PHOENIX Aramis Ramirez doesnt know how he will be received when he steps into the box at Wrigley Field on April 9 wearing a Milwaukee Brewers uniform. He doesnt really care either.
I have no clue, Ramirez said Saturday. Thats part of baseball. Ive been booed before when I left Pittsburgh. Its been nine years and every time I go back I still get booed. I dont know how theyre going to take it. I dont really worry about it. I cant control that stuff.
Ramirez never showed much emotion, which is why it was so surprising that he nearly fought Carlos Silva the last time the Cubs drove over to Maryvale Baseball Park. It was a bad image to project, a team unraveling after the first inning of the fourth game in spring training.
You certainly cant draw a direct line to Mike Quade and Jim Hendry getting fired.
But in the 12 months since that dugout altercation, you can look back and think the cracks were beginning to show for a first-year manager and the long-time general manager, who was close with Ramirez. The mix wasnt quite right for a team that would finish in fifth place again.
New president Theo Epstein made it clear to Ramirez agent last fall that the Cubs planned to go young and werent interested in a 16 million mutual option for 2012, or renegotiating a new deal. So Ramirez got his money from the Brewers, a three-year 36 million insurance policy against losing Prince Fielder.
In the past, Ramirez has said that you cant rebuild in big market, that you need a name product to fill 40,000 seats every game. How long will Cubs fans really stay patient with Epstein?
Thats a good question, Ramirez said. Im not a fan. Im a player. I dont know. Its going to take time, hopefully sooner than later. Hes been successful before in Boston. Im sure hes got a good plan. Hes got something working right now.
For Ramirez, it was always just business. He was their third baseman for eight consecutive Opening Days beginning in 2004; the Cubs had seven different ones in the eight years before that. Ian Stewart will be there April 5.
How come Ramirez never really connected with the fans the way, say, Tony Campana did as a rookie extra outfielder last season?
Because Im slow, man, they like the fast guys, Ramirez said with a smile. No, I dont know. I cant really point at anything. I just tried to do my job, and I think for the most part I did it. Thats all you can ask from a player. I cant really answer that question.
Ramirez hit 239 homers for the Cubs which ranks sixth all-time in franchise history and drove in more than 800 runs during his time on the North Side. He played in the Bartman game in 2003 and was a force on teams that won back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008.
The Ramirez critics questioned his hustle, desire and defense. The loudest may have been television analyst Bob Brenly, who managed the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series title in 2001 and is appreciated by viewers for his candor.
I dont care, Ramirez said. Hes a broadcaster. He should just worry about calling the game. Hes not a coach. Hes not a manager. He should just call the game. The coaches, the managers, the GMs they should take care of the other stuff.
There has been a lot of talk about changing the culture at Wrigley Field. Ramirez will turn 34 this summer and doesnt have time for that. He wants to win a ring.
The only difference is these guys won 96 games last year, Ramirez said. Its different because theyre ready to win now. Theos got different plans. They want to go young. Here, theyre going in a different direction.