SAN FRANCISCO – Bill Mueller doesn’t know if this is a new Manny Ramirez. To be honest, even Theo Epstein admitted this player/coach experiment could blow up at Triple-A Iowa. But the Cubs hitting coach still thinks it’s worth the gamble.
Mueller played with Ramirez on the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that will live forever in New England. Mueller also worked in the Los Angeles Dodgers front office when they created “Mannywood” at Chavez Ravine.
As shockwaves ran through the clubhouse during an otherwise quiet Memorial Day weekend, Mueller was asked point blank: Are you convinced Ramirez is a changed man?
“That would be determined by Theo, with the conversations that he’s had,” Mueller said. “I know when (Manny) was over there with the Dodgers, it seemed like he was a little bit more open and a little bit more suppressed in the sense of not trying to have so much attention (or) do some crazy stuff like he did in Boston.
“But if a person gives you enough reasons and is honest and tells you his story and says he wants to help people, I think you got to give him that shot. Because I think he’s one of those very few guys in the game that can really influence and help younger people that are trying to find their way and make their careers.”
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The Red Sox put up with Manny Being Manny for almost eight years before he forced Epstein to ship him to Los Angeles in the three-way trade that got them Jason Bay at the 2008 deadline.
Back then, the idea of Epstein running baseball operations on the North Side and Ramirez working in Des Moines as his player/coach would have been unthinkable.
Ramirez created a certain image and his quirky personality caused so much tension inside the organization, conflicts with teammates and club employees. But people around the Red Sox at that time also marveled at the way Ramirez prepared and followed a routine, showing up to work out at Fenway Park in the morning before a 7 p.m. game.
“There were moments in that locker room where he would actually sit down and be a little bit more candid and open and honest and reveal himself,” Mueller said. “I think he always wanted to reveal a different picture so people underestimated him and he could have that advantage at some point in the ballgame.
“But he always did his homework. He was always there way ahead of us. He was always studying pitchers and I always knew he had a game plan for who he was going to be facing in the later innings. He would always come in and that video would be (ready). He never wanted people to really know that.”
Mueller said Epstein didn’t consult him before making the minor-league deal. Epstein signaled that Ramirez had cooperated with Major League Baseball after failing two drug tests and serving his suspensions.
Ramirez already banked around $200 million during his career, and he’s signing up for a third straight shortened season in the Pacific Coast League, where the travel schedule is absolutely brutal.
The Cubs hope this won’t be another case of mixed messages and Ramirez can help Iowa hitting coach Brian Harper get through to Javier Baez and eventually Kris Bryant.
“Manny’s been through a lot,” Mueller said. “In the heart of the order, he can help those guys, because Manny was always (someone) you relied on every night for a big hit or RBIs.
“Those guys down there are going to be big pieces for this big-league club at some point. I think it’s a great addition because he’s going to be able to give them as much advice as they’re willing to take.”
Ramirez is a 12-time All-Star with 555 homers and a .996 career OPS. He knows all about playing in a big market in front of demanding fans and carrying an iconic franchise on his shoulders.
“It’s very hard to do that, especially in a city that is very aggressive as far as production and wanting to win and relying on you,” Mueller said. “When you go on a two-game losing streak, it’s like you’re on an 18-game losing streak.
“To be able to handle that pressure – handle just the daily pressure on yourself, meeting your own expectations, along with thousands of other people wanting you to succeed – it’s a tough thing to do and he did it for many years.”
After a slow start caused panic attacks on Twitter, Baez hit a grand slam on Sunday and went 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBI on Monday, being named the PCL’s player of the week and pulling his average up to .225.
Javy, meet the new Manny.
“I’m happy he’s willing to reveal himself a little bit,” Mueller said, “and get out there and talk about the game and talk about his experiences and help these guys with their approaches. It’ll be awesome.”