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Hanley Ramirez puts bad rep behind him to do good things for Dodgers

Branded as a malcontent who didn't always play hard in Miami, Hanley Ramirez has flourished in L.A.β€”at the plate and in clubhouse.

September 28, 2013|By Kevin Baxter
  • Hanley Ramirez, once thought of as a diva, is a leader in the Dodgers clubhouse, which has made the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Hanley Ramirez, once thought of as a diva, is a leader in the Dodgers clubhouse,… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)

The Dodgers had heard the stories. Everyone in baseball had.

Stories that said Hanley Ramirez was a diva. Or a malcontent. How he could play brilliantly one day then just go through the motions the next.

The Dodgers thought they knew one other thing: that Ramirez could flat-out hit. So 14 months ago they rolled the dice, sending two top pitching prospects to the Miami Marlins to acquire Ramirez, who had $38 million left on his contract.

Their faith will be rewarded Thursday when the Dodgers begin postseason play for the first time in four seasons. He has done more than play well. In the clubhouse, where Ramirez was once thought to be a cancer, he's now being hailed as a team leader.

"Without him we probably wouldn't be in this position," says outfielder Carl Crawford.

Manager Don Mattingly says Ramirez is one of the smartest players on the team and adds, "This guy is a special player. He can do some things that not a lot of guys can do."

The numbers bear that out. Despite having been limited by injury to a career-low 85 games entering Saturday's start against Colorado, Ramirez was hitting a career-high .346 with 20 homers in 301 at-bats. If he maintains that average, he'll become the first shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra in 2000 to hit better than .345 with at least 20 home runs in the same season.

His OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of 1.042 was the third-highest in history by a shortstop with at least 300 plate appearances. When Ramirez is in the lineup the Dodgers were 51-25 before Saturday. They were 41-43 without him.

Another telling number: zero.

"We've had zero problems," Mattingly says. "There's been zero issues of Hanley not wanting to play or anything."

That wasn't always the case in Miami, where Ramirez, for all his talent, was moody and frequently accused of loafing, leading to feuds with managers and teammates. It was an uncomfortable time despite his winning a rookie-of-the-year award and a batting title in his seven years with the Marlins.

"I don't want to talk about the past," says Ramirez, who grows angry and agitated whenever a conversation turns toward his days in Miami.

Circumstances with the Marlins had become toxic, his friends say β€” a no-win situation. Ramirez was criticized for not being a team player, but then, when he tried to fight through a painful shoulder that eventually required surgery, he was criticized for his lack of production.

He was expected to be a team leader and the face of the franchise one day, then was asked to move from shortstop to third base to accommodate Jose Reyes the next.

With the Dodgers, Ramirez has found a comfort zone, and taken his game to a new level.

"Everything right now is going good because everything's natural," says Joey Cora, the Marlins' bench coach last season. "Playing shortstop. He's hitting fourth. He's only playing baseball, he doesn't have to worry about anything else. You put that all together with the ability that that guy has β€” he's a top-five player in my book when he's fully healthy.

"You talk about a guy that can do it all? Not only he can do it all, he can do it all well."

Escaping Miami didn't just make Ramirez a better player, though; it also made him better in other ways, according to Dodgers pitcher Ricky Nolasco, a teammate for seven years in Miami.

"Sometimes people need a change of scenery," says Nolasco, who broke in with the Marlins in 2006, the same year Ramirez did, and was traded to the Dodgers on July 6 this year. "And for Hanley it worked wonders, and he's a completely different person. He's just a better person. He's overall happier."

Up next for Ramirez is something he's never experienced. For all his individual achievements, the three-time All-Star and 2009 NL batting champion has never played in the postseason. That, he says, makes this season the best of his career despite two extended stays on the disabled list.

"Definitely," he says with a laugh. "You're here for one thing: just get a ring. Win the championship. And everything starts right there in the playoffs."

Well, not really. For Ramirez and the Dodgers, everything started the day General Manager Ned Colletti decided to believe his eyes and not his ears and bring Ramirez to Los Angeles.

"If you listen to what everybody else always says about everybody else, you'll make a lot of mistakes," Colletti says. "I evaluate relationships on how people act and how they perform and all that stuff. What I see and what I know.

"We had Manny [Ramirez] here and everybody said Manny was going to be trouble. Manny was fine. We had Vicente Padilla here. And people said he was going to be difficult. He was fine. Everybody deserves the opportunity to start fresh if they have to.

"He's done nothing but fulfill everything we've asked. He's been a great Dodger."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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