Manny Ramirez is a coach 1st, player 2nd with Cubs
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter June 26, 2014 10:16PM
Updated: June 27, 2014 2:21PM
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Here 42-year-old Manny Ramirez was, the erstwhile swatter of 555 major-league home runs, standing astride the third-base line before an Iowa Cubs doubleheader, stretching and running with his brand-new teammates.
Some of them, like marquee prospects Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, are barely half the man’s age.
Here Ramirez was, an infamous flouter of baseball’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, attempting to embrace his sudden, strange role as a player-coach in the Cubs organization. After signing with the Cubs on May 25, Ramirez spent some long days working out in Arizona before surfacing in Colorado Springs — home of the Class AAA Sky Sox, like you didn’t know — to get down to the business of real baseball.
Some inside the Cubs organization must have their doubts that Ramirez has any real baseball left in him. But Thursday brought Ramirez to Cubdom anyway. He wore his trademark dreadlocks short and his No. 44 jersey nice and loose. Often underrated as an athlete during his career, he looked to be in fine physical form, all things considered.
After sitting out all of Game 1, Ramirez started in left field and batted sixth, one spot behind Bryant, in Game 2. In his first at-bat, he chopped a ball to short and reached on a fielding error. Next time up, he struck out with runners on second and third. Two hours into the game, Ramirez had yet to have to attempt a single defensive play.
Riveting stuff? Not really.
It was Ramirez’s first game action since he gave Class AAA ball a go in the Texas Rangers’ organization last summer. He hasn’t played in the big leagues since he left the Tampa Bay Rays in abject disgrace five games into the 2009 season. He’s hardly a good bet to get back to that level. So why is he here?
“As far as his own goals,” said Iowa manager Marty Pevey, “you’d have to ask him about that.”
But Pevey is clear on the Cubs’ goals concerning Ramirez. As team president Theo Epstein has said, this isn’t about fast-tracking Ramirez to Chicago. It’s about getting Bryant and Baez there, and fellow “Core Four” prospects Jorge Soler and Albert Almora behind them.
“He’s a coach first and a player second,” Pevey said. “He’s here to help our young players make the transition from the minor leagues to the big leagues and to show them how hard he works, how well he works, which he does an unbelievable job.”
According to Pevey, Ramirez will play “one, maybe two times” per week and be available off the bench as a hitter. If Manny’s looking to be the Man again, it’s going to be awfully hard spending most nights on his rear end. And in case you were wondering, no, this isn’t Pevey’s call.
“I’ve got bosses, too,” he said. “I’ve talked to Theo. I’ve talked to [farm director] Jaron Madison. … Like I said, he’s here to be a coach first and a player second.”
Nowhere in that equation does there seem to be room for “Manny World” or “Manny being Manny” or anything else related to one of the game’s greatest egos of its era. Which means this arrangement is bound to blow up in the Cubs’ faces, right? Unless, that is, Ramirez actually embraces the role of mentor … or maybe just quietly disappears after a short while.
Ramirez’ winding, up-and-down path has taken him to the top of the game and also to various points along the bottom — including, even, a stint playing professionally last year in China. So now here he is, trying something new, grasping at who knows what.
It’s too soon to call it anything nicer than the latest loop-de-loop in the loopy history of the Cubs.