Cubs’ dalliance with Manny Ramirez goes against all reason
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist May 25, 2014 10:20PM
Updated: May 27, 2014 9:47AM
This is the person who came to mind? Manny Ramirez?
You were trying to figure out a way to help this staggeringly bad, historically hopeless operation, and this is the person you came up with?
I think the whole Cubs thing finally has gotten to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
The team has signed Ramirez, the disgraced superstar, to be a player-coach for their Class AAA team in Iowa because . . . because . . . well, damned if I know. Something about being a mentor to the young hitters on the roster, according to the Cubs’ news release.
I’m all for second and third chances, but what I keep coming back to with the Ramirez news is, ‘‘Why?’’ Why is he the obvious choice to teach the young, impressionable players upon which the franchise is being rebuilt? Why is what he brings to the table so much more powerful than the message he sent to the baseball world several years ago, the message about performance-enhancing drugs being the answer?
‘‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world’’ — that’s a line from the movie ‘‘Casablanca,’’ written by brothers Philip and Julius Epstein, who happened to be Theo’s grandfather and great-uncle, respectively.
And of all the players in all the ballparks in all the world, Epstein chose Ramirez, who always seemed to be about himself when he was putting up huge numbers for the Red Sox. He twice was suspended for testing positive for PEDs. That overshadows everything.
Not so, Epstein said.
‘‘Manny is not only one of the best hitters of all time, he is also a dedicated student of hitting and has proven to be a gifted teacher with younger teammates who have worked with him in the batting cage,’’ said Epstein, a former Red Sox general manager who won two World Series with Ramirez in Boston. ‘‘Behind the scenes, he has always been a tireless worker who is very serious about the craft of hitting.
‘‘Manny has made real mistakes in the past, but he has owned up to them and moved his life in a positive direction the last couple of years. He is in a really great place right now and wants to share the lessons he’s learned along the way. We think he deserves another chance and that our young hitters will benefit from it.’’
Ramirez will be showing hotshot 21-year-old shortstop Javier Baez how to be a major-league ballplayer, which is such a comforting thought. Too bad Barry Bonds wasn’t available.
The big-league club is headed toward another 100-loss season, and how do the Cubs react? By hiring Ramirez. No, that’s not apples and oranges. No, those aren’t mutually exclusive things.
They are, together, so very Cub-like.
The franchise that has snubbed Sammy Sosa at every turn, quite possibly (and rightly) for the steroids rumors that have dogged him, instead has hitched its wagon to Ramirez, a confirmed PED user. You can hear the cry from the aggrieved: ‘‘Hey, our steroid guy isn’t good enough?’’ Neither belongs in Iowa or anywhere else with young players.
It’s not impossible that Ramirez, 41, will have a positive influence on Baez and others. But, again, what is so unique about him that he’s worth the fallout? It was the same problem I had with manager Tony La Russa hiring Mark McGwire to be the Cardinals’ hitting coach in 2010: You couldn’t think of anybody else but a steroids user who brought lasting shame on baseball?
The sports world seems to overreact in the forgiving process. It goes from washing away the serial carjacker’s sins to giving him the keys to the Mercedes, with no in-between steps. Somebody explain the sense in this.
The Cubs keep making all the wrong kind of news, which is what they tend to do. They seem much more concerned about off-field endeavors than about the major-league product. Last week, team chairman Tom Ricketts ratcheted up his ongoing battle with the rooftop owners. It’s like choosing between salmonella and E. coli.
But Epstein mostly has managed to stay away from the goofy stuff, which is why the Ramirez decision is such a head-scratcher. He took pains to say that Ramirez won’t take meaningful at-bats away from Iowa Cubs players and that he never would play for the big-league team.
But Epstein has managed to create a major-league distraction that isn’t necessary.
If the past is any indication, Ramirez will teach the kids how to wear a studied coolness. He always seemed much more at home at the All-Star Game, which is all fun, nonsense and showing off for the cameras.
Hopefully, the kids will realize that talent and work made Ramirez a regular All-Star, not the rest of the silliness. But when you’re 21, sometimes you don’t notice the important stuff.