The grand Manny Ramirez experiment has come to an end. After three months as player-instructor for the triple-A Iowa Cubs, Ramirez's season ended on Friday with a knee injury. The 42-year-old was rarely healthy and can't really hit anymore, but Ramirez's minor-league stint went a long way toward showing that there's a place in baseball for him.
In Ken Rosenthal's story today on Ramirez's redemption, Theo Epstein sings Ramirez's praises. "It opened my eyes about how people can change," Epstein said.
"If you had asked me a few years ago, I never would have believed that we would voluntarily put Manny in a position to impact our most important players – and that he would come through."
Ramirez hit .222/.273/.375 with three home runs in just 24 games in Des Moines, mostly playing DH. Ramirez had hoped to earn a job in MLB, where he hasn't played since leaving the Rays five games into the 2011 season after a failed drug test, but that was always a long shot.
Instead, Ramirez was really brought in to mentor the Cubs' stable of young sluggers, including Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Kris Bryant. That includes throwing batting practice, working with young players in the cages, and sitting down with them in the middle of games to discuss their at-bats. He's corrected Soler's swing, and advised Baez to be more selective with his swings—something the stats show Baez did, at least until he was called up.
Ramirez appears to have embraced his coaching role wholeheartedly. Upon his arrival—after volunteering to address the players and tell them not to fuck up like he did—Ramirez quickly realized there wouldn't be many opportunities for him to play. He was OK with that. "I looked at it this way—I was playing once a week," Ramirez said. "I thought it wasn't right for the organization, the kids that came from spring training, working their butts off to go to the next level, for me to take at-bats from those guys."
He even went above and beyond his assigned duties. Picture getting a cold call from Manny Ramirez, and he just wants to scout your system:
Ramirez, speaking on the phone to Epstein, broke down every player on the Iowa roster, giving detailed, sophisticated assessments of not only their skills but also their personalities.
Epstein found the conversation so impressive and surprising that he left his office immediately after getting off the phone with Ramirez and walked down the hall to visit with other Cubs executives.
He had to repeat the conversation verbatim to his colleagues to make sure that it had really happened.
Ramirez plans to play winter ball in the Dominican to see if there isn't one last MLB team out there willing to take a chance on him. But if there's not—and it seems really unlikely that there will be—Ramirez now has a body of work that says he's worth bringing on as a coach somewhere. And if Manny Ramirez sticks around the game, we'll all be better for it.