Manny Ramirez arrived in Round Rock Thursday to take batting practice with the Round Rock Express, the Triple A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.
Ramirez reminds me of 2007, a year the Rangers brought back Sammy Sosa for his last season. Sosa, who achieved fame with Mark McGuire in the now steroid tarnished 1998 home run race to beat Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in the regular season, was returning home to the club which drafted him in 1988.
I went to the ballpark that day, as Sosa played his last MLB game and hit his 600th home run against the Chicago Cubs, the team from which he gained fame.
The Rangers have a habit of developing great young players in their farm clubs and then letting them go on to stardom elsewhere.
Just look at Chris Davis, a promising young first baseman. Two years ago the Rangers let him go in favor of Mitch Moreland. Now Davis is hitting .329 with 32 home runs and it isn’t even the all star break. Rangers GM Jon Daniels is to blame for that one.
But this time it’s different. Manny Ramirez, at 41, has 555 career home runs. He has recently been playing in a league in Taiwan where he caught the Rangers attention by batting .352 with eight home runs.
I remember well when Manny left the Red Sox in 2008 and guided the Los Angeles Dodgers to their first pennant in a long time.
“Manny Being Manny” was all the craze, as fans bought the baseball caps with the Manny dreadlocks sewn on. I was stationed in Southern California at the time, and managed to make a few trips to see Manny.
Eccentric and spoiled, he was suspended by MLB for 50 games for testing positive for PEDs and he and the Dodgers parted ways. He then went to the Tampa Bay Rays and was promptly suspended for 100 games for the same infraction.
Manny declared he would rather retire from baseball then serve the suspension. He changed his mind and landed at the Triple A affiliate of the Oakland A’s last year after serving the remainder of the suspension.
He returns to find a Rangers team in desperate need of a spark. Josh Hamilton was one of my favorites, but it seems his eccentricities in Anaheim with the Angels have started to wear on manager Mike Sciosca. He would have been better off staying here, but I digress. The bridge has been burned.
Who else were the Rangers too cheap to sign? Let’s see, does Yankee slugger Mark Teixeira come to mind anyone? They won’t have that problem with Manny as he is just eager to get back into baseball and signed for the minor league minimum.
First thing the Rangers told him to do was get a haircut. Not the famous dreadlocks! Is that like Sampson losing his mojo? We will see.
Even designated hitter Lance Berkman and catcher A.J. Pierzynski are on board with the signing. Manny makes his debut today in Round Rock, haircut and all. If he hits like the Manny of old, he may be around Arlington to help the Rangers down the stretch. Maybe the Rangers will let him grow his hair back again.
In a interview with MLB.com Manny said “I never think this is going to be my last shot. I like to enjoy it, go have fun and let the moment take care of itself ... Why not keep going?”
Indeed, why not. With the hot August heat coming up, the Rangers are in the fight of their lives in the AL West. Even Berkman isn’t opposed to trading time with Manny at the DH spot. Berkman, who also occasionally plays first base, said that every good bat in the lineup will help.
Not every one is certain about Manny’s comeback, however. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Friday that “I don’t know, you never know what Manny you’re going to get. He may show up ready to roll.”
“I feel good and I’m ready to go,” Ramirez said Friday. “I’m expecting to stay back [at the plate], use my hands and do what I always do — stretch, run and get ready for the game. [My hands] are still quick. I’ve still got it.”
For those interested, Ramirez makes his debut for the Round Rock Express at 7:05 tonight against Omaha.
If you’ve never been to Dell Diamond, I highly recommend it. Tickets are cheap, the stadium is among the best in the minor leagues and you get to watch future Rangers and has beens alike struggle to get back to the major leagues.