Make no mistake, Manny was a genius at plate

Former slugger cemented legacy with astonishing numbers

January 17th, 2018

If there is one thing you learn doing this series year after year, it is that you can do some fascinating things by mixing up some baseball numbers.
For instance: Can you name the only three players in baseball history to hit 500 homers and 500 doubles with a .310 career batting average?
Answer: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez.
Hall of Fame coverage
How about this one -- there are only five players with 600 WAR runs batting (Rbat) and a .580 slugging percentage.
Answer: Ruth, Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Ramirez.

Or this one: How many players have scored 1,500 runs and driven in 1,800 runs in fewer than 10,000 plate appearances?
Answer: Williams, Foxx, Gehrig, Al Simmons and Ramirez.
Or this one: How many players have hit .310 with a .410 on-base percentage and a .510 slugging percentage and also created 2,000 runs?
Answer: There are eight of them -- Ruth, Williams, Ty Cobb, Gehrig, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Foxx and Ramirez.
Here's a goofy one: How many players have 500 homers, a .400 on-base percentage and 20 grand slams?
Answer: Only Ramirez.

It is fun to do this with Ramirez's career, because his career is a perfect storm, a spectacular match of a hitting genius meeting the best hitting era in 75 or so years. His career numbers are absurd on so many different levels. They are so fun.
And that's good because it isn't much fun to talk about Ramirez's Hall of Fame chances. At the moment, they are roughly zero percent. Ramirez failed two drug tests, which, even for those of us willing to vote for pre-testing PED users, is hard to swallow. Ramirez was at less than 25 percent of the vote last year, and it's unlikely that his percentage moves much at all. He is likely to linger in Hall of Fame ballot purgatory for the next eight years, unless something substantial changes in the voting process or thinking.

But that whole PED argument is dead, entirely exhausted. There's no apparent way to make progress on it, so let's talk about Ramirez as a hitting savant, because we are unlikely to ever see another one just like him.
"I never saw anybody hit a baseball quite like Manny Ramirez," I wrote back in 2011, on the day of his retirement. "And he hit the ball that hard without even the slightest outward suggestion of anything resembling discipline or exertion or dedication. People may not have liked Barry Bonds, but nobody could doubt the commitment he made to being a sensational baseball player. Manny hardly seemed to care at all.
"I can only assume he did care, and that he did work hard on his hitting -- it doesn't seem even remotely possible that anyone could become that good at anything without extreme drive -- but, yeah, he did an amazing job hiding that part of himself from the world. He seemed to care so little, generally, that the main defense his fans had against the likelihood he was using steroids was that using steroids would take too much effort. He cared so little that at one point when he was still hitting rockets all over the park, the Red Sox put him on waivers. It was a bit like putting Alexander the Great on waivers just after he crossed the Tigris."
Hey, check out the Alexander the Great historical reference! I was overselling the point, though: Ramirez did care about his hitting. His batting-cage sessions were pretty legendary. He was known to study video hard. But you got the sense that in the end, it was natural -- see the ball, hit the ball. He was like Rey from the new "Star Wars" trilogy. The force just flowed through him. The first time he picked up a lightsaber, he could match Kylo Ren.

Ramirez grew up in the Dominican Republic, but moved to New York when he was 13. His senior year at George Washington High School, he only played 22 games because of the weather. He hit .650 with 14 home runs. Cleveland took him with the 13th pick in the 1991 MLB Draft. That was the year the Yankees had the first pick in the Draft, and George Washington High School is just 2.2 miles away from Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees chose left-handed pitcher Brien Taylor instead. Taylor got injured in a fight and never pitched above Double-A. It is beyond frightening to think about what those late 1990s Yankees teams would have been like with Ramirez.
All Ramirez did was hit, right from the start. At age 21, he hit .333/.417/.713 with 44 doubles and 31 home runs in 129 Minor League games. Cleveland called him up.
In his first full year in 1995, Ramirez hit .308/.402/.558 with 31 homers and 107 RBIs.

And that was the baseline for Ramirez's career -- those numbers roughly match his career numbers. Oh, he had bigger years. In 1999, he drove in 165 RBIs, the most in a season by anybody since 1938, almost a decade before the color line was wiped out.
In 2000, Ramirez hit .351/.457/.697. He was just the third American League player in the expansion era to have a .350/.450/.650 season, joining George Brett and Frank Thomas.
In 2002, Ramirez won the AL batting title at .349 and led the AL in on-base percentage (.450). In '04, he led the AL in homers (43) and slugging (.613). From 1999-2004, Ramirez had an OPS of 1.000 or more every year. The only other AL hitters to have a 1.000 OPS streak of at least six years are Hank Greenberg, Gehrig, Ruth and Williams. Williams had a 1.000 OPS in every season he played from when he was 20 to when he was 39. The guy was from another planet.

Ramirez hit every year. He had 30 homers and 100 RBIs 12 times (only others: Rodriguez, Pujols, Foxx, Ruth).
Ramirez had 30 homers and 30 doubles in a season 10 times (only others: and Carlos Delgado).
Ramirez had 300 total bases 10 times (the others make up a slightly longer list: Aaron, Willie Mays, Musial, Gehrig, , Pujols, Ruth and Foxx).
Along the way, Ramirez did goofy, charming and infuriating things. He drove the Red Sox utterly insane, and yet, they probably don't win either World Series in 2004 and '07 without him. He developed a reputation as a selfish player who put his team second, but his teams always won.
The first 15 full years of Ramirez's career, his teams made the postseason 11 times and had winning records the other four. They won four pennants and two World Series. I'm not saying it was his leadership that got them there, but I am saying that if he was as much of a team-wrecker as some claimed, such a record would be all but impossible.

The hitting genius -- that was always there. There are so many stories about that genius. Pitchers would say Ramirez pretended to look fooled on a pitch in Spring Training so that they would throw it to him again during the season. Pitchers said he would let a pitch go by with the bases empty in the hopes they would throw it to him again with the bases full (he hit 30 points higher for his career with men on base).
The famously skeptical Bill James claimed that it was possible that Ramirez used to get into full counts on purpose with runners on first base. That way, the runner would be off with the pitch and could score on the double Ramirez intended to hit.
My favorite thought about facing Ramirez came from my friend Brian Bannister, who is now the assistant pitching coach for the Red Sox and who once gave up what just might be the hardest-hit ball in the history of baseball -- to Ramirez.
"He has such an ambiguous personality," Bannister said. "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. Sometimes, he will just let a 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?'"

Well, you wondered that all the time with Ramirez: What's going on in that head? Aside from the hitting, he was something of a train wreck. He was generally slow and not an instinctive baserunner. On defense, Ramirez was mostly uninterested. Every now and then, he would uncork a throw that would drop your jaw -- he twice led the AL in outfield assists -- but most of the time, runners had their way. His minus-22.5 defensive WAR ranks fifth worst among all outfielders. And in the clubhouse, he was enough of a distraction that the Red Sox put him on waivers when he was still an amazing hitter.
But what an amazing hitter. If you needed an extra-base hit against a dominant pitcher in order to save your own soul, well, Ramirez might not be your first pick, but he'd be on a very short list. And heck, on the right day, he might even be your first.