The Hall of Fame Case for Manny Ramirez

The latest Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released on Monday, and it features Red Sox icon Manny Ramirez as a headliner. Few athletes have electrified Boston more than Ramirez, whose talent was outrageous, but failed drugs tests and off-field antics will likely keep him out of Cooperstown. Nevertheless, let’s take a closer look at his case.

Manny Ramirez

Manny Ramirez played in parts of 19 seasons, mainly with Cleveland, Boston and the Dodgers. His career slash line of .312/.411/.585 is otherworldly, and only seven men have outperformed his .996 OPS. Manny hit 555 home runs, more than Mickey Mantle, Jimmy Foxx or Ted Williams. He also drove in 1,831 runs, good for 18th all-time. In every way, Manny Ramirez was one of the greatest hitters ever to grasp a bat.

Manny Ramirez, Soul of the Red Sox

Perhaps more importantly, the charismatic outfielder helped bring two World Series championships to Boston, a city that yearned for just one. Along with David Ortiz, Manny defined a generation at Fenway Park, forming arguably the greatest three-four punch in modern baseball history. Ramirez made 12 All-Star teams; won nine Silver Slugger Awards; and was named MVP of the 2004 World Series. He was also the American League batting champion in 2002, and the home run king two seasons later. That illustrates just how dynamic he was at the plate.

In any other era, such numbers and achievements would have made Manny Ramirez a lock for the Hall of Fame. But his career overlapped a dark period for the National Pastime, which was blighted by performance-enhancing drug abuse. Ramirez failed three tests and served two suspensions in his career. The first came in May 2009, when Manny used a women’s fertility drug to aid his production. Though it came late in his career, one can only question the validity of so many numbers compiled through the years. That may be difficult for Ramirez to overcome.

The Long Road to Cooperstown

If superior players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are kept outside the Hall of Fame due to steroid allegations, then Manny Ramirez has little hope. At first glance, the evidence against those players is far sketchier than it is against Ramirez. Bonds received just 44% of the vote last year, his fourth on the ballot, while Clemens got 45%. Players need 75% to join the Hall of Fame. It’s a rocky road for anybody tainted by PED innuendo.

Manny Ramirez has admitted his mistakes. He’s even displayed a willingness to help younger players avoid similar pitfalls. As an instructor with the Chicago Cubs, Ramirez has been praised by Theo Epstein, whose life he routinely made difficult with the Red Sox. While those steps deserve praise, history says they won’t affect Hall of Fame voting numbers. Mark McGwire has enjoyed a renaissance as a coach, but his Cooperstown support slumped to just 12% last year. There’s little hope he’ll ever be elected.

If you add in Manny’s often prickly attitude, an uphill struggle awaits. People don’t easily forget a star outfielder roughing up a travelling secretary, for instance, and these things matter in a voting context. My best guess is that Ramirez receives around 25% of votes this year. That’s obviously inadequate, but it’s also a poor base from which to build support in subsequent years, sadly.

To anyone who watched the Red Sox during their golden rise in the 2000s, the suggestion that Manny Ramirez wouldn’t one day have a plaque in the Hall of Fame seems absurd. He was one of the most dominant hitters of his era, of any era. But poor decisions along the way will likely curtail his ride to Cooperstown. And that’s a real shame for all involved.

Dwight Evans’ Number Should Be Retired Too

I was happy when the Boston Red Sox announced that they would retire Wade Boggs’ jersey number 26 this year. Boggs played in Boston for ten years but departed in 1993 for the  Yankees in New York before finally being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005 with 91.9% of the vote on the first ballot. There’s no question as to whether Dwight EvansBoggs’ number should be retired, but it will only be the ninth number ever retired by the Red Sox (excluding Jackie Robinson’s number 42, whose number was universally retired across Major League Baseball in 1997). When you look at the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals have retired twelve numbers, and the New York Yankees have retired eighteen, it makes you wonder if the Red Sox are being too conservative in choosing whose numbers to retire, especially Dwight Evans’ number 24.

The Boston Red Sox have three requirements for a player’s number to be retired: be in the Hall of Fame, have played at least ten years in Boston, and finish their career with the Red Sox (though that rule has been relaxed in recent years). Only five of the current players whose numbers are retired meet these requirements; Johnny Pesky isn’t in the Hall of Fame, while Pedro Martinez didn’t play a full ten years in Boston and, along with Carlton Fisk, finished his career elsewhere. These exceptions should pave the way for Dwight Evans.

Dwight Evans By the Numbers

Let’s take a look at his numbers. While Dwight Evans isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame, his numbers reflect a career worthy of induction. He was a three-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glove winner, led the league at least once in on-base percentage, runs, total bases, home runs, and walks. He ranks in the top 50 all time in games played (2,606), home runs (385), and walks (1,391). Evans also hit four home runs on opening days in his career, including one on the very first pitch of the season. What Evans might best be remembered for is the unbelievable catch he made in right field during Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Evans robbed the Reds’ Joe Morgan of a possible home run, leading the stunned Cincinnati Reds’ manager Sparky Anderson to say, “It was an outstanding catch. The best catch I’ve ever seen.” Given his offensive numbers, his exceptional defensive skills, and his overall dependability, Evans’ number 24 should be retired alongside Boggs’.

The Red Sox should take a closer look at what numbers they are overlooking for retirement, starting with Dwight Evans. He played his heart out every day he wore a Red Sox uniform and the man deserves no less.

Which Numbers Should the Red Sox Retire?

When the Red Sox gave number 24 to David Price, a pang of sadness engulfed me. I came of age as baseball fan in the mid-2000s, and Manny Ramirez was my hero. Though often obscured by flowing dreadlocks, he wore 24, and it therefore held special significance to me, just as it did to older fans who idolized Dwight Evans. Together, those two gave twenty-seven years of excellent service wearing that number, and I yearned to one day see it rightfully removed from circulation.

However, the Red Sox are notoriously careful about whose number they retire. Red Sox retireManagement has a strong preference for Hall of Fame players who spend at least a decade in Boston and also end their career in the city. Accordingly, only eight Red Socks, plus Jackie Robinson, have had their number retired: Bobby Doerr, Joe Cronin, Johnny Pesky, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk and Pedro Martinez.

In May, Wade Boggs will join that elite group at long last, perhaps ushering in a new era for number retirement at Fenway Park. Previously, the Red Sox shied away from honoring Boggs, who infamously enjoyed success with the rival Yankees, but with Gordon Edes hired as a new team historian, perhaps The Olde Towne Team will finally relax its criteria for enshrinement.

Though many will hate the concept, there is now big money to be made from retirement ceremonies, with memorabilia sales and attendance soaring around such events. The Yankees have demonstrated that repeatedly in recent years, and Red Sox ownership may look on enviously and seek to boost their brand by honoring former heroes.

So, who deserves consideration, should the Sox expand their stable of retired numbers? Well, the 24 of Evans and Ramirez would be a terrific place to start. They combined to play 3,588 games, launch 653 home runs and collect 3,605 hits for the Red Sox, in addition to representing the team at 11 All-Star Games. Both were beloved by the fanbase, and both deserve fair recognition for tremendous careers. Just as the Yankees retired number 8 in honor of Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey, the Red Sox should hang the 24 of Dewey and Manny, thus giving two generations a chance to say thanks.

Similarly, David Ortiz should definitely have his number 34 retired. Aside from a plethora of accolades, awards and accomplishments, Papi was just a huge part, physically and spiritually, of bringing three World Series championships to a city that could barely dream of just one. Ortiz is the most important Red Sox player since Ted Williams, and he should be honored as part of his final season.

Spreading the net wider, Roger Clemens has a fairly good case for enshrinement, albeit one buried beneath steroid allegations and Yankee defection; Luis Tiant thrilled the masses and pitched remarkably well in Boston; and Fred Lynn is consistently overlooked when discussing the great players in Red Sox history. All three should be seriously considered.

Then, of course, we have those sweetheart players who charmed Beantown and captured the zeitgeist of Red Sox Nation at various times. Tony Conigliaro was a hometown kid done good; Nomar Garciaparra was deified in the late-90s as one of the game’s defining superstars; while Tim Wakefield was the living embodiment of the hope and perseverance that defines Boston baseball. Again, you could make a good argument for each of those guys.

Finally, I would like to propose a few names that may surprise people, and which may test the Red Sox’ rigorous criteria too much to ever gain serious acceptance. However, the 2004 World Series title may not have been secured without the leadership of Terry Francona, the intricate preparedness of Jason Varitek, or the warrior instinct of Curt Schilling. Those three made bold and courageous contributions to Red Sox history, which simply wouldn’t be the same without them. Therefore, they should at least be in the conversation.

Ultimately, the Red Sox may not honor any of the people mentioned above. But the retiring of a number should delve beyond simple longevity and skill, and instead focus on those select few legends who altered the course of team history and changed the texture of team success. If we play by those rules, more people will receive their long overdue moment of acknowledgement, which is what this should really be about.

Red Sox Fans Now Chicago Cubs Fans

For one month, and one month only,  much of Red Sox Nation has jumped on the Chicago Cubs bandwagon. Why? Because the Cubs have suffered longer than Red Sox fans, going 107 years without a championship. After the Red Sox waited 86 years in between championships, most of Red Sox Nation can empathize with the Cubs, and were quick to jump on their bandwagon.

And when you look at the Chicago Cubs, it’s not hard to find reasons to root for them. For Chicago Cubsstarters, ex-Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, part of 2 championships, and ex-GM Theo Epstein, who built the team who broke the “Curse of the Bambino,” are both with the Cubs now. Not to mention Manny Ramirez, who won the World Series MVP in 2004, and David Ross, who was one of the leaders of the beard movement in 2013. Second, the Cubs are loaded with young talent, notably Jake Arrieta and Kris Bryant. Those are just a couple of the things the Cubs have going for them.

But the main thing? Empathy. For 86 years, the Red Sox were in the same boat as the Cubs. While our curse involved a questionable trade, being unlucky in the World Series, a missed ground ball, and a few ill-timed home runs by the New York Yankees, we eventually broke it after 86 years. The Cubs are cursed in a different way; theirs involving a goat, a tavern, and an unfortunate case of fan interference back in 2003 in the NLCS against the Florida Marlins. So, the Red Sox and Cubs are similar in that they were both cursed for long periods of time.

Personally, I really hope the Cubs finish the job. They need to break their curse, since they’re the only team left with a “curse”, and they need to win it all. They’ll face the New York Mets in the NLCS. Go Cubs.

Remembering the Manny Ramirez Trade

When the trade deadline approaches each July, I’m transported back to 2008, when the Red Sox dealt Manny Ramirez, my all-time favorite player, to the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending his tumultuous reign as Boston’s defining superstar.

I was a truly fanatical fan in those days, staying up well past midnight in Britain to watch the Red Sox despite the prospect of school lurking the next morning. Accordingly, to suchManny Ramirez a diehard rooter, the loss of the most charismatic and infectious character in the history of New England sports was a major blow. My world caved in when Manny left for Hollywood.

Of course, rumors of Ramirez’ eventual exit percolated even as the ink dried on his 8-year, $160 million contract. Seemingly every year throughout his tenure in Boston, Manny Ramirez demanded some kind of trade away from Beantown and, when he wasn’t complaining, management rocked the boat by seeking ways to offload his complex, high-maintenance personality. Yet, in the end, Manny always stayed with the Red Sox, no matter how loud the trade chatter. His prodigious talent was always too much to give up.

I thought this would also be the case in 2008. A few teams would call the Sox and register an interest, I figured, but Theo Epstein would never let such a lethal offensive force get away amid a heated pennant race. Thus, when the news of Manny’s departure eventually exploded, like a cannonball to the head, I was totally shocked and incredulous.

At the time, it was difficult to follow Major League Baseball from England. In the pre-Twitter realm, all we could do was constantly refresh the webpages of various sports sites, hoping to stay in the loop. That’s what I did for hour upon hour as the 2008 deadline approached. However, as the clock continued to tick, I was dragged along on a family day trip to Liverpool on the Mersey Ferryboats. I did protest, citing the importance of the trade deadline, but little credence was given to the 13-year old possessed by an immense obsession with the Boston Red Sox.

We eventually returned home in time for me to watch the last hour of deadline action. The minutes ticked by slowly, and it appeared ever more likely that my beloved slugger would stay. Then, barely ten minutes before the deadline, the dreaded news finally filtered through to England: Manny Ramirez, my original baseball hero, had been traded to the Dodgers, and a rather peculiar fellow named Jason Bay was the new left fielder for the Boston Red Sox, as part of a three-team deal with Pittsburgh.

That night, I cried myself to sleep. Yes, Manny was perpetually annoying. And, yes, his mood swings frustrated Red Sox Nation. But he was arguably the greatest right-handed hitter ever to represent The Olde Towne Team. Manny Ramirez lodged 2,574 career hits, launched 555 home runs, and won two World Series titles with the Red Sox, but, more than that, he was an icon, a superhero in whom young fans like myself could believe. Manny Ramirez made you dream.

Manny Ramirez

In LA, Manny unleashed the greatest 53-game stretch of his career to round out 2008, hitting .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI. Meanwhile, Jason Bay was pretty good, but he just wasn’t Manny Ramirez. Therefore, I never truly overcame the loss of Number 24.

I firmly believe the Red Sox would have won the pennant and possibly a second consecutive World Series had Ramirez stayed. Instead, Boston finally dealt him away, and Red Sox baseball simply hasn’t been the same since.

AL East Could Be Open Again

The Red Sox are doing it again – playing well enough to make me think they could go on a run. The Red Sox have gone 5-2 in their last 7 games against AL East opposition, and have won 3 of their last 4 series (8-5 overall). Which includes a series victory against the defending AL champs, the Kansas City Royals, by the way.

If they want to have any chance at making a run, Gordon Edes points out that they wouldAL East Red Sox 2015 have to go on a ridiculous tear worthy of what the 2004 Red Sox did. Hypothetically, if 90 wins were enough to win the AL East, the Red Sox would have to go 53-28 for the rest of the season. As Edes points out, the only time the Red Sox have been able to put together that kind of run since the schedule moved to 162 games in 1961 is when they went 54-27 down the stretch in 2004 en route to a World Series title.

Could they do it? Talent-wise, they might (key word being might!) be able to. In reality, though, probably not, given the way this season has gone. The problem, as Edes points out (and I agree with him), is that the 2004 team was loaded – they had Curt Schilling (still in top form), Pedro Martinez, the best 3-4 offensive combination at the time in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, and a Gold Glove infield, among other pieces. The 2015 team falls woefully short of that, to say the least.

They’ll have to make a few trade deadline deals and fill some of their holes if they want to have any shot of contending for the AL East this year, and I hope they do. If they can make a few moves without breaking their farm system while fetching good, major league-ready talent in return, then I’d be for it.

This could just be me starting to tell myself that there’s still hope where there is none, but I hope not. I’m sick of losing, and I would love to see the Red Sox at least make some kind of effort to get back into contention for the AL East. And hope some of the other guys

Hey, I can dream, can’t I? We’re only 6.5 out at the moment.