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Ramirez Situation Cause for Concern

Boston outfielder's troubles didn't begin with sore throat.

September 07, 2003|Jimmy Golen | Associated Press

BOSTON — When Manny Ramirez left one of his prodigious, uncashed paychecks lying around, or when he held up a game to look for a $15,000 diamond earring, the response was always a shrug and a smile and the same expression: "That's Manny."

These days, though, the smile has disappeared.

No longer resigned to the eccentricities of their $160 million slugger, the Red Sox are trying to lure Ramirez out of his own little world and into the one more traditionally inhabited by ballplayers. It is a world where players run out ground balls, play hurt on occasion and even tie their emotions to the team's fortunes.

"You can have the ability to play this game, but if you don't work

Ramirez was benched this past week after he missed a crucial series against New York with a sore throat and fever but managed, in the middle of it, to pull himself out of bed to reminisce with Yankees infielder Enrique Wilson about their Cleveland days. On Sunday, Ramirez didn't show up to for an appointment with the Red Sox doctor, and when he joined the team on Monday he sat on the bench but said he was "too weak" to pinch-hit.

Declining to comment directly on Ramirez and his illness, general manager Theo Epstein told the Boston Herald, "We really appreciate the way Johnny Damon sucked it up and got in the lineup. That's the kind of effort we need from everyone on the club."

Billed as a laid-back hitting machine who acts the same whether he's 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, Ramirez's demeanor was seen as a benefit when then-general manager Dan Duquette signed him to an eight-year, $160 million contract in the winter of 2000. At the time, it was thought that a player who could ignore the catcalls from the Fenway bleachers after he misplayed a fly ball was the guy you'd want if, a couple of innings later, he was batting with a chance to win the game.

Sure enough, after leaving a cocoon in Cleveland to come to the crucible of Boston, he hit .306 with 41 homers and 125 RBIs in 2001. Last year, he won the AL batting title with a .346 average while hitting 33 homers and driving in 107 runs.

But Ramirez is so laid back at times, he's sometimes viewed by sportswriters, the fans and occasionally his teammates as apathetic.

"His disposition may be a positive with respect to his ability to focus on hitting to the exclusion of other kinds of distractions," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "It's easily misunderstood because fans have a certain kind of prototype of what an athlete should be. That image may not be fair to everybody."

Ramirez has not talked to reporters for most of the season, and his agent, Jeff Moorad, did not return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment. But others in baseball steadfastly defend him.

"The image that other people have of him doesn't seem like a reality. He's very simple and very humble," said Detroit Tigers first baseman Carlos Pena, adding that Ramirez, a Dominican by way of New York City, is a role model and mentor for many Latino players.

"I'm a big fan of Manny Ramirez. I think if you ask any of the Latin guys who have interacted with him, they would say the same thing," Pena said. "With American guys, he seems to be a little shy. He's been nothing but a humble gentleman with me.

"I know he's a superstar, but once he said, 'Carlos. Keep an eye on me. I think I'm pulling off the ball at the plate. Let me know what you see.' Then I was thinking, 'You're joking, right?' But he was dead serious. Here's a guy that has done incredible things and he's asking Carlos Pena to see if he's pulling his shoulder? That showed me how humble he is."

Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said Ramirez always played hard for him in Cleveland. And, with Ramirez in the lineup, the Indians made the playoffs five times in his six full years, twice going to the World Series.

As much as that, though, Ramirez is remembered there for the time he asked a sports writer if he could borrow $60,000 -- on the spot -- so he and pitcher Julian Tavarez could buy motorcycles. Or the day police were chasing O.J. Simpson and Ramirez thought they were chasing Indians pitcher Chad Ogea, whose name is pronounced "O.J."

Since coming to Boston, it has been more of the same.

During the 2001 season, Ramirez had a falling out with manager Joe Kerrigan and left the team for two days. That winter, Kerrigan went to Ramirez's house in Florida to drop off a videotape, but the slugger snubbed him.

Last year, he violated baseball etiquette when he barely left the batter's box on a groundout. He apologized to his teammates -- and went on a hitting tear that clinched the batting title for him. When Ramirez broke his finger sliding headfirst into home plate last May, it was merely a poor decision; what made it typically Manny is that, while on a rehab assignment in Triple-A, he tried another headfirst slide.

On the same play, Ramirez lost an earring and the game was delayed for several minutes while he searched for it. His reaction, when it wasn't found: "Don't worry about it. I've got money. I can buy another one."

With Ramirez on the books for another five years and more than $100 million, the Red Sox couldn't get rid of him that easily, even if they wanted to. But there are worse things: Heading into this weekend's series with the AL East-leading Yankees, Ramirez was batting .318 with 31 homers and 90 RBIs.

After all, that's Manny, too.

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