By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Despite hurting his Hall-of-Fame case with multiple PED violations at the end of his major-league career, anyone with two eyes who watched Manny Ramirez play baseball knows that he was one of the greatest hitters of his generation. It’s literally everything else that makes Ramirez such a curious case as to why he gets such relatively little recognition as one of the great ballplayers of his time.
You already know the narrative, a pattern of behavior came to be known over the years as “Manny being Manny.” Laziness on defense and a lack of focus on the basepaths. Phantom injuries. Bizarre bloopers. A seemingly noncompetitive attitude. Yet Manny still delivered countless big hits over the course of his career, exemplified by a World Series MVP performance in 2004 and another strong postseason in 2007 to help propel the Red Sox to two World Series titles.
What was behind Ramirez’s enigmatic, sometimes aloof behavior during his otherwise brilliant career? David Ortiz says it was on purpose. It was actually Manny playing possum. In his latest piece for The Players’ Tribune, “Thanks for the Memories, Boston,” Ortiz pays his respects to the help and guidance Manny gave him during their time together in Boston.
“Manny is the best hitter I ever saw. I learned everything from watching his work ethic. Manny wanted people to believe that he was lazy, that he didn’t really care. That’s how he spotted your weakness. He was a hunter. He wanted people not to take him seriously, especially other teams, especially the media.
The reality is that nobody worked harder than Manny.
Let me repeat that. Nobody worked harder than Manny Ramirez. Period.”
Ortiz continues describing how much time Manny put in when he hit the batting cages and how “his brain was built to play baseball.”
“Any other thing, maybe he wasn’t a genius. But baseball? He was a genius,” the article reads.
That’s essentially Manny in a nutshell. he didn’t come off like the sharpest knife in the drawer in the public eye, or when he was in any situation other than standing inside a batter’s box. But with a bat in his hands, Manny was a magician, a virtually unstoppable force that could hit any kind of pitch in any direction or fashion he wanted. His swing remains one of the prettiest things you’ll ever see on a baseball diamond. He was suspended 50 games in 2009 and then 100 games in 2011 for PED violations, but Manny’s plate dominance went far beyond pure power and strength.
But all that stupid other stuff? It was all an act. “Manny being Manny” was just to make you think he was some kind of wacky simpleton, only to shred you with his baseball genius once he came to the plate.
There’s an issue I have with that whole take … the media still doesn’t take Manny seriously. I’d find it hard to believe that good opposing pitchers ever fell for it. Any respectable pitcher knew Manny was a serious threat. Unfortunately, it’s members of the media who will hold the key to Manny making it into Cooperstown, as he is now officially on the ballot. If the treatment of other Hall of Fame-caliber talents (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens) who have been tied to steroid use is any indication, Manny will at least have to wait a while before he’s enshrined in the Hall. He could end up waiting forever.
Will Manny’s incredible offensive career be enough to get him into Cooperstown, despite his late-career suspensions? It will have to be. Because whether or not Manny was just pretending, the media perception was of someone who shouldn’t have been taken seriously. Fair or not, “Manny Being Manny” could end up keeping him out.
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 email@example.com.