By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If Hanley Ramirez doesn’t win you over with his letter to Red Sox Nation in The Players Tribune, he never will. The Red Sox first baseman penned a heartfelt, revealing tribute to not just Red Sox fans but the retiring David Ortiz and the impact Big Papi has had on his career resurgence in 2016. It is an absolute must-read.
Moving to first base and taking hold of his spot in the middle of the Red Sox lineup, Hanley had arguably the best season of his career, batting .286 with 30 home runs and 111 RBI while playing solid defense at an unfamiliar position and even mixing in some clutch hitting. After a major-league career filled with offseason controversy and questions about his maturity, competitiveness, and professionalism, what led to Hanley’s shocking turnaround?
To him, it was Ortiz.
Big Papi’s presence in the Red Sox clubhouse has always been unavoidably magnetic, the team feeding off his energy not just at the plate but off the field as well. Ortiz’s influence on his teammates may never be more evident than the effect he has had on Hanley, who confirms in his Players Tribune article that the Red Sox are feeling extra motivated to win a World Series for Papi as he plays in his final postseason.
“It took me 12 years, but I’m finally getting a chance to play playoff baseball at Fenway,” Hanley wrote. “I’m just really happy to have that opportunity after how last season went. You know, in spring training this year, we all got together and set one goal: Get David a ring in his final season.”
Hanley tells a handful of anecdotes about how much Ortiz means to him and the Red Sox team. Long considered one of baseball’s more aloof personalities, Hanley admits he not only changed his performance on the field but his mindset thanks to Papi’s influence.
“Before I came to Boston, whenever I would go to a dark place, I didn’t have anybody to pick me up,” wrote Hanley. “David changed my career, my life and my personality a little bit, too. He’s like a big bro to me. But it’s not just me. It’s everybody.”
And if Hanley’s story about Ortiz cheering him up with a cheesecake doesn’t bring a smile to your face, you might not have a soul.
David brought me a whole cheesecake one day just because he thought I needed it. Randomly. Like he really walked in The Cheesecake Factory and got it on the way to the park. … Not his assistant. Not his homeboy. David did it, just because.
After beginning the piece describing how big of a Red Sox fan he became as soon as the team signed him as an amateur free agent in 2000, Hanley closes it out by coming full circle and thanking Red Sox Nation for their energy and enthusiasm.
“You guys are always crazy,” he wrote, endearingly. “When I leave my house for a game and drive to Fenway, the streets are filled with people in Sox jerseys at like 3 p.m. It’s unbelievable. It’s like a football game. In Boston, every day is Sunday. I swear.”
Hanley wants Ortiz to “go out dancing” with a fourth World Series ring as much as anyone in Boston, and if it wasn’t clear before it is now: Ortiz saved Hanley. He helped bring the first baseman back to relevance just like he brought the Red Sox franchise to glorious new levels in his career.
This letter is about as good a case as you’ll hear for Ortiz to win the American League MVP award after the season. No, he doesn’t play the field, and yes, Mookie Betts does and has also had an outstanding season. But Ortiz brings so much more to the team than just his Herculean bat. He brings the team together. He raises them up. He makes them transcend the sum of their parts.
And as Hanley admitted, Papi propelled him to a career renaissance that was as crucial to the team’s success as anything else.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.