There's more to Ramirez than homers

Commentary

June 01, 2008|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun columnist

We know all about the dreadlocks and the baggy pants.

About the carefree attitude and the fielding adventures.

And the "Manny being Manny" moments, leaving $10,000 in his car's glove compartment, disappearing behind the Green Monster wall during pitching changes and high-fiving a fan in the middle of executing a double play.

That's the Manny Ramirez we watch and read and chuckle about.

But none of it should overshadow one basic fact:

Ramirez, the Boston Red Sox left fielder who last night joined the exclusive 500-homer club with a shot off Orioles reliever Chad Bradford in the seventh inning - is among the best all-around hitters to ever play.

He's certainly on the short list - with Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols - as the best right-handed hitters of this generation.

"Sure. He has a great swing," Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley said. "He hits fastballs, he hits breaking balls. He hits with men on base, and he does it every year."

Said one American League scout about the trio of Ramirez, Pujols and Rodriguez: "To me, [Ramirez] is the most exciting of all of them. In my mind, he's the one I would pay to see."

There's just something about the way Ramirez can wait on a pitch until the last possible second and then rip it to all fields.

Consider this: There are 23 other men in baseball history to have hit at least 500 homers. Of those, only Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams - both former Red Sox, coincidentally - have higher lifetime batting averages than Ramirez's .312 mark.

His 1,638 RBIs heading into Friday's game were 25th all time, and he has plenty of time to pad it considering he just turned 36 on Friday (at least according to Boston's media guide).

"He has incredible numbers, Hall of Fame numbers," Orioles left fielder Luke Scott said. "People see him play, and he plays loose and he plays to have fun and does things a little differently. But that's Manny's style, and it works for him."

That goofy demeanor, that lackadaisical public persona, are overblown, Red Sox teammate Curt Schilling said.

"The media has made it up to be a much bigger deal than it is," Schilling said. "We all joke around and have fun with it, but the guy works his [butt] off to do what he does. And that's all I care about."

Schilling played with Cal Ripken Jr. in Baltimore, Luis Gonzalez in Arizona, Scott Rolen and Dale Murphy in Philadelphia and Jeff Bagwell in Houston. They have something in common: an amazing work ethic.

Ramirez might trump them all.

"He is up - on the road - at 10 in the morning, going to the weight room and working out," Schilling said. "He'll come over to the ballpark and hit early, work early. Go have lunch and come back. He does things that no one else does. But that's what all the great players I have ever played with do.

"Cal was the same way. Cal had a work ethic that was not out there for everyone to see."

Schilling also compares Ramirez to another of his former Orioles teammates, Eddie Murray.

Like Ramirez, Murray had tremendous natural ability and a laconic public image. But, in the background, he worked tirelessly at his craft. And like Murray, Ramirez does not seek the media spotlight. He's not nasty, just shy.

"Manny wants to come to the ballpark, put his uniform on, play baseball and go home," Schilling said. "He doesn't like the other stuff."

Ramirez also has a disadvantage - at least when compared to the greats of the past - in that he compiled his gaudy power numbers in the heart of the so-called Steroid Era. And in a guilt-by-association world, reaching 500 homers no longer has the cachet it once did. It can't, not when Murray in 1996 was the 15th to accomplish the feat since Babe Ruth in 1929. And Ramirez is the ninth since Murray.

"It's not the same," Orioles pitcher Steve Trachsel said about the 500-homer milestone. "It's still awesome, don't get me wrong, but it's not the same. I just don't think 500 is automatic Hall of Fame like it used to be."

So, yes, it is difficult to compare the milestone now to it in Ruth's prime or Mickey Mantle's or even Murray's.

But what helps set Ramirez apart in this age is his consistency. From 1995 to 2006, he never hit more than 45 homers in a season and never fewer than 26. In that period, he drove in 100 or more runs 11 times. On five occasions, he had 125 or more RBIs.

Year after year he produces, and that's what should be remembered when Ramirez's name and career are mentioned.

All the wackiness and lapses in concentration and "Manny being Manny" moments are secondary.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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