made a practice of disappearing into the Green Monster during long breaks.
He had a cell phone in there and was frequently seen relaxing as he peered through one of the scoreboard’s number slots, casually chatting with whomever about whatever. The attendant in there even said he’d get on to the computer.
Manny would take these excursions when manager Terry Francona took a trip to the mound, which usually meant he was changing pitchers. Usually. On one occasion, though, the skip left his hurler in, so the visit didn’t last long. So when play resumed, left field was vacant and remained that way.
When this was brought to his attention, Manny hurriedly recovered. Urban legend says his bladder was at XXL capacity that day. For what it’s worth, the scoreboard attendant says no. But he’s a gentleman.
Lesson: According to urban legend, it’s a game of inches.
7. Manny Gave His First Two Sons The Same Name
It helps to start with different mothers. The sticky part of that ploy is another topic for another time.
Suffice it to say that Manny Ramirez Jr is getting his own baseball career underway and is now on the roster of the Central Arizona Community College Vaqueros. He hit .241 with 3 dingers and 18 RBIs during his freshman season in a tough conference. He can build on that.
He’s also an acorn who didn’t fall far from the tree. He had simultaneously signed a letter of intent to play for the University of San Francisco for the 2014 season. His bets were hedged.
Seven years behind him is, yes, Manny Ramirez Jr. While his dad played in Boston, the then four-year-old Manny Jr Jr – or however that works – was the recipient of a bedroom makeover resembling a mini-Fenway Park. No word if he peed on the wall where the Green Monster was painted.
Lesson: Trees have more than one acorn. So just take care of your nuts and they’ll take care of you.
6. Manny Catches Everything Within Reach
Just know that at no time in any configuration is the left fielder considered to be a cutoff man.
So perhaps Manny was revolutionizing that notion in 2004 when, in the days before extreme shifts became trendy, he somehow wandered into short left-center while Johnny Damon tracked down a blast from Baltimore’s David Newhan that caromed off the center field wall. Damon dutifully fired it toward the shortstop in cutoff position.
For reasons known only to Manny, he’d drifted near that throwing lane. Seeing the ball hurtling in his direction and calling upon his cat-quick reflexes, he suddenly leaped and stretched to make an acrobatic catch of Damon’s throw that was intended for the cutoff man.
It was as if Manny had visions of being an NFL cornerback in the flat, turning the toss into a pick-six.
But this is baseball, so Newhan took advantage of the extra time to turn a triple into an inside-the-park homer. Damon, pitcher Pedro Martinez, and the rest of the Red Sox could only look on in disbelief.
Lesson: Forethought is an under-rated activity.
Post-script: Damon got his revenge this season, when he came out of nowhere to intercept Manny’s ceremonial first pitch before a Boston game honoring that World Series champion 2004 team. Forethought was involved.
5. Manny Needs Not Know Any Signs
During Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, a very suspicious Yadier Molina accused Manny of stealing the St Louis Cardinals’ signs. The argument grew heated, and Boston manager Terry Francona popped out of the dugout to help calm things down.
Once he heard Molina’s complaint, Francona turned to home plate umpire Chuck Meriweather and said, “Chuck, Manny doesn’t even know our signs.”
The Bosox manager then turned to Manny. “You don’t know our signs, do you, Manny?”
One of the best hitters of his generation looked downward and confirmed it. “No.”
End of argument.
Lesson: The Russians will never offer a guest visa to those who don’t pay attention at team meetings.
4. Bong Hits, Base Hits, It’s All The Same To Manny
In these days of hi-def sound systems in every stadium, every batter gets to choose his own walk-up tune, ie- the song that’s played as he strides to the plate.
It just took a while for Manny to dial in the entire spectrum of cultural sensitivities.
In 2002, he selected “Good Times” by Styles P. It’s a catchy number, but the lyrics included a few phrases that were, to be diplomatic, eclectic for a family night out at the yard. For example:
- “I get high, high, high, high all the time.”
- “Every day I need an ounce and a half
S-P, the only flowa that you know with a bounce and a half.”
- “I get high cause I’m in the hood, the guns is around
And take a blunt just to ease the pain that humbles me now
And I’d rather roll something up
Cause if I’m sober dawg, I just might flip, grab my guns and hold something up”
Lesson: The pitcher may come in high and tight, but the batter may not.
3. Manny Don’t Need To Know No Stinking Counts
It was early in the 2001 season, and while Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette was aware his newly signed left fielder had a few quirks, he kept seeing one of them enough that he finally had to ask.
“Manny, why do you keep getting back in the batter’s box after ball four?”
The response was that of a pure hitter with a stripped-down focus.
“I don’t keep track of the balls. I don’t keep track of the strikes, either, until I got two.” And then Manny got to the ultimate point.
“Duke, I’m up there looking for a pitch I can hit. If I don’t get it, I wait for the umpire to tell me to go to first. Isn’t that what you’re paying me to do?”
Don’t know about Duquette, but Friedrich Nietzsche would have been proud.
Lesson: If you’re good enough to count the stitches on a pitched ball, school’s out.
2. Manny Is About The Craftsman, Not The Tools
When hitters receive a new shipment of bats, they expect to find only one or two that are fit to be gamers.
They check the wood used – ash or maple – along with the weight distribution, the flexibility and feel upon contact with the ball, the slope of its grain for straightness, and the density for strength. No detail is too small, and when a bat passes muster, it is cherished.
Manny was no different, and with him, a gamer was the gamer until death did they part.
While with the Indians, he launched one bomb that impressed his entire dugout. Why? Because his gamer was broken before he stepped into the box. Manny liked that bat that much!
But that was it. While Manny was touching them all, the batboy brought the zombie lumber back to the rack, where he and everyone else could clearly see it had gone out in a burst of glory.
Lesson: Bats and batters are like a breakfast of eggs and fried chicken. The bat may be involved, but the batter must be committed.
1. It Really Is Manny’s World And Everyone Else Is Just Living In It
To a superstitious player, good luck charms come in strange ways.
And to Manny, they just might belong to a teammate.
When he came up to the Cleveland Indians, Manny was tasked with improving his English. Even though he moved to New York City from the Dominican Republic as a child, his neighborhood was a virtual colony of the home country. English was only an option. But the Indians decided fluency would help him acclimate to the bigs and gave the order.
However, Manny apparently figured Major League’s Pedro Cerrano (played by Dennis Haysbert) would be a better role model. So he’d skip the English sessions and rummage around the empty clubhouse instead, without permission, seeking anything – even teammates’ underwear – that might bring him good luck.
Manny didn’t find any live chickens, but he did come across Dan Williams’ pants. He was the team’s bullpen catcher, and he outweighed Manny by at least fifty pounds. Still, swimming in the outsized trousers, Manny had a good game. And then another. And another.
Williams was out a pair of pants. And the baggy look became part of Manny being Manny.
Other major leaguers took note. Manny had found a good luck charm that worked. The look became a trend. And why not?
Lesson: If it really is Manny’s planet, you may as well look the part.