Manny Ramirez was already a superstar by high school.
Scouts wrote that the Washington Heights senior had "big-time power" with the ability to hit 400-500 home runs (He'd end up hitting 555). He batted .650 with 14 dingers in just 22 games his final year. His swing was art in
Manny Ramirez was already a superstar by high school.
Scouts wrote that the Washington Heights senior had "big-time power" with the ability to hit 400-500 home runs (He'd end up hitting 555). He batted .650 with 14 dingers in just 22 games his final year. His swing was art in motion.
Manny Ramirez in high school. George Washington HS in upper Manhattan. LF is like 450 ft. Note P and friend with no screen! Mucho quick bat. pic.twitter.com/QgXbfXEFX3
But Manny's talent went beyond numbers. He had that certain aura, that unteachable gift that everyone can see but not many possess. More folklore than living, breathing person. Just look at this snippet from Sara Rimer's 2011 New York Times profile on young Manny. It reads like a baseball fable.
"I don’t remember the first time I saw that quicksilver swing. What I remember is what it felt like to be there on that rock-hard artificial surface atop the hill next to the high school, among his euphoric teammates and fans shouting his name, merengue blasting from someone’s boom box in the concrete bleachers behind the third-base line, the major league scouts lined up behind home plate as Manny came up to bat in his baggy black-and-orange secondhand uniform and red cleats and slammed one home run after another, day after day."
And today, we wanted to talk about one of those hits -- one of those home runs. This is the story of Manny Ramirez's legendary one-handed homer.
"People that were there, when you tell the story, they think it was modified," former George Washington high school baseball coach Steve Mandl told MLB.com. "But nope, nope, nope -- it happened."
Manny's George Washington team was going up against its rivals that day: Brandeis High School. On the mound was Trovin Valdez, a 90-mph throwing future Orioles Draft pick. Manny had already hit a towering home run to center field in an earlier at-bat, a part of the park where Mandl says "at that point, nobody had ever done." You can see how deep the fence in center juts out below.
"We had a Major League field except for right field," Mandl says. "We're 343 down left and we're 410 to center."
The stands were packed that afternoon, both because of the rivalry, but also, as was the case in many of George Washington's games, people had come to see Manny.
"People would come out to watch him, oh yeah," Mandl says. "He was an icon. He was Tom Brady. He was the talk of the town."
This quiet corner of upper Manhattan had seen an infusion of immigrants from the Dominican Republic in the early 90s, and the street corners, shopkeepers, high school girls -- they all buzzed about the kid known as "The Hitman."
"Not everyone can be that talented," said Victor Capellan, fan of the Washington baseball team during the Manny days. "When you're around someone that talented, you feel like you're a part of him. You get happy. At least somebody's making it. Somebody's looking forward to their life."
"He's from our country," said Miguelina Barbuena, restaurant owner on the corner of 170th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. "He's from our neighborhood. He's our guy."
"Anyway, he came up to the plate," Mandl continues. "And the stands -- we have stadium stands, almost like college football. God knows how many people, it was filled. So Manny's standing there, getting ready to hit. Trovin's ready to throw a pitch. Manny goes to call a timeout and he puts his back hand up. The umpire never gave him time so Trovin threw the pitch."
And then the kid with the quickest hands Mandl had ever seen did something out of a baseball tall tales book.
"Manny was trying to get his hand on the bat, never got it on the bat, and just swung," Mandl says. "He hit the ball down the left-field line into some handball courts. ... Almost 400 feet. He definitely didn't get his other hand on the bat, I was standing right there." (Mandl was coaching third at the time.)
To be clear, that's his right hand he didn't get on the bat. He hit it over 350 feet only using his left hand.
Teammates and fans were going crazy. Shouts of "oh my god, oh my god" arose from the stands. Friends came up to Mandl afterwards and could only shake their heads.
"Manny was the most humble person in the world," Mandl says. "No matter what you said, he would've poo-poo'd it. I don't remember what his reaction was, but it wasn't like he was jumping up and down. As crazy as it sounds, he was humble and he also had very low self-esteem."
Mandl says that even at the 1991 Draft -- when Manny was far and away one of the best players in the country -- the 19-year-old kept asking his coach "if" he'd be drafted at all. The five-tool center fielder was quicker to compliment someone else on what they'd done than gloat about his own accomplishments.
As was the case throughout his life, Manny practiced hitting every chance he could get in high school ... but with one hand?
"We had one-handed drills, but not to hit a pitch," Mandl laughed. "It was part of strengthening your top hand ... It was usually done with a small bat you could hold with one hand. But no, we never practiced trying to hit it to the long part of the field with one."
Perhaps just one of the first examples of Manny being a little bit better and a little bit different than everybody else. Manny being, well, Manny.
Matt Monagan is a writer for MLB.com. In his spare time, he travels and searches Twitter for Wily Mo Peña news.