SAN FRANCISCO – Thinking outside the box? Panic move? Home-run hire? Ticking time bomb? All of the above?
Manny Ramirez has been so unpredictable that no one really knows how this player/coach experiment is going to work at Triple-A Iowa. But Cubs third baseman Mike Olt – who played with Ramirez last year at Triple-A Round Rock – doesn’t think it will become a distraction.
“No, absolutely not,” Olt said. “He was completely different from all (that). He was, maybe, a distraction when he was younger. He was focused when I saw him play. He always had a bat in his hands. So it’s going to be good to have him work with all those young guys.”
Over the winter, the Cubs had explored the idea of inviting Ramirez to spring training as a guest instructor, the same way the San Francisco Giants welcomed back Barry Bonds. Except Bonds actually played 15 seasons in the Bay Area and became the star attraction here at AT&T Park.
Remember how the Theo Epstein administration heard the stories about Milton Bradley, Carlos Zambrano and Cubbie Occurrences and talked about creating a distraction-free zone?
Epstein didn’t want to look too far into the future and wonder if Manny Being Manny could become a fixture in his baseball operations department.
“We should walk before we run, right?” Epstein said. “Let’s see how it goes. I think Manny’s coming out with a great attitude and for the right reasons and now it’s time to go do the job and see if he likes it.
“I think Manny will have an impactful career in baseball as long as he wants one and we’re glad that he’s sort of starting that transition with the Cubs. We’ll see where it goes. If it goes well, I’d be open to a longer-term relationship.”
Cubs manager Rick Renteria, an eternal optimist, laid out the best-case scenario: “Here’s a great, great hitter who hopefully is going to bring in some valuable insight and some knowledge and help our younger players.”
Growing up in Connecticut, Olt used to mimic Ramirez at the plate. Olt made Ramirez feel old last year when he told the story about going to Yankee Stadium as a kid and screaming “Manny!” asking for a ball during batting practice. Ramirez remembered, because even he usually doesn’t throw two balls into the upper deck (the first one missed).
“I loved watching him swing,” Olt said. “I tried to do everything like him.”
There’s no denying Ramirez turned himself into a hitting savant (555 homers and a career .996 OPS). He also forced his way out of the Boston Red Sox, alienating himself from teammates and club employees. He failed two drug tests and was arrested after a domestic dispute at his South Florida home in 2011.
Ramirez told Fox Sports he found religion after that incident, explaining his comeback attempt while waiting for another chance during spring training:
“I use myself as an example to my son who is in college, playing baseball: ‘Look what daddy went through because daddy didn’t do things right.’ When you do things right, you don’t have to look back. You always look forward.
“Sometimes, we get caught up in the moment. We start hanging out with the wrong people. But you know, everything in life happens for a reason, so you can appreciate what you are.
“Now I appreciate it more and I’m so hungry to get back, just to get that feeling that I used to have before. I appreciate my family more, my kids, everything that God gave me.”
Ramirez will turn 42 on Friday and hasn’t played in the big leagues since April 2011. Maybe he can help Javier Baez and all the other hyped prospects get there. Olt’s Round Rock teammates didn’t know what to expect last year, but they appreciated Manny Being Manny.
“The stuff that I heard about him was all good,” Olt said. “Yeah, he had times, maybe, where I guess people might have looked at him in a different way. He just played the game a little differently. But from what I’ve heard, he’s always been a hard worker and always really understood how to hit. That’s all you need in a teammate.”