BOSTON -- Manny Ramirez, one of the best and most controversial players in Red Sox history, is at peace these days in part because he doesn’t hide from the mistakes of his past.
Some of those mistakes, like being suspended twice for failing PED tests, threaten to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. So Ramirez, who was honored with a baseball legacy award at the Tradition event at Boston’s TD Garden on Wednesday night, must regret the poor choices he made in his past, right?
As with nearly everything that has involved Ramirez, his answer to that question is the definition of unconventional. It was also from the heart.
It is the 2019 version of Manny being Manny.
“Not really,” Ramirez said when asked if he wishes he could have a do-over. “I [tell] myself it was a good thing for me, because it made me grow up. Maybe a lot of people didn’t get caught and maybe they are doing so many crazy things and they’re not learning from it. I think everything happens for a reason and everything is happening for the good. I’m in a better place than I’ve ever been, even when I was playing. I don’t regret it, because it makes me grow up.”
During Ramirez’s career, he alternated between being goofy, unpredictable, irritable and petulant. But all the while, he was a machine with a bat in his hands, putting together a monster line of .312/.411/.585 with 555 home runs. He was also legendary for his work habits, beating all of his teammates to the ballpark on a regular basis.
These days, Ramirez says that his mood is as consistently productive as his statistics once were.
“I guess, you know, you keep growing up,” said Ramirez. “You keep maturing and you appreciate life more than sometimes when you’re young. Really, you don’t appreciate what you have.”
It’s not unnatural for one to wonder why Ramirez couldn’t appreciate it this much when he was playing, particularly after the Red Sox signed him to an eight-year, $160 million contract in 2000.
“Yeah, but something that I learned [is] money’s not everything,” Ramirez said. “Money doesn’t buy happiness. I’m happy now."
Where once Ramirez tried to get most of his joy from majestic home runs and clutch hits, he gets it these days from spending time with his wife, Julianna, and his three boys.
“You thought beating the Yankees was hard? Raising a family is harder,” said Ramirez.
Though Ramirez has much more perspective these days, he has far less hair -- as in none. Ramirez shaves his head, joking that it is a must while living in Miami. He also adds that it saves him money on maintaining his hair. Religion has become a huge part of Ramirez’s life. He goes to South Florida hospitals regularly to preach and read from the Bible.
As for the Hall of Fame topic, Ramirez doesn’t shy away from it. The 2020 ballot, the results of which will be announced on Jan. 21, will the fourth one Ramirez has been on. In his first three years on the ballot, he got less than 25 percent of the votes. Candidates need 75 percent to gain entry. He doesn’t expect to get in this year, but he hopes he will someday.
“I’m pretty sure in 15, maybe 20 years, we’ll probably get in,” Ramirez said.
When someone joked that the 47-year-old Ramirez might be too old to enjoy it by then, he said, “As long as you get in, it’s fine.” He'll be rooting for his former teammate Curt Schilling to gain entry to Cooperstown.
“Why not? He was one of the best pitchers ever. I think he deserves it,” said Ramirez.
And PED users also deserve a shot, says Ramirez.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Ramirez said. “I make mistakes every day. Everybody makes them. We’ve got to keep moving. What else can you do?”
The lighter side of Ramirez is still there for all to see. His favorite memories playing for the Red Sox?
“Going inside the Green Monster [during pitching changes],” Ramirez said. “I remember there used to be three kids working in there and they always had water or Gatorade, it was awesome.”
What about the ultimate Manny being Manny moment? That would be the night in July 2004, when he decided to cut off Johnny Damon’s throw before it got to the intended relay man, allowing the Orioles’ David Newhan to record an inside-the-park-homer.
“Remember, Johnny couldn’t throw, so I was trying to help him out,” Ramirez noted.
The way Ramirez speaks about the city of Boston these days, it’s hard to believe it was only 11 years ago he all but forced Theo Epstein to trade him with a series of unnecessary antics. These days, Ramirez views Boston as every bit the home that Miami and the Dominican Republic are to him.
“It's always [good] to come back home and see your fans and see the people that have really been there for you in the good times and the bad times,” said Ramirez. “They are the best fans, and it’s the best city. I’m so happy to come home. Every time you come home, it’s a happy place. The way they receive us is unbelievable.”