SAN DIEGO — Manny Being Manny ... in Des Moines?
The Cubs shocked the baseball world on Sunday morning by signing Manny Ramirez to a minor-league deal that will make him a player/coach at Triple-A Iowa.
Ramirez convinced Theo Epstein that he’s a changed man, someone who can help Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and the next wave of young talent that’s supposed to crash onto Wrigley Field.
The Cubs president of baseball operations knows all about the eccentric personality, the PED past and the clashes with the Boston media and Red Sox teammates. That potentially toxic mix didn’t stop the Red Sox from winning World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, or Ramirez from becoming one of the best right-handed hitters in history.
“This is not a PR move at all,” Epstein said on a conference call. “This is purely a baseball move, specifically a player-development move. We think Manny at this point in his life — and where his mind is at right now — has an awful lot to offer young hitters.
“I do believe in second chances. I do believe in redemption. I do believe that Manny has turned his life around for the better in the last couple of years.”
It stunned the players inside Petco Park’s visiting clubhouse, drawing several laughs and one-liners before a 4-3 loss to the San Diego Padres on what was supposed to be a quiet getaway day.
Ramirez was suspended 50 games in 2009 after testing positive for a female fertility drug, and that bothered Cubs people who watched him carry the Los Angeles Dodgers during a 2008 playoff sweep.
Ramirez decided to walk away from the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011 after a second failed test would have meant a 100-game suspension. He hasn’t been back in the big leagues since, playing in Taiwan and with Triple-A affiliates for the Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers across parts of the last two seasons.
That says something about a guy who earned more than $200 million during his career. Ramirez will report to the team’s complex in Arizona before joining the Triple-A club.
“I know I am nearing the end of my playing days, but I have a lot of knowledge to pass on to the next generation — both what to do and what not to do,” Ramirez said in a statement. “The Cubs have some very talented young hitters, and I would love nothing more than to make a positive impact on their careers.
“While I would love to return to the major leagues, I leave that in God’s hands. My focus will be on working with the young hitters, making sure they don’t make the same mistakes I made and helping the team any way I can.”
Epstein said Ramirez might play once or twice a week at Iowa and won’t take at-bats away from prospects. You will never see Ramirez in a Cubs uniform playing at Wrigley Field. This is not a way to sell tickets or manufacture interest in a last-place team.
“We were upfront about that with Manny, and he totally understood and had no problem with it,” Epstein said. “We wanted to be upfront about it publicly, in part, because we don’t want this to become a sideshow.
“If we weren’t upfront about the fact that he’s not a fit for our major-league roster, it could cause speculation that would be unproductive. That’s not why we’re doing it. We’re doing this to add a certain new element to our — in my mind — already robust and effective player-development operation.”
If somehow Ramirez, approaching his 42nd birthday with 555 career homers on his resume, “shows there is still some magic in his bat,” Epstein would allow him to find a spot with an American League team as a designated hitter.
“It’s just based on trust,” Epstein said. “If Manny happens to get really hot and show that he can help a contender, we wouldn’t stand in his way to get him there. But, again, that’s sort of an afterthought. The reason Manny wants to do this — and the reason we want him to be here — is to impact our younger hitters in a positive way.”
Epstein didn’t ask Mike Olt for a scouting report, but the Cubs third baseman enjoyed playing with Ramirez last year at Round Rock.
“It was really an awesome experience,” Olt said. “We didn’t know what it was going to be like from watching him in the past. But he had a great work ethic and he really interacted a lot with all the young guys and he definitely helped us out a ton.”
Hitting coach Bill Mueller — who played with Ramirez in Boston and won a championship ring as part of the 2004 Band of Idiots — first found out about the move on Sunday morning.
“I’m happy to hear that he wants to get back in the game,” Mueller said. “If he’s changed in a way, where he’s going to be open to help and be unselfish, it’s going to be a great fit.”
During the winter, Epstein considered the idea of bringing Ramirez to spring training as a guest instructor, and it evolved from there after talking with former Triple-A teammates and officials at the highest levels of Major League Baseball.
“People grow up,” Epstein said. “Years ago, he always had someone else to blame. You know, it was a bad fit with the city of Boston. It was a bad situation. It was always somebody else’s fault.
“And now when you talk to Manny about it, he says: ‘No, it wasn’t Boston. It was me. I didn’t treat people the right way. I didn’t look at things the right way, and you have to pay the consequences.’”
After all that, Manny Being Manny could become part of The Cubs Way.