Former Major League Baseball all-star Manny Ramirez was the perennial “bad boy” of the sport. With his long dreadlocks, sullen attitude, disrespect for the game in general and inability to get along with teammates, the perennial slugger was both a sensational talent and a complete drain on teams who employed him. When Manny Ramirez left baseball I frankly never missed him. Then this all changed on Sunday.
Manny Ramirez was born in 1972 in the Dominican Republic. My first memory of Ramirez was the 1995 World Series when he was a second-year regular player and a huge threat to the great pitching staff of the Atlanta Braves in the post-season. The Braves, as some readers know, are my childhood favorite team. I watched the Braves great pitchers (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz) work carefully to get around Manny. Along with Jim Thome they feared his bat in the Cleveland lineup as much as that of any slugger in the game. Later Ramirez would play for a World Championship team in Boston. (Manny played for twenty years; spending time with the Indians, Red Sox, Dodgers, White Sox and Rays.)
Manny Ramirez was suspended for using performance enhancing drugs several times. He created continual controversy in and out of the sport. He was not only a great player but a major drain on the chemistry of every “team” that he played for over his twenty years. The players and media had a term for his actions: “It was just Manny being Manny!” This expression became so widely used that most fans knew it instantly.
Manny Ramirez, at age 42, is no longer a major league player. I lost track of him this year until I realized the Chicago Cubs had signed him to a triple-A contract with the Iowa Cubs to coach and play. Manny would still like to get back to the big leagues but it seems doubtful at this advanced stage. (How does that make you feel if you are my age?)
Theo Epstein, the Cubs general manager said, “Manny was definitely a headache” in his playing days, which included time with Epstein’s club in Boston. So why would he sign him and allow Manny to influence his young budding stars in the Cubs farm system? Well, Manny has profoundly changed according to every report and story that you hear. The Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday, June 29, 2014) included a story titled: “The Headache Has Passed.” In it Steve Greenberg presented the story of the “new” Manny Ramirez. It was a remarkable account for me a long time fan and a Christian.
In the Sun-Times story Manny admits that he was a “jerk.” He also says “I did a bunch of things wrong.” But how did Manny become a mentor to these young players as he tries to get back to the majors one last time? Greenberg’s answer: “This is not Manny being all about Manny. Believe it or not, the idea of being a mentor appeals to him in a very real way.” Why?
Ramirez says his previous actions had consequences and he’d like to help younger players realize this sooner than he did. He wants to guide young players in the right way.
So what happened to Manny Ramirez? Greenberg answers, “Along with his wife Juliana, Ramirez became a Christian.” He knows this doesn’t remove all the bad he did in the past but he says, “I thank God for everything that happened to me. . . . Now I’m blessed to be here.”
I am always a tad suspicious of celebrity conversions but Juliana and Manny Ramirez are no longer celebrities in the limelight. Their story rings true. The guy seems to be at peace with himself and with baseball. He also seems to have genuine love for others, especially for young baseball players who might mess up the way that he did so often. He seems to no longer be angry, sullen or out of sorts with the world.
Odd how this all works. I once booed Manny Ramirez as a passionate fan. I celebrated his being busted for using drugs. I enjoyed seeing him misplay a fly ball or strike out in the clutch. Now I find myself praying for him as my brother. To be truthful I am sorry for how I responded to him in the past. Yes, it was just me being a fan. But in the light of what God has taught me about love I should have loved Manny Ramirez even before he became a brother. Now I find it easier, of course, to think well of Manny but it doesn’t change the fact that he was loved by God long before he or I knew about it. I am inclined to think that I should always remember guys like Manny Ramirez when I react to other people.