The Greatest Summer Ever: Manny Ramirez
Steve Eby | On 15, Sep 2012
Each week through the 26 weeks of the 2012 regular season, DTTWLN will profile and break down the roster of arguably the most exciting sports team that Cleveland has ever seen; the 1995 Cleveland Indians. The ’95 Tribe won 100 games in a strike-shortened 144 game schedule, won their first Central Division title and made the playoffs and World Series for the first time since 1954. Six players made the American League All-Star team, eight players batted .300 or better, and the pitching staff had the lowest ERA in the American League. The players have been ranked from the most important to the Tribe’s success to the 26th. This week breaks down #3 Manny Ramirez.
One word completely sums up the 1995 Cleveland Indians.
The Tribe won 100 times in only a 144 game season. They won their division by 30 games. They clinched a playoff spot earlier than any other team in history. They had 48 come from behind wins. 27 wins came in their last at bat. Nine of those wins came on walk-off homeruns.
The Tribe boasted the best lineup and the best pitching staff. They had the league’s best hitter and the best pitcher. They had potential Hall of Famers batting first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh in their order.
It seriously just takes one word…wow.
The word “wow” has become synonymous with the ’95 Indians. Not just because of all of the amazing comebacks that had baseball fans buzzing for an entire summer, but mainly because of a former Indian and future Hall of Famer that was at a loss for words at a moment where only the word “wow” would do.
It’s hard to argue with him. The 1995 Cleveland Indians were a “wow” kind of team. The franchise had been so pathetic for the previous four decades and all of a sudden they were the greatest show on Earth. They went from the laughingstock of the baseball world to the envy of small and midmarket teams throughout the world of sports. But it wasn’t just the amazing team that Dennis Eckersley was saying “wow” to. It was very much aimed at a young ballplayer that was on the verge of greatness.
Manny Ramirez was drafted by the Indians with the 13th pick in the first round of the 1991 MLB Amateur Draft. Ramirez was fresh off of his senior season at George Washington High School in Washington Heights, which is a section of the New York City borough of Manhattan. During his senior year, Manny was named New York City Public School Player of the Year after batting .650 with 14 homeruns in 22 games. Wow.
After the Tribe drafted the young right hander, who immediately drew comparisons to the late Roberto Clemente, he was named Appalachian League MVP when he played a short season for the rookie-level Burlington Indians. Manny followed that by having an injury filled 1992 season, but still was able to hit 13 homeruns and drive in 63 runs in just 81 games for Kinston. In ’93, Ramirez was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year when he batted .333 with 31 homeruns and 115 RBI between Canton-Akron and Charlotte. Wow, wow and wow.
The Indians could ignore the 21 year old slugger no longer, and called Ramirez up to Cleveland late in the 1993 season. Ramirez wasted no time “wowing” baseball people everywhere by slugging two homeruns out of Yankee Stadium in only his second Major League game. He became the Opening Day right fielder for the Indians in 1994 and had a brilliant first full season in The Show.
“You can watch Manny in batting practice and just (see) the fluidity of his swing and see how natural everything was with Manny,” Tribe manager Mike Hargrove said. “As far as hitting was concerned, you could see that he was something special. He had probably the prettiest right-handed power swing that I’ve ever seen. He had power to all fields, tremendous bat speed and bat control obviously because he hit over .300 for a number of years during his career.”
In 91 games of the strike shortened campaign, Ramirez batted .269 with 17 homeruns, 60 RBIs and an impressive eight outfield assists. “Our main goal with Manny was to get him more consistent defensively,” Hargrove said. “I think that Manny got a bad rap from a lot of people, especially from the national media, that he was a bad defender. Manny wasn’t a bad defender…he was a good defensive player. He had great hands. Manny just didn’t care as much at times about his fielding as he did his hitting. I think that Manny sometimes appeared lackadaisical but really was just less aggressive in the field than he was at the plate because he didn’t want to do anything to hurt the ball club. I think that by the time Manny left (Cleveland) he was an average to above average outfielder.”
In ’94, Ramirez was the most impressive rookie that the American League had seen in years, yet he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to 26 year old Kansas City first baseman Bob Hamelin. Ramirez went on to dominate baseball for two decades and Hamelin fizzled out of the league by age 30. Wow again.
Feeling a bit snubbed, Ramirez entered 1995 as if his hair was on fire. The impressive second year player showed baseball that the hype was not only real, but that it may have been somewhat of an undersell. Manny was batting over .400 in late May and entered the All-Star break batting .320 with 18 homeruns and 52 RBI. He was named as one of six Indians on the American League All-Star team as a reserve by Yankees manager Buck Showalter, and Manny also participated in the Home Run Derby alongside teammate Albert Belle. Manny blasted three bombs in the event, and did not get an official at bat when he walked twice in the game. Less than a week later, Ramirez hit perhaps the most memorable homerun of his long career.
It was uncomfortably hot and humid on Sunday, July 16, when the 49-21 Indians hosted the 37-38 Oakland A’s. The Indians were as hot as the Cleveland weather, while Oakland was scuffling through a three game skid. The Indians started their ace, Dennis Martinez, who sported a flawless 8-0 record and was fresh off his appearance in the All-Star Game. The Athletics countered with Todd Stottlemyre, a bit of an All-Star snub.
Things looked bleak at the start for the first place Tribe, as Martinez struggled right out of the gate. Leadoff hitter and future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson took “El Presidente” deep to right-centerfield for his Major League record 67th homerun to lead off a ballgame and put the Indians in a 1-0 hole. The A’s, as it turns out, were just getting started in the inning as former Indian Mike Aldrete laced a one out single and was brought home when future Indian Geronimo Berroa crushed a two run blast into the left field bleachers to make the score 3-0 Oakland. Martinez escaped the inning without any further damage, but the Tribe had a lot of work to do to get back into the game.
Stottlemyre shut down the Indians scoreless in the bottom half of the first and Martinez rebounded from his rocky start by doing the same in the top of the second. The Indians got a run back in the bottom of the second inning off of Stottlemyre. Ramirez led off the inning with a four pitch walk and moved to third on a one-out single by Herbert Perry. Catcher Tony Pena hit an RBI fielder’s choice that scored Ramirez. The A’s lead was now 3-1, and both starting pitchers really settled in after that.
Martinez and Stottlemyre exchanged zeroes in the third and fourth innings, and neither allowed a base runner in the fifth. After Martinez got his second straight 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth, the Tribe threatened to score in the bottom half.
Jim Thome led off the inning with a walk and Ramirez followed by driving a pitch to the wall in left field. Henderson was able to run down the deep drive on the warning track, however, and Manny was the first out of the frame. A Paul Sorrento strikeout followed, but Perry was able to keep the scoring chance alive with a single to left that moved Thome to second. The hit was Perry’s third of the day. Pena followed by grounding what should have been the third out of the inning to Mike Bordick, but the inning was extended when the shortstop booted the ball for an error. The Indians were unable to capitalize, however, as Stottlemyre got Wayne Kirby to fly out deep into the right-centerfield gap to leave the bases loaded and keep Oakland’s 3-1 lead intact.
Oakland was also able to load the bases in the top of the seventh but failed to score when Martinez got Stan Javier to groundout to Alvaro Espinoza at short. Heading into the seventh inning stretch, the Indians were running out of outs to surmount another come-from-behind victory.
Nobody needed to tell the Indians this, however, as with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Baerga started the Tribe rally with a groundball single through the right side to bring up Albert Belle. Belle had 14 homeruns on the season thus far and squared up number 15 on Stottlemyre’s first pitch of the at bat. Albert had tied the game at three with his titanic blast into the bleachers in left center. Both Stottlemyre and Martinez were pulled from the game after this, and both bullpens picked up right where their starters had left off.
Indian relievers Jim Poole and Julian Tavarez combined to shut down Oakland in the eighth inning and the A’s Todd Van Poppel did the same. Tavarez stayed in the ballgame and allowed a one out double to Henderson in the top of the ninth, but Rickey was stranded at third when Scott Brosius flew out to end the inning. The Indians now looked to win the game in the bottom of the ninth.
Baerga started the Tribe rally again with a one out single—this one a line drive right back up the middle off of Van Poppel. With the 41,767 fans on their feet, Belle drove a blast off of the 19 foot wall in left-centerfield. Baerga raced around second base and then third as Brent Gates’ relay throw sailed toward catcher Terry Steinbach. Steinbach caught the ball and Baerga crashed into the Oakland backstop trying to knock the ball free, but Steinbach held on to the rock for out number two. Belle meanwhile had hustled into second base, but was stranded there when Thome flew out to right field and sent the game into extra innings.
Both bullpens were dominant through the 10th and 11th innings as no runners reached base for either team. Closer Jose Mesa worked the 1-2-3 10th for the Tribe and lefty Alan Embree did the same in the 11th. Right hander Carlos Reyes shut the Indians down in both of the frames, allowing Oakland to have another scoring opportunity off of the rookie Embree.
Embree was pitching in the Majors for just the second time in 1995 and just the sixth time in his career. Henderson, a 17 year veteran, welcomed Embree rudely by smacking his third hit of the game, a double, into right field to lead off the inning. A wild pitch moved the speedy Henderson to third, and Javier untied the game by lifting a sacrifice fly to Ramirez in right. With Oakland now holding a 4-3 lead, manager Tony LaRussa went to his closer Dennis Eckersley.
Eck had the unfortunate job of trying to cool off the red-hot Baerga, who had already gotten four hits in five at bats that game. After getting ahead with a 0-1 count, Eckersley allowed Baerga to single through the hole on the left side for Carlos’ fifth base hit of the ballgame. Eck buckled down, getting Belle to pop out to Gates at second and Thome to lift a fly out to Ernie Young in right. With two outs and the possible tying run at first, Hargrove elected to pinch run the speedy but injury-hampered Kenny Lofton for Baerga with Ramirez coming to the plate.
Eckersley got ahead of Ramirez 0-1 before Lofton took off. The pitch was a ball and Kenny slid into second base just ahead of Gates’ tag to put the tying run into scoring position. Now all it would take was a Ramirez single and the game would head into the 13th.
Ramirez took the next pitch for a ball, and the next one for a strike, evening the count at 2-2. Figuring that the young Ramirez would be expecting his legendary slider away on the 2-2 count, the cunning Eckersley snuck a fastball in on Ramirez’s hands. What Eck didn’t expect was that Manny didn’t try to hit singles…he tried to hit bombs. Ramirez turned on the future Hall of Famers fastball, swung as hard as he could and connected.
The instant that Manny’s bat touched the ball, everybody in the stadium knew it was gone. The left fielder, Henderson, never moved as the ball landed halfway up the left field bleachers. The crowd erupted in jubilation as Ramirez dropped his bat and started his slow walk toward first base. As his walk turned into a trot, the bewildered Eckersley turned his head away from the bleachers and said the only word that summed up the moment perfectly.
Eckersley couldn’t believe it. The Oakland A’s couldn’t believe it. Heck, the city of Cleveland couldn’t believe it. The Indians had won their 50th game of the season in the most unlikely fashion, and it came courtesy of a 23 year old kid who was quickly becoming one of baseball’s best hitters.
The blast off of Eckersley was Ramirez’s 21st of the year and his second of the walk-off variety. Manny would crush ten more before the year was over, finishing the season with 31. To go with his 31 bombs, Ramirez would also bat .308 with 107 RBI and 26 doubles. For his efforts, Ramirez was awarded his first career Silver Slugger Award.
Ramirez struggled through his first postseason with the Indians batting a combined .196 with three homeruns and only four RBI. His best game, however, was a big one as Manny blasted two homeruns in game two of the ALCS in Seattle as part of a four hit night that allowed the Indians to tie the series back up at one game apiece. Ramirez batted .222 with one homerun during his first trip to the World Series.
After 1995, Ramirez continued to dominate in the middle of the Tribe batting order. Manny played five more seasons with the Indians and hit over .300 in four of them. He made the AL All-Star team three more times as a member of the Tribe, representing the Indians from 1998-2000. He batted a career high .351 in his final year as an Indian in ‘00, and drove in a franchise record 165 runs during his amazing 1999 campaign. In ’99, Ramirez finished tied for third with teammate Roberto Alomar in the MVP voting behind Texas’ Ivan Rodriguez and Boston’s Pedro Martinez.
After the 2000 season, Manny left Cleveland to sign a massive $20 million per year contract with the Boston Red Sox. It was during his time in Boston that Ramirez helped the Red Sox break their franchise’s curse, winning the 2004 World Series. Boston would match the feat in 2007 after beating the Indians in seven games of the ALCS. It was also during his tenure in Boston that Ramirez would show the baseball world an odd side, with Ramirez often concentrating more on being the center of attention and banking his humungous paychecks rather than on winning baseball games. It is said to be thought by many of his former teammates that Manny basically quit on the Red Sox during both the ’06 and ’08 seasons.
By the middle of the 2008 season, Boston had grown tired of “Manny being Manny” and shipped their star to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ramirez turned Hollywood into “Mannywood” as the slugger batted an amazing .396 with 17 homeruns and 53 RBI in only 53 games for the Dodgers. He was rewarded with another massive contract, and Manny torpedoed the Dodgers season soon after when he tested positive for a banned substance and had to serve a 50 game suspension in 2009. In 2010, Ramirez seemed to hit whenever he wanted to hit, but the Dodgers didn’t think that Manny “wanted to hit” enough. Even though he was batting over .300, Los Angeles released Ramirez in August.
Ramirez was picked up by the Chicago White Sox and finished the season with unimpressive numbers. He signed the following year with Tampa Bay and played five games for the Rays before he was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance again. Ramirez chose retirement over serving the suspension.
Manny’s retirement was only temporary, however, as he signed with Oakland for the 2012 season. Ramirez served the 50 game suspension that he had earned with the Rays, played a few games in AAA and then asked to be released from the A’s when he was kept off of the Major League roster.
For now, it seems that Manny Ramirez may be done with the game of baseball…or maybe he isn’t. It may not really matter whether Ramirez wants to play anymore, because there cannot possibly be too many teams that want an aging slugger whose best years are far behind him and has a history of quitting on every team that he has ever played for.
Every team but the Indians, that is.
Manny left a sour taste in Cleveland fans’ mouths when he left as a free agent after the 2000 season, but that is baseball. Ramirez never “quit” on the Indians like he did the Red Sox, Dodgers, Rays and Athletics. He always played hard and was always one of the best players on a field full of All-Stars and future Hall of Famers.
Ramirez put up Hall of Fame numbers
throughout his entire career. If Manny is ever inducted into Cooperstown, he will likely wear a Red Sox hat, but he had his best individual season with Cleveland in ’99 and it all got started with his amazing 1995 campaign. For his impressive career, Ramirez has batted .312 with 555 homeruns and 1,831 RBI. His numbers in Cleveland are remarkably consistent with his career line, relative to the time he spent with the Indians, batting .312 with 236 bombs and 804 RBI.
Next Week: Jose Mesa
#26 Dave Winfield
#25 Mark Clark
#24 Wayne Kirby
#23 Alan Embree
#22 Alvaro Espinoza
#21 Herbert Perry
#20 Ken Hill
#19 Jim Poole
#18 Chad Ogea
#17 Sandy Alomar
#16 Tony Pena
#15 Eric Plunk
#14 Paul Sorrento
#13 Paul Assenmacher
#12 Omar Vizquel
#11 Charles Nagy
#10 Orel Hershiser
#9 Julian Tavarez
#8 Eddie Murray
#7 Jim Thome
#6 Dennis Martinez
#5 Carlos Baerga
#4 Kenny Lofton