Can Manny Ramirez really still play?
He’ll be 48 at the end of May and hasn’t suited up in a game of organized baseball since hitting .313 with six homers in 41 games for Aguilas in the 2014-15 Dominican Winter League.
Aguilas is just one of the places that Ramirez has played since retiring from Major League Baseball in 2011 rather than serve a 100-game drug suspension. Although he said then, “I’m now an officially retired baseball player,” Ramirez has since played in Sacramento, Round Rock, Taiwan and Des Moines.
It’s those last two stops, with Taiwan’s EDA Rhinos (now Fubon Guardians) and Iowa Cubs, that are the most interesting as Ramirez told The Taiwan Times he’s been watching CPBL games online during the pandemic and would like to return to the island as a player-coach.
“My message to the CPBL clubs would be that I am still confident in my ability to serve as a player-coach and provide positive contributions to any ball club that is willing to have me on their staff/roster,” Ramirez said.
Player-coach was Ramirez’s role with the 2014 Iowa Cubs, and while he didn’t hit much as a 42-year-old in Triple-A — .222/.273/.375 with 3 homers and 27 strikeouts in 24 games — he was regarded as an extremely positive presence, especially with players like Javy Baez, who called Ramirez “a mentor and a friend” and “a great example” in a 2017 Baseball Prospectus interview.
All the years of “Manny Being Manny,” as well as the comic nature of his first drug suspension for a fertility treatment hormone (used in steroid cycles) led to a public perception of Ramirez as stupid. But just as Elon Musk shows the world, by labeling pandemic distancing protocols “fascist,” that intelligent people can be huge dumbasses, so too is it wrong to assume that because Ramirez did some foolish or goofy things that he’s an idiot.
Ramirez knows that even with 555 career home runs and 2,574 hits in the major leagues, he’s never going to the Hall of Fame. He’s been on the ballot for four years and his vote totals have ranged from 22 percent to 28 percent. Even as more voters embrace Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens’ candidacies, the fact that Ramirez was suspended in 2009 and retired from the majors rather than serve another suspension two years later put him in a different position than the greats who were never sanctioned for their PED peccadilloes.
But not going to Cooperstown doesn’t mean that Ramirez can’t have a positive legacy. His first stint in Taiwan was the start of building toward that, and it continued with the work he did with the 2014 Iowa Cubs to help mold players into 2016 World Series champions. Ramrirez was an hitting consultant for that team. Whether or not he’s ever welcomed back to the major leagues as a coach — if that’s even something that he wants — Ramirez’s personality, passion for baseball, and wealth of expertise allow him to continue to contribute to the game in a positive way.
Any team in Taiwan would be better off having Ramirez around, whether or not there are any dingers left in the bat of a man whose first major league home run was so long ago, it was called — “holy cow, who hit that one?” — by ‘The Scooter’ Phil Rizzuto.