Manny The Magician

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: June 2, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — To some aficionados of baseball, Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez is an affable jester whose occasional brain-farts make him highlight fodder for the SportsCenter masses.

But days past his 36th birthday and 500th home run, it’s time to stop the nonsense and say it as it need to be said– Manny Ramirez is arguably the greatest line drive hitter of the past decade.

Like the fictional Scaramouche, this diamond from the Dominican Republic’s most effective weapon is his role of the jester.

When he comes to bat, there’s no stop to catch your breath moment like there was with hitters like Barry Bonds, Dave Winfield, Darryl Strawberry, Alex Rodriguez or his National League contemporary Albert Pujols.

Or even his teammate David “Big Papi” Ortiz.

All you see is the line drive shoot off the bat. Laser shots as if fired from his own light-saber, fashioned back in New York City’s Washington Heights at George Washington High School.

El Natural

Everything Ramirez did in high school he does now. As a former “Gee-Dub” Trojan alum who saw him play, the preparation, the swing is no different now than then.

What is different is Ramirez’ role as a leader. The casual aside Ramirez made in last year’s playoffs that there was a tomorrow in spite of a potential loss was disquieting to the press and inspiring to his teammates all at once– and the Red Sox won; in large part due to that 36 ounce black magic wand Manny was waving at the plate.

In amassing 502 homers (and counting) the most intriguing of Ramirez’s stats is the 485 doubles– almost a one-to-one ratio, and a true indication of a hitter that first looks to drive the ball rather than pound it.

Not that Manny couldn’t or doesn’t hit home runs — he didn’t get to 500 on a humbug. The stat reflects a discipline and work ethic which gets downplayed as sports talking heads seem more satisfied in trying to find the joke rather than the nuances to Manny’s game.

Well, the joke’s on you, jack; because when he comes to bat, this Dominican don’t play.

A consistent MVP candidate, Ramirez is always among the leaders in on base percentage, slugging percentage and only Tony Roma’s has produced more ribs than Ramirez over his 16-year career to date, the best run-producer this side of Tony Perez.

With World Series rings, and MVP under his belt, there is no question when he does retire, Manny Ramirez will grace Cooperstown with his presence when he becomes a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Anything less than first ballot is merely pure hatin’ on the part of the traditionalist old farts who frown on Manny’s style, which is old-school Negro league.

If Ramirez were white, he would be as revered as Tris Speaker or Napoleon Lajoie. And in spite of Ted Williams’ hitting prowess, no one will confuse Ramirez with being a hitting genius.

Even though that’s exactly what he is.

Just like another former Gee-Dub Trojan, Rod Carew, Ramirez hits to all fields, hits with power, hits well with two strikes, and is an excellent situational hitter.

Given the positive moves George Steinbrenner made during his ruling over all of Yankee-dom, the one glaring mistake he made was in not securing Ramirez when he was available.

And, Manny, smiling assassin as he is, continues to punish the Yankees with impunity to this very day.

So when a Red Sox game highlight comes up in the SportsCenter rotation, I’ll wait for the stupid joke– as Manny continues to crank and spank line drives, circling the bases and helping the Red Sox win.

The magician– who continues to wave his wand and make baseballs disappear.