This is Manny Ramirez’s world. The rest of us just live in it. That is one way to wrap your mind around one of the most outrageous—and outrageously talented—athletes in all of sports. The slugging outfielder is more than a mere superstar. He is a folk hero. How else can you account for all the good, bad, and downright strange things Manny has done and said in his career? You might not want to ask that question of fans in Cleveland and Boston. But the bleacher bums in Los Angeles are happy to call Manny their own, at least for now. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Manuel Aristides Ramírez Onelcida was born on May 30, 1972 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His mother, Onelcida, worked in a dress factory. His father, Aristides, drove a cab and was a fix-it man for small appliances and electronics. Manny had three older sisters, Rosa, Evelyn and Clara.

Manny’s days were filled with baseball. He was obsessed with the sport. When Manny was eight, his grandmother gave him his most prized possession—a Dodgers uniform with number 30 on the back. 

In 1985, at the age of 13, Manny moved with his parents to Washington Heights, a heavily Dominican neighborhood in upper Manhattan. They lived in a sixth-floor walk-up on 168th Street. The stairs were a hardship for Manny’s parents, but he literally took them in stride.

On many a morning, Manny could be seen tearing up nearby Snake Hill with a spared tire attached to his waist with a rope. He did his ball playing in Highbridge Park. It was the same place where Lou Gehrig honed his skills as a boy. One day they would rank 1–2 on the all-time grand slam list.

Although Yankee Stadium was a 20-minute walk from the Ramirez apartment, Manny rooted for the Blue Jays. Their stars included two of his heroes from the Dominican Republic, George Bell and Tony Fernandez. He and his father bought bleacher tickets when Toronto came to the Bronx.

Manny attended George Washington High School on 193rd Street. Among the school’s illustrious alumni are Rod Carew, Harry Belafonte, Alan Greenspan, Jacob Javitz, Maria Callas, Ron Perlman and Henry Kissinger. Between suspensions for truancy and other academic transgressions, Manny played three varsity seasons for Coach Steve Mandl’s varsity. He was a third baseman and center fielder for the Trojans during three seasons.

The GW field was long to left and center fields, but less than 300 to right. Manny became quite adept at waiting on outside pitches and drilling them in that direction. When the scouts started showing up to watch him play, they were astounded by this talent, which is exceedingly rare in a young slugger. His teammates called him the “Hit Man.” He socked 14 homers in 22 games as a senior in 1991. 

After leading the Trojans to three straight division championships, Manny was on the radar for several teams. He was selected in the first round of the draft by the Cleveland Indians.

Manny made his pro debut for the Burlington of the Rookie-level Appalachian League. He tore up the league, edging Dmitri Young for Top Prospect honors from Baseball America—which also named him Short-Season Player of the Year. Manny batted .326 with 19 homers and 63 RBIs in just 59 games. He was first in all three Triple Crown categories but had a poor final week and lost the batting title, finishing third behind Ricky Otero and Quilvio Veras. Burlington finished first in the North Division and then lost the championship in a sweep to the Pulaski Braves.

Manny got bumped three levels in 1992, landing in Kinston of the Carolina League. He played just over half a season before bruising his left hamate bone, which essentially ended his year. Manny batted .278 with 13 homers and was an RBI machine, driving home 63 runs in 81 games. After the Southern League season ended, he returned to the field in the Florida Instructional League and batted .300.

Manny split 1993 between Double-A Canton/Akron and Triple-A Charlotte. He batted .340 in 89 games before his promotion and finished the minor league campaign by leading the Knights to the International League championship. It was during this season that he developed a friendship with pitcher Julian Tavarez. They would play together on both the Indians and Red Sox. Manny belted 14 homers in 40 games for Charlotte, earning him a cup of coffee with the Indians in September.

Limited to pinch-hitting duties, Manny got a dose of reality against big-league pitchers. The 21-year-old failed to bat his weight. However, he showed flashes of great things to come in his second game with the Tribe. With friends and family jamming the stands at Yankee Stadium, he cracked a double off Melido Perez for his first major-league hit, and then belted two home runs to send the fans home to Washington Heights in near delirium.


 

 

 


Manny Ramiirez,
1992 Upper Deck Minors

     
 

Manny spent the entire 1994 season in Cleveland. He started the year on fire, belting six homers in April. AL pitchers adjusted in May and owned Manny for several weeks in a row. But he adjusted right back and hit .300 in the second half.

The power-laden Indians chased the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central, finishing second when the season ended abruptly in August. Manny was one of eight Indians to reach double figures in home runs and was among the leading rookies in almost every offensive department. Sharing the outfield with Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Wayne Kirby, he launched 17 round-trippers and batted .269,.  

Manny wowed baseball scouts with his hitting skills. His wrists were quicker than anyone since Hank Aaron, which enabled him to wait an extra tick before starting his swing. As he learned the strike zone and the patterns of enemy pitchers, he was already becoming a nightmare to face. Manny initially struggled against righties. When they made mistakes, however, he hit the ball like a rocket. 

ON THE RISE

The question was no longer whether Manny would be a star in the majors. It was how soon he rise—and how brightly he would shine. Manny provided an answer in 1995, batting .308 with 31 homers and 107 RBIs in 137 games. He made the All-Star team and combined with Belle to set a new record for home runs by two Cleveland teammates with 81. After the season, the Indians signed Manny to a new contract that would lock him up through 2000.

The Indians won 100 games and participated in the postseason for the first time since 1954. The Tribe swept the Red Sox in the first-ever Division Series, with Cleveland pitchers quieting the Boston bats. In the ALCS against the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland dropped the opener. Manny responded with a pair of homers in Game 2 to power the Tribe to victory. The Indians went on to win the series in six games.  

In the World Series against the Braves, the Indian bats cooled off. Atlanta pitchers held Cleveland to a .179 average in a decisive six-game victory. Manny was one of the few hitters to crack the Mendoza line. He had one homer among his four hits.

Manny followed up his breakthrough '95 season with a solid 1996 campaign. He topped .300, 30 homers and 100 RBIs again, and led the AL with three grand slams. Manny had an especially good year in the field. A better outfielder than he appeared, he gunned down 19 over-adventurous runners from his position in left field. The Indians won 99 games and took the division crown again. Unfortunately, they stumbled in the postseason, losing the ALDS to the Baltimore Orioles despite a pair of homers from Manny.

The 1997 season marked the third straight division crown for Cleveland. Manny had a nice year with a .328 batting average. But his power numbers dropped slightly. Newcomers Matt Williams, Marquis Grissom and Dave Justice helped make up the difference, as the Tribe won 86 games in a weakened AL Central.

In the playoffs, the Indians were heavy underdogs against the defending champion Yankees. New York took two of the first three games in the best-of-five series, and led 2–1 in the eighth inning of Game 4. Sandy Alomar turned things around with a game-tying homer off Mariano Rivera. Cleveland won the game in the ninth, and then took Game 5 to advance to the ALCS. Manny had a clutch two-out hit in the finale.

The Indians faced the Orioles in the ALCS. After Baltimore won the opener Manny got his team going in Game 2 with a first-inning bomb off Jimmy Key. Grissom won the game with a three-run homer seven innings later. Cleveland claimed the next two games in its final at-bat and finished off the O’s in Game 6 to nab the pennant. The winning hit was an 11th-inning home run by super sub Tony Fernandez.

The World Series pitted the Indians against the overachieving Florida Marlins. It was a sloppy, mistake-filled confrontation that was saved by a riveting seventh game. Manny’s opposite-field blast in the first inning of Game 4 helped Cleveland to a 10–3 victory and even the series at two games apiece. The Marlins won Game 5, but the Indians evened the series again, as Manny knocked home a pair of runs with two sacrifice flies in a 4–1 victory.

Game 7 was a classic. The Indians had a chance to win in the ninth, but Florida tied the score. The Marlins prevailed in the bottom of the 11th on a hit by Edgar Renteria. Manny had a hand in two of Cleveland’s three victories but was useless the rest of the series. He batted just .154.

Manny redeemed himself during the 1998 season, slugging 45 homers and knocking in 145 runs in 150 games. He made the All-Star team again and finished sixth in the MVP voting. The Indians made the playoffs again and beat the Red Sox in four games in the ALDS. Manny was the hero of the pivotal Game 3, clubbing a pair of homers in a 4–3 win. In the ALCS, the Indians looked to have the Yankees’ number again. But after winning two of the first three games, they allowed New York to run the table, squandering a golden opportunity to return to the World Series. Manny hit a pair of homers in the series, including the game-winner early in Game 3.


Manny Ramiirez, 1993 Excel
     
 

Manny cemented his reputation as an RBI machine in 1999. He produced 165, shattering the club record of 163 set 68 years earlier by Hal Trosky. Manny led the AL in slugging and was second in on-base percentage. He finished the year with a .333 average and 44 home runs. He was also named to the starting lineup of the All-Star Game for the first time.

Meanwhile, Manny added to his legend as an unusual character. He got into the habit of writing messages on the back of his cleats. Once the TV crews picked up on this, fans were treated to words like: There will be hell to pay ... Justice will be served ... Can’t we all get along? ... Live and let die.

The Indians captured the AL Central yet again\ and faced the Red Sox in the Division Series. This time Boston won. After the Cleveland took the two first games, its pitching disintegrated, surrendering 44 runs in the final three contests. Manny all but disappeared in the series, batting a meager .056.

Cleveland’s remarkable run of playoff appearances finally ended in 2000, the last year of Manny’s contract. He averaged an RBI a game again, driving in 122 runs in 118 games. However, Manny missed the entire month of June with a bad hamstring, marking his first-ever stint on the DL. The Indians took a nosedive with him out of the lineup, which coincided with a surge by the White Sox. Cleveland was never able to make up this ground and fell a victory short of the Wild Card.  

Again during the 2000 campaign, Manny showed that when he was healthy, he was unstoppable. During one stretch, he knocked in at least run one in nine straight games, equaling a club record set by Al Rosen in 1954. Manny raised his average to .351 and slugged a league-high .697 with 34 doubles and 38 homers. He was money down the stretch, clouting homers in 11 of his final 23 games.

MAKING HIS MARK

The Indians decided to let Manny walk after the 2000 season. One of baseball's most sought-after free agents, he received calls from a large number of clubs. The Red Sox emerged as the winners of a bidding war that promised to change the balance of power in whichever division Manny landed. The Yankees and Mariners were also in the mix. The Red Sox offered a deal worth $20 a season through 2008, with a couple of option years tacked on. 


Hal Trosky, 1972 TCMA
     
 

The Red Sox still needed to cobble together a team to fit around their new acquisition. Boston’s lineup was a hodgepodge of  journeymen, rookies and injured stars. It showed in 2001, as the Red Sox struggled to stay above .500. Manny was a stud, smashing 41 homers with 125 RBIs and a .306 average. Fifteen of hit four-baggers went over the Green Monster. Another 10 balls that might have left another park banged off the wall. Manny got off to a great start, winning AL Player of the Month honors in April and becoming the first Boston hitter to drive home 30 runs in a month since teammate Nomar Garciaparra in 1999.

Unfortunately, the Nomar-Manny combo that had Fenway fans drooling never quite materialized. After winning consecutive batting championships, Garciaparra broke his wrist and played in just 21 games. Injuries to Jason Varitek, John Valentin and Pedro Martinez added to the misery. Not surprisingly, Manny was the main story all year. Reporters crowded around his locker after every game. After the season, Manny asked the team to set up a side room for interviews.

The Red Sox were healthy again in 2002, but they still lacked the depth needed to challenge the Yankees for the division crown. A more consistent lineup helped Manny win the batting championship. He was an All-Star starter for the fourth time, and might have challenged for the MVP award had he not fractured his left index finger in May and missed 39 games.

During his rehab in Pawtucket, Manny lost a $15,000 diamond earring sliding into third base. Half the team was on its hands and knees looking for the stud after the game. Supposedly no one found it.

For the year, Manny hit 33 homers, knocked in 107 runs and finished on a .400 tear, lifting his final average from .310 to .349 in the final seven weeks. He also drove home 31 runs in September. The month was notable becaus it marked the debut of Manny’s theme song, too. The Red Sox initially agreed to play "Good Times" during his plate appearances. They changed their minds after lyrics describing pot smoking blared over Fenway Park’s PA system.

The Red Sox posted a respectable 93 victories on the strength of 20-win seasons from Martinez and Derek Lowe. However, the Wild Card race went to the Angels, who won 99 games and eventually the World Series.

The Red Sox did manage to snag the Wild Card in 2003. The season marked the arrival of David Ortiz in Boston. “Big Papi” combined with Manny and a healthy Garciaparra to give the Red Sox a powerful lineup. The trio slammed 96 home runs and drove in 310 runs. Manny’s numbers (37-104-.325). He finished second to teammate Bill Mueller in his quest for a second batting title. Manny, however, led the league for the second straight year with a .427 on-base percentage. He passed on an All-Star starting assignment because of a sore hamstring.

Manny’s reputation as a self-indulgent superstar had been growing since his days in Cleveland. The Red Sox jokingly called his obtuse behavior “Manny being Manny.” Even so, incidents at summer of 2003 wore on called his decision-making into question. In August, Manny begged out of the lineup with pharyngitis, but was seen in a bar that evening with Enrique Wilson of the Yankees. This right came after Manny told reporters he wouldn't mind playing for the Bronx Bombers. A day later, manager Grady Little asked him to pinch-hit against the Philadelphia Phillies. Manny refused, and was benched.

Things had cooled off by playoff time, as the Red Sox met the A’s in the Division Series. Oakland took the first two games in the best-of-five confrontation, but the Red Sox charged back by winning three close games in a row. Manny scored the winning run in Game 4 and hit a three-run blast in Game 5 to lead the Red Sox to a 4­3 victory. 

Against the Yankees in the ALCS, Boston won the opener behind a home run by Manny. After that, the series see-sawed back and forth as it careened toward a Game 7 showdown in the Bronx. In the infamous finale, the Red Sox squandered a 4–0 lead and allowed the Yankees to tie the game in a disastrous eighth inning that ended up costing Little his job. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Aaron Boone deposited a knuckler by Tim Wakefield into the left field seats to win the pennant.


Manny Ramirez,
Black Book Partners archives
     
 

After the season, the Red Sox—feeling that Manny’s salary was the thing keeping them from assembling a championship team—placed him on irrevocable waivers. They were willing to hand him to anyone willing to relieve them of Manny’s $20 million annual paycheck. There were no takers.

Heading into 2004, the Red Sox made a change at the top by hiring Terry Francona to manage the club. Boston fans also cheered the acquisition of big-game hurler Curt Schilling. Boston was eager to erase the memory of their bitter loss to the Yankees. Manny was simply sensational in that regard. He led the league with 43 homers and a .613 slugging average. His 130 RBIs were second on the team Ortiz’s 139, giving Boston an historic one-two punch in the middle of the lineup.  The last time two teammates turned in 40–100–.300 seasons were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1931.

Manny finished the year with an 11-game hitting streak. The Red Sox, meanwhile, won 98 games to capture the Wild Card again. He kept up the hot hitting in an ALDS sweep of the Angels, driving in seven runs and batting .385. Next up were the dreaded Yankees. New York took the first three games of the ALCS, outscoring Boston 32 to 16. With the Red Sox all but dead in Game 4, they mounted their now-famous comeback to snatch the pennant away in seven games.

The Yankees pitched around Manny the entire series. Instead they challenged Ortiz to beat them—which he did. In an awesome display of clutch hitting, he batted .387 with three homers and 11 RBIs. Ortiz had a pair of extra-inning walk-off hits.

Manny was all over the St. Louis Cardinals pitchers in the World Series. He topped both rosters with seven hits and batted .412. In Game 3, Manny cracked a first-inning homer and then threw Larry Walker out at the plate in the bottom of the inning to get Martinez out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam. After Boston's for-game sweep, Manny was named World Series MVP. More important, the Curse of the Bambino had finally been broken.

The 2005 season was a weird follow-up to the success of '04. Manny and his teammates smoked the ball all season long. But game after game, the Boston bullpen gave up leads and let precious wins slip away. It got so bad that Schilling was pressed into service as the team’s closer. The Red Sox ended up tied with the Yankees at 95 wins, but were relegated to Wild Card status by virtue of their head-to-head record against New York. In the playoffs, the Red Sox ran into a red-hot White Sox pitching staff and were swept in three games. Manny hit a pair of homers in Game 3, but the rest of the Red Sox could muster little offense in a 5–3 loss.

Manny’s regular season only added to his future Hall of Famer status. He tied his career high with 45 home runs, drove in 144 runs, and finished the year with a flurry of long balls, launching nine in his final 12 games. Manny also hit three grand slams to boost him into second place on the all-time list with 20.

With Ortiz launching 47 homers, he and manny broke the club record for round-trippers by teammates. In the field, Manny had become the master of the Green Monster, gunning down 17 runners trying to take an extra base. It was his second double-digit season in assists since joining the Red Sox. Manny also showed a little toughness after colliding with shortstop Edgar Renteria on a pop fly. Despite cuts and bruises to his face and chest, he did not miss a game.

Manny’s stellar campaign aside, many in Red Sox Nation suspected he might try to force a trade before the July 31 deadline. He sat out the start of that 7/31 game against the Minnesota Twins until he knew his status. Manny then entered the contest to a standing ovation and delivered a game-winning pinch hit.

The Red Sox slipped a little further in 2006, finishing out of postseason contention. Ortiz had a monster year with 54 homers and 137 RBIs, and Manny contributed 35 and 102. Their numbers went to waste amidst a year of injuries and ineffectiveness. Manny was part of the problem. He sat out 30 games with nagging tendonitis in his right knee. Even so, when healthy he was terrific. In July and August, he fashioned a career-best 27-game hitting streak.

The 2007 season marked a turning point for the Red Sox. The team had plowed a lot of resources into scouting and development in the early years of the 21st century, and now tht talent was beginning to bubble to the top. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen, Clay Buccholz and Jonathan Papelbon all made valuable contributions as the Red Sox won 96 games and finally finished ahead of the Yankees in the AL East. Japanese imports Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima bolstered a staff that was now led by Josh Beckett, a newly minted 20-game winner.


Manny Ramirez, 2003 New York Post
     
 

These changes also signaled a change in attitude toward Manny, who some in the organization were starting to see as expendable. He did nothing during the regular season to dissuade them, as he hit just 20 homers and knocked in a meager 88 runs—although he tied for the AL lead with 17 game-winning RBIs.

The combination of an ice-cold April and a strained oblique in September ruined Manny’s season, but once the playoffs rolled around, he was a different man. He hit .348 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 14 games as the Red Sox beat the Angels, Indians and Rockies to win their second championship in four seasons.

Manny beat Francisco Rodriguez in Game 2 of the Division Series with a three-run walk-off homer in front of more than 40,000 delirious Fenway fans. In Game 3, he and Ortiz nailed back-to-back homers off of Jered Weaver. In the seven-game battle with his old team in the ALCS, Manny helped Boston come back from two games down. He batted .409 with a pair of homers, nine walks and 10 RBIs. His second home run of the series was the third of three straight hit off of Paul Byrd in Game 4. In the World Series wipeout of the Rockies, Manny had three hits in the opener.

After the season, the Red Sox were invited to the White House. Manny was unable to make it. During the congratulation ceremony, President Bush acknowledged Manny’s penchant for blaming absences on family emergencies when he joked, “I guess his grandmother died again.”

The Red Sox entered 2008 as the team to beat in the American League. However, all was not well in the locker room. Manny was starting to chirp about a new contract. He was becoming more and more of a distraction, and the team began to consider a deadline deal for the increasingly unhappy slugger. A June confrontation with Kevin Youklis and a clubhouse tussle with the team’s traveling secretary ratcheted up the ill will. When Manny begged out of a July game against the Yankees with a sore knee—and followed that by failing to run out several grounders—the wheels were set in motion.

Manny certainly didn't help his case. In a July game against the Yankees, he watched three strikes go by from Mariano Rivera with the game on the line in the ninth inning. A few days later, he made a cell phone call in left field during a pitching change. Manny had been known to duck into the Fenway scoreboard to relieve himself, but this crossed the line.

When asked where he would be willing to play if the Red Sox dealt him, Manny said he’d play in Iraq if they wanted him. In his final game as a member of the Red Sox, he held up a sign in the dugout for TV cameras that said he was being traded for Brett Favre—straight-up.

On July 31, Manny was shipped to Los Angeles in a deal that brought Jason Bay to Boston. Manny went from a front-running club to one in a fierce fight for a division title. He would also be playing for Joe Torre, a manager with a personal grooming code. Manny offered to snip off his dreadlocks, but Torre decided to let his wild hairdo slide.

It was a smart move. Manny stepped into the Dodger lineup and promptly earned Player of the Month honors. He destroyed NL pitching in August, batting .415 with seven doubles, nine homers, 21 runs and 25 RBIs.

The Dodgers surged past the Arizona Diamondbacks into first place, and Manny finished the year with 17 homers and 53 RBIs for Los Angeles in 187 at-bats. His overall numbers for the ’08 season were 37 homers, 121 RBIs and a .322 average. Although he only spent two months in LA, he was as good a choice for MVP as anyone in the league.

The Dodgers locked up the division and prepared themselves for the Chicago Cubs, the team with the best record in the National League. It had been exactly 100 years since the Cubbies had won a World Series Manny knew a team of destiny when he saw one. And despite what the media was saying, the Cubs didn't seem to fit the bill. Manny made sure of that. He homered in each of the first two games of the Division Series and scored the deciding run in Game 3, a 3–1 victory that capped a shocking sweep.

n the opening contest of the NLCS against the Phillies, Manny hit a first-inning bomb that missed going out by inches. Instead of a two-run homer it was a one-run double. That run cost the Dodgers dearly, as they fell 3–2. Manny did go deep in Game 2, but it wasn’t enough, as Philadelphia chased Chad Billingsley early and held on to win 8–5. A brushback pitch to Manny by Brett Myers added a little extra spice to the series, which moved to Los Angeles.


Manny Ramirez, 2008 Heritage
     
 

The Dodgers rebounded on the West Coast with a 7–2 victory. Next, they looked ready to even the series in Game 4, but the Philly bats came alive and turned a 5–3 deficit into a 7–5 win. The Phillies ended the series a few days later with a 5-1 victory. Manny accounted for the only Dodger run with a solo shot in the sixth. He finished the NLCS with a .500 batting average. Philadelphia pitched around him every chance it got.

That's nothing new to Manny. He has learned to be patient at the plate, knowing that most enemy hurlers target him as the one player in the opposing order who won't beat them. The real problem for Manny is the lack of patience that teammates, management and fans always seem to have for him. There's no doubt that he has already assembled no-brainer numbers for the Hall of Fame. Manny is the owner of two Wolrd Series rings as well. But he has never seen any reason to conform to acceptable standards of behavior. His odd and unique view of the world works for only so long. In the end, everyone grows tired of "Manny being Manny"—though it appears that he never will.

MANNY THE PLAYER

Manny is, by almost any measure, the greatest right-handed hitter of his time. For all his eccentricities, he is a focused and patient batter who can spot a drive-able pitch and react to it with lightning-quick wrists. Hours of intense practice and an inner drive to be the best has led to a near perfect swing. A short stride delivers maximum power through a subtle but substantial weight shift. Add these up and no one gets a fastball—or curve—past Manny.

In the field and on the base paths, Manny appears clumsy and lackadaisical. And much of the time he is. But Manny h gets to more balls in left field than people think, and he has the arm to throw out over-adventurous runners. An overall lack of hustle has perplexed almost any serious baseball fan who has seen Manny play. But on the balance, few athletes deliver more for the sports entertainment dollar.

 


Manny Ramirez, 2008 Sports Illustrated


 

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