The genius of Manny Ramirez
"The reluctance to put away childish things may be a requirement of genius."
The following column is dedicated to the admittedly bizarre proposition that one
Then, nobody is saying Manny Ramirez is an all-around genius.
"You don't know what to throw the guy," says
MannyBManny joined the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 1. This was less than a month after he pinch hit at Yankee Stadium and blandly watched three
Since that day, MannyBManny has hit .401, a homer every 11 at-bats, more than one RBI per game, and the Dodgers have just about run away with the National League West.
"There must be a pitch that can get him out," Swift says. "I never found it."
"There was never a genius without a tincture of madness."
For a while there in the 1990s, it seemed like the Cleveland Indians had some sort of Awesome Hitter Tree, and whenever they felt like it they would pluck some new hitting star from it.*
In quick succession, the Indians found
The great and powerful hitters came fast and furious, and it was easy to miss the fact that one of those young hitters was Mozart. MannyBManny's first game was in Minnesota on Sept. 2, 1993. He went 0-for-4 against Twins' pitchers
From a distance, there seemed something quirky about this guy ... he smiled on the field but did not appear to be having a lot of fun. He appeared pleasant enough, but plainly he did not have much interest in talking. He was a good hitter almost from the start -- when he was 23 years old he had a .400 on-base percentage and hit 31 homers. The last three 23-year-olds to do that were
The thing was the Indians already had
All in all, Belle was moodier, Manny seemingly more disinterested, and together in 1995 and 1996 they probably made for the most lethal right-handed hitting combo since
In 1997, Belle signed a big money deal with Chicago. In 1998 and 1999, MannyBManny drove in 310 runs, the most in back-to-back seasons since
"What Boston didn't know," one baseball executive says, "is that in every possible way but one Manny Ramirez is like a child. The only place he's an adult is in the batter's box. In there, he's like the smartest man in the world."
"Talent does what it can; genius does what it must."
"I've seen it too many times to doubt it," Bill says.
"When it comes to hitting, the guy's mind works on a whole other level," Allard says.
These are a couple of guys who have seen Manny Ramirez play a lot. Then, with MannyBManny -- unlike almost anyone else -- it seems like the more you see him as a hitter, the more in awe you become. The more you know, the more of a folk hero the guy becomes.
That's genius. At the moment, there are four right-handed hitters in baseball history who hit 500 homers and 500 doubles. It's only for a moment because Frank Thomas figures to limp his way to five more doubles, and in time
For now, though, it is four. There's Mays, of course. There's
What does Manny Ramirez -- the fourth in the group -- have in common with them? The answer seems to be: Nothing. This is a guy who jogs after balls in the gap, who has brought his iPod to the outfield, who so frustrated the Boston Red Sox they put him on waivers. But he was faster to 500 homers and faster to 500 doubles than any of them.
Yeah, he's a goofball. But it's different for him with a bat in his hands. During last year's playoff series with Cleveland he famously said in reference to reaching the World Series, "If it doesn't happen, who cares? There's always next year. It's not like it's the end of the world." Manny being Manny. Then, he reached base six of his next 12 times at bat and the Red Sox won three straight.
On July 27, 2003, against the Yankees, Ramirez ran to the outfield with a giant water bottle jammed in his back pocket. The incident would be mentioned again and again as a way to describe the kookiness of Manny ... that very same game, though, he hit a home run off of
In Game 1 of the 2004 World Series, Manny made two of the funniest errors in the history of postseason baseball. He also went 3-for-5 with two RBIs. And he ended up winning the World Series MVP award.
"You can't judge Manny like you judge anybody else," says one former big league manager. "Again and again, he will make you wonder if it's worth it. But then you will watch him hit, and you will remember: 'Yeah, it is.'"
"Genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind."
Sure, that's easy to say, F., but maybe what keeps Manny being Manny, is that nobody knows what's on his mind. Kansas City pitcher
Still, Bannister admits to being entirely spooked by Ramirez. Bannister is probably baseball's most cerebral pitcher -- often, baseball men say, to his detriment -- and as such it drives him nuts that he cannot figure out what Manny might be thinking.
"He has such an ambiguous personality," Bannister says. "He doesn't give anything away. You have no idea what he's feeling at the plate. He could be in the middle of a slump or the best hitting streak of his life, and he has that same blank expression on his face.
"It's freaky. Sometime he will just let a good pitch go by, like he doesn't care. If you're lucky enough to strike him out, he will just kind of walk back to the dugout like it didn't even matter. And you're on the mound thinking, 'What's going on here? Is he setting me up? What's going on in that head of his?'"
In July 2007, Bannister faced Manny Ramirez for the first time in his life. First at-bat, Manny had cracked a deep out to right. He shrugged in his disinterested way. Bannister was suitably freaked out by the experience.
The second time, Bannister pitched carefully, worked to a 2-1 count. Then he felt a bit stumped. He had watched Manny video and it had been like some math puzzle he could not figure out. He decided to throw a fastball low and away, but he made a mistake. He got the ball up and watched with horror as it it tailed back over the plate. Bannister knew instantly that it was a bad mistake. He could only hope that Manny would miss.
Manny didn't miss. Manny doesn't miss. Bill James would later call it the hardest ball he has ever seen hit in his many years of baseball watching. Manny's home run was crushed to center field, one of those natural wonders so awesome that afterward you didn't want a distance estimate as much as you wanted to know how fast it was going. Bannister watched it go and realized, almost immediately, that Manny had beaten him, somehow, some way. Genius.
"I think, in the end, you can't help but admire it," Bannister said. "It doesn't happen every day. You realize that that are only a handful of people in the entire world who can hit a baseball that far, that hard. Maybe not even a handful."