Baseball is a funny game. Just ask Hanley Ramirez. One day you’re an unknown teenager trying to catch the organization’s eye, then a few years later you’re a batting champion and MVP candidate. And just as quickly, you’re a bum. Actually, that part isn’t so funny. In Hanley’s case, it cost him his job and his home. Once viewed as the future of the Miami Marlins, Hanley has switched coasts and is now at the crux of what his friends and fans believe can still be an incredible career. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Hanley Ramirez was born on December 23, 1983 in Samana, Dominican Republic. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) His father, Toribio, fixed cars for a living. He was a quiet, well-liked man. Hanley’s zest for life came from his mother, Isabel, who was always laughing and joking around.

Like many young Dominican boys, Hanley was passionate about baseball. He dreamed of playing shortstop like Tony Fernandez and hitting homers like Pedro Guerrero. The only difference was that Hanley actually did. He was a big kid with a powerful arm and potent bat. At age five, in his first season of organized play, he led his league in home runs—and still has the plastic trophy to prove it.

Hanley’s father saw how happy baseball made his son. Over the years, he and his wife made whatever sacrifices they had to in order to keep him moving up the ladder—as long as he kept up with his schoolwork. Their dream for Hanley was to one day study engineering, but he kept getting better and better at baseball.

Hanley started attracting the attention of scouts around the age of 15. He found the whole process curious. Why did they care? It was only when one of the other boys explained that you could get paid a lot of money for being a baseball player in the United States that Hanley began to see the game as a career. Another boy from Samana, Fernando Rodney, signed a deal with the Detroit Tigers. Suddenly, playing ball for a living didn't seem so crazy.

Hanley’s biggest fan was Boston scout Levy Ochoa, who saw a five-tool player waiting to blossom.  Hanley signed with the Red Sox for $55,000 in July of 2000.

He joined their team in the Dominican Summer League the following year. At age 17, he batted well over .400. He and Alberto Callaspo were the league’s top two shortstops. It was around this time that Hanley set a goal for himself—he would buy his parents a house on the same street as Pedro Martinez, the man he hoped to play next to on the Red Sox one day.

Hanley found himself in Florida in 2002 as a member of the Ft. Myers Red Sox. He batted .341 with 20 extra-base hits in 45 games against Gulf Coast League hurlers. Hanley finshed the season with the Lowell Spinners of the NY-Penn League, where he posted a .371 average in 22 games.

ON THE RISE

The 2003 season saw Hanley make the jump at shortstop for the Augusta Green Jackets of the Class-A South Atlantic League. Playing for former major leaguer Russ Morman, Hanley batted .275 and swiped a team-best 36 bases. The club finished in last place, but Hanley was every bit as good as super prospect B. J. Upton, who starred for the Charleston River Dogs. The only black mark on Hanley’s season was a 10-game suspension leveled after he gave his own dugout the one-finger peace sign during a game. He was still a kid and obviously needed some maturing.

In 2004, Hanley spent most of the year at Class-A Sarasota, where he hit a solid .310. After a much deserved promotion, he played the final month with the Portland Sea Dogs and matched his .310 average. The power the Red Sox hoped would develop was still missing, however, as Hanley hit just six homers at both stops.

Hanley returned to the Dominican Republic and tore it up in winter ball. David Ortiz, who played against him, told his teammates that Hanley was major league ready when he arrived in camp. The youngster certainly looked the part—he now stood a rock-solid 6-3 and weighed just a shade under 200 pounds.

Hanley trained with the big leaguers for the first time and spent hour after hour hanging around the cage, watching the Red Sox sluggers and asking for tips. He knew his days in the organization might be numbered, given that he was now stuck behind Edgar Renteria, whom Boston had signed to a four-year, $40 million contract that winter. Indeed, the team's plan was to let Hanley percolate in the minors until the trade deadline neared in July, at which point the club would swap him for the piece they needed to compete in the playoffs.

Hanley said all the right things to stay in a Boston uniform, including volunteering to play second base. But he was too good a shortstop to use on that side of the bag. After hitting at a .389 clip against major league arms, Hanley was shipped to Boston’s minor league complex.

Hanley opened the year with the Sea Dogs, playing alongside Dustion Pedroia, Boston's top pick in the 2004 draft. Pedroia, a shortstop for Arizona State, moved to second. Hanly hit .271 with a lot of speed and enough pop to keep the organization happy. He looked ready for the big leagues. 

That summer, Red Sox Nation was practically drooling at the thought of Hanley's promotion to the big club. A sore back kept his stats down somewhat, but when he spent a couple of off-days sightseeing in Boston that July, the rumor mill began churning wildly. With Johnny Damon in the walk year of his contract, there was talk that Hanley might be the Bosox centerfielder in 2006.


 

 

 

 

 


Fernando Rodney, 2007 Heritage

     
 

Later in the month, the Sea Dogs moved Hanley to second base for a week. Boston’s Mark Bellhorn was barely over the Mendoza line and wasn't showing much with the glove, either. The Bosox fans began chattering again. It took a September injury to Kevin Youkilis, however, to clear the way for Hanley’s long-awaited cup of coffee. He played two weeks in September, got two at-bats and whiffed both times.

Hanley went into the off-season wondering what his address would be come the '06 campaign. He did not have to wait long. On Thanksgiving the Red Sox and Marlins consummated a deal that sent Hanley and pitching prospect Anibal Sanchez to Florida in exchange for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.

Hanley had a good spring with the Marlins and won the starting job at short. He got off to a .400 start in early April but stumbled badly in June. At one point, he was hitless in 29 straight at-bats.

Hanley got back into a groove in August and September, batting .341 in the final two months and keeping the Marlins within sniffing distance of a Wild Card berth. They faded over the season’s last 10 days, however, and finished 78–84.

Hanley was part of a remarkable young team in Florida that year. To his right was Miguel Cabrera, an MVP candidate at age 23. To his left was second baseman Dan Uggla, who was snapped up in the Rule 5 draft after a sensational year at Double-A for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Cabrera batted a robust .339 with 50 doubles, 26 home runs and 114 RBIs. Uggla, meanwhil, hit for average and power all summer long and held his own at second base. He and Hanley became great friends. Completing the infield was another rookie, Mike Jacobs, picked up from the Mets during the team's Carlos Delgado salary dump. He proved a capable middle-of the-lineup hitter.

On the mound, Josh Johnson was among the NL’s stingiest starters, while staff veteran Dontrelle Willis anchored the rotation. Sanchez, Hanley’s old Boston teammate, joined the Marlins midway through the season and threw a no-hitter.

In the end, though, it was Hanley who stood out as the Marlins ’ prize rookie. He had beefed up another 10 pounds or so and found his power stroke, blasting 46 doubles, 11 triples and 17 home runs. He also swiped 51 bases. Hanley settled into the leadoff spot and finished the year at .292.

Six weeks after Florida’s season ended, Hanley got the news that he had been named N.L. Rookie of the Year. He edged Ryan Zimmerman and Uggla for the honor. Uggla ended up setting a record for home runs by a rookie second baseman with 27, but he had a horrible September, which may have tilted voters in Hanley’s favor. Johnson, whose season ended early with a sore arm, finished fourth.

Hanley began the 2007 season hoping to improve on his Rookie of the Year numbers, something that he was constantly reminded almost never happens. His second year with the Marlins was tremendous.  He hit .332 with 29 home runs and 51 steals, falling one home run short of becoming the third person in MLB history to hit 30 home runs and have at least 50 steals. He finished second in the league with 212 hits and 125 runs. Hanley finished the year in the Top 10 in batting, slugging, doubles and stolen bases.


Hanley Ramirez, 2004 Bowman
     
 

MAKING HIS MARK

In 2008, Hanley became the face of the franchise. The Marlins traded their two marquee veterans, Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, to the Detroit Tigers. Hanley responded well to the pressure of being the club leader. He played in his first All-Star Game, starting for the NL and batting leadoff. He collected two hits in three trips to the plate.

Hanley also led the league in runs scored and cranked out a career-best 33 home runs. At age 24, he had all the earmarks of a future Hall of Famer. This no doubt prompted the Marlins to sign Hanley to a six-year, $70 million extension, giving him the biggest contract in team history.

Hanley hit his first career grand slam on Opening Day of 2009 against the Washington Nationals. Batting in the heart of the order, he saw lots more RBI opportunities during the year and drove in 106 runs to go along with a league-leading .342 average. The Marlins started fast and held onto to first place in the early part of the season. After dipping below .500 for several weeks, they regained their footing and pulled into second place behind the Phillies. They finished with a respectable 87 wins but could not close the gap on Philadelphia. After the season, Hanley finished as the runner-up to Albert Pujols in the MVP voting.

Hanley batted .300 for the fourth year in a row in 2010, but his power numbers dropped significantly. Even so, he started the All-Star Game for the third consecutive year. Early in the season, manager Fredi Gonzalez benched Hanley for not hustling after a ball that he had inadvertently kicked into the left field corner. The two never really saw eye to eye, and Gonzalez was fired a month later. The new manager, Edwin Rodriguez, failed to light a fire under the Marlins, who played .500 ball from wire to wire. Hanley nursed a sore elbow and shoulder much of the season, which accounted in part for the fall-off of his stats.

The shoulder pain continued to hamper Hanley in 2011, especially after he made a diving catch in a July game against the New York Mets. Offensively, it was already a lost season for him. He appeared in only 92 games and finished with a paltry .243 average and only 10 home runs.

Also affecting Hanley was the fact that he played without his longtime DP partner, Dan Uggla, who was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Omar Infante. The two were good at pushing each other, and it may not have been a coincidence that the batting averages of both players plummeted.  

Hanley opted for shoulder surgery in the offseason and was ready to go by spring training. He had to learn to play a new position, as the acquisition of free agent Jose Reyes necessitated his moving to third base. Hanley said all the right things and was glad to have a table-setter in the lineup, but he wasn't happy about the move.

Although his power numbers improved, Hanley seemed to lack the fire he had displayed earlier in his career with the Marlins. Even so, with help from young stars Giancarlo Stanton and Emilio Bonifacio, the team (now representing the city of Miami) actually snuck into first place in early June. With new stars and a new stadium, Miami fans looked forward to a run at the division crown in the jumbled NL East. However, it was not to be. Seventeen losses in 20 games sent the Marlins tumbling into the cellar with a 34–40 record.

As the trade deadline approached, the Marlins decided they were sellers. Infante and Anibal Sanchez were shipped to Detroit. Gaby Sanchez went to the Pittsburgh Pirates. On July 25, the team announced a trade that sent Hanley to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitching prospect Nate Eovaldi. 


Hanley Ramirez, 2007 Finest
     
 

With shortstop Dee Gordon on the DL, Hanley got in a few games at his old position with Los Angeles, splitting time between short and third. He had two hits, including a triple and an RBI, inhis debut in Dodger blue, but his bat remained quiet in early August, as the Dodgers played tag with the San Francisco Giants at the top of the NL West. The fans hoped his first LA homer was a sign of things to come—it beat the Giants in an tense extra-inning game.

Once the top prospect in the game, Hanley now faces a crossroads in his career. Perhaps in Los Angeles, where Matt Kempp and Clayton Kershaw are the marquee names, he can shine once again now that he doesn’t have the pressure of carrying a franchise by himself.

HANLEY THE PLAYER

Hanley surprised many with his home run output as a rookie. The power surge came courtesy of a quick, powerful stroke that he honed over the winter of 2005-06. Prior to that he had a longer swing and rarely hit the ball on the screws.

During his time with the Marlins, Hanley gravitated toward the middle of the lineup, but he also batted third on occasion. Wherever he batted, he remained one of the organization's top base-stealing threats. With the Dodgers, his responsibilities are different, but the club still encourages him to put his entire offensive arsenal on display.

Hanley has good range in the field and a very strong arm. Much like Alex Rodriwgues in the American League, he could have a very long and productive career as a third sacker if that's where he ends up.


Hanley Ramirez,
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