Cubs: Manny Ramirez has an opportunity to change his legacy

Cubs: Manny Ramirez has an opportunity to change his legacy
July 1, 2014, 1:45 pm
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Tony Andracki

DES MOINES, Iowa - Theo Epstein may not worry about his legacy, but he has given Manny Ramirez a chance to change the narrative around the Hall of Fame-caliber hitter.

After all, Ramirez's fate is in Epstein's hands at the moment.

If this Manny Ramirez Experiment blows up and he regresses back to some bad habits, Epstein and the Cubs can move on pretty quickly. But Ramirez has his shot to make a lasting impact on the game as a teacher as he works to help shape the Cubs' top prospects like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant.

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"When you love the game and you want to help young players and give them your testimony and all the things you went through so they don't go through that, it's easy," Ramirez said before his home debut with Triple-A Iowa Monday. "Life isn't about money. It's not about fame. It's not about, 'oh, I was in the big leagues.'

"When you come here and you can see your own players grow up and see them go to the next level, I think that's such a joy."

In some ways, Ramirez is still the same dude he was during his prime with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox — the guy that posted a career .996 OPS and finished in the Top 10 of MVP voting nine times. He's still a student of the game, breaking down pitchers and flashing that picture-perfect right-handed swing, even at age 42.

But he insists he's not the same guy that caused headaches off the field and disrupted the clubhouse or the player that was slapped with two separate suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs.

"I don't regret any of the things I did because if that stuff doesn't happen to me or my family, we don't get to know Jesus Christ," Ramirez said. "I love it, bro. I restored my family, my kids, my career. ... I'm just happy to be here and helping."

This version of Ramirez speaks often about God and religion and has a "Faith" picture prominently displayed in his Iowa locker. He says he would have still taken the gig with the Cubs even if it meant he was just a coach and not a player.

"Why not go out there and teach and give those young players some advice?" Ramirez said. "Every day, you need to make decisions. Any decision you make has consequences.

"Some people mature early and some people take a long time. That's how life is."

Epstein said he didn't believe it all at first, but after repeated conversations with Ramirez's camp, Epstein's opinion changed.

[RELATED - Theo, Cubs thrilled with early returns on Manny Ramirez]

Ramirez said his life change started four years ago, and he has since become humbled. Baseball always seems to find a way to humble even the players that were once larger than life.

"Sometimes when you got power and you got money, you think you're invincible," Ramirez said. "But sometimes God says, "Hey, come here. This is where you need to be.' And that happened to me and that was just a wake-up call for me and my family."

Ramirez was sitting at home when Epstein and the Cubs came calling. The guy with 555 career MLB homers said he was never ready to give up on baseball, even after all the struggles over the last few years.

"It doesn't matter how many times you fall, you still have to get up," Ramirez said. "And that's me. A bunch of people have fallen and they stay down. But I did get up. I'm here. I'm going to enjoy it.

"I know there's something better for me down the road and every day that I'm here, I'm going to come and enjoy it and give it all I got."

That was one thing Ramirez always knew how to do — enjoy the moment. So far with the Cubs organization, there have been nothing but sparkling reviews of his interactions with the young players.

"I don't think there's been a time where I looked at him without a smile on his face," Bryant said. "That's kinda how I play the game, too. I believe you just have to look at it as a game. You gotta go out there and have fun.

"He's the idol in terms of that aspect in that he's out there having fun every day. He doesn't take it too serious, but he's a really hard worker. I think there's good balance there with him and it's just been a blast so far."

[MORE - Cubs hope Manny Ramirez is exactly what Javier Baez needs]

No matter what he does now, he'll always be partially remembered for the "Manny being Manny" tagline and the big personality that was sometimes too much to handle in big-league clubhouses.

But Ramirez can change how his story ends. The last few chapters have yet to be written.

Can he keep this attitude up and continue to help some of the top prospects in the game take the next step?