BOSTON (CBS) — It’s long been believed that Boston is a difficult place to play. Whether it’s been due to the high demands from fans, the watchful eyes in the press box, the expectations to live up to big-money contracts or for many years the weight of “The Curse” hanging overhead, a number of players throughout history have wilted while wearing a Red Sox uniform.
And to be sure, Hanley Ramirez is not one of them.
Yet, given the way he’s been discussed lately, you’d think the guy was a bum.
A June 30 Nick Cafardo mailbag in The Boston Globe ran the headline “Why don’t the Red Sox trade Hanley Ramirez?” The reason, Cafardo answered, is that no other teams would be willing to trade for him. The Globe’s Peter Abraham printed an exchange between Ramirez and reporters, one that left itself open to the interpretation that Ramirez might have been begging out of the lineup, despite being cleared medically. Felger and Mazz said on Sports Hub airwaves that the Red Sox are a better team without Ramirez. Michael Felger, Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy dedicated an entire TV segment to that very discussion.
Every talk radio show in town — and even the NESN postgame show — was quick to criticize Ramirez for getting hit with a Xander Bogaerts line drive recently, as if it’s a piece of cake to avoid a ball traveling 100 mph while you’re running full speed in one direction.
We’ll get to the criticisms in a moment, but here are the facts: 18 home runs, 43 RBIs, .827 OPS.
In those categories, here are where Ramirez ranks on the team: first, first, first.
And here’s one more fact: Hanley Ramirez has been exactly what everyone should have expected — for better and for worse.
Hanley Ramirez is without a doubt someone who carries himself like a big-ego superstar, or a diva, or whatever word you’d prefer to use. But this isn’t a break in character. Not in the least.
In Florida, he was so headstrong that after getting pulled from a game for a lack of hustle in 2010, he publicly bashed manager Fredi Gonzalez, saying, “He never played in the big leagues.” This was a couple of months after Marlins owner Jeffery Loria bought a nice diamond-studded pendant for Ramirez, so it’s not hard to see how the player came to feel so entitled.
In Los Angeles, Ramirez caused Don Mattingly to age at warp speed — largely because Ramirez refused to play through a number of minor injuries. Sound familiar?
This is the player the Red Sox targeted in free agency. This is the player they ultimately chose to give between $88 million and $107 million.
He’s come exactly as advertised.
And signing Ramirez is fine. The Red Sox needed right-handed power. He’s producing at the plate. (The Red Sox also targeted Rick Porcello and then decided to throw $82.5 million at him. That decision seems slightly more problematic, don’t you think?)
Of course, Hanley is a worse left fielder than anybody could have imagined, but aren’t the Red Sox on the hook for assuming Ramirez could play a position he’s never played? Surely, Hanley could be working harder to improve out there, but if the Red Sox expected a determined focus out of him to improve defensively, then that’s on them.
On the basepaths, Ramirez actually does hustle — at least, he hustles more than David Ortiz ever has, and nobody’s ever taken issue with Ortiz’s commitment to the game.
In general, Ramirez is aloof. He forgets how many outs there are and he doesn’t keep track of his own balls and strikes.
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But he also launches one-handed, game-winning moon shots over the Green Monster.
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Through three months in Boston, Hanley Ramirez has been — perfectly — Hanley Ramirez.
There are a number of reasons why the Red Sox can win eight of 12 yet still sit six games under .500 and six games out of first place. Ramirez’s annoying, occasionally obnoxious idiosyncrasies are far, far down that list.
Is it embarrassing to make excuses for an adult man who has the tendency to act like a child? Of course. We learned by the end of Manny Ramirez’s eight-year career in Boston that if you defend such a player, you’ll often end up with egg on your face.
But you don’t have to excuse the behavior to accept it as reality.
Hanley Ramirez is going to be Hanley Ramirez. Always.
If you expect him at 31 years old to suddenly become a different person, then that’s your problem, not his.
Listen to Michael Hurley discuss Hanley Ramirez, among other things, on Toucher & Rich: