They say that first impressions mean the most. I disagree.
My first impression of Manny Ramirez was back in 1994, his first full season playing with the Tribe. I was just a little boy, and young kids always love the new, shiny toy. Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle – and even Jim Thome to an extent – had been here for a while. We got 21 games of Manny in 1993, so he was the new attraction.
Of the 236 homers he belted in a Wahoo uniform, 17 came in the 1994 season – officially classified as his rookie year. He, obviously, only got better as a hitter over the next couple of years, eventually leading the league in RBIs with 165 in 1999.
Fathers would tell their kids to watch Ramirez hit and emulate him. But only the hitting part. Everything else he did was not to be copied.
But for all the dumb plays he made – and there weren’t legendary miscues in Cleveland like there were in Boston – there was a “remember when” moment. I remember where I was – at my grandmother’s birthday party – when the up-and-comer belted a walk-off shot against Dennis Eckersley that prompted the Hall of Famer to mouth, “Wow!”
We echoed Eckersley’s thoughts quite often during his time in Cleveland. What a joy he was to watch!
Of course, he took the money from Boston after the 2000 season, perplexing to many because there were reports Ramirez didn’t even cash his paychecks. The Red Sox ended the drought with Ramirez on the squad, winning the World Series in both 2004 (Ramirez was World Series MVP) and 2007.
Pressure never seemed to bother him, and Bill Simmons wondered aloud during the 2007 American League Championship Series against the Indians if Manny really, truly cared.
“When Manny went deep, my first thought was, ‘Quit posing, Manny, we’re still down 7-3.’ Then it dawned on me that Manny probably had no idea what the score was. In fact, he probably isn’t aware that baseball games are determined by which team scores more runs. Manny’s only point of differentiation comes when, after hitting a home run, he sees his teammates waiting for him at home plate — it’s at that point he knows it’s time to go to the strip club.”
His teammates waited for him at home plate a number of times – and because of that he was headed to another club, the one in Cooperstown, New York. Those days are long gone after Ramirez abruptly retired from baseball on Friday afternoon, reportedly because he failed a second drug test.
Only an idiot fails an announced drug test. I don’t even know what type of person you have to be to fail two. An addict? I don’t know.
Regardless, that first impression of Ramirez can still be called back from my memory on command, but when I hear his name it will be the last impression, the one of him quitting amidst controversy, that will be triggered.
The whole thing is tragic, really. He was such a natural and so fun to watch. Being fun to watch is not something often said about baseball players, but Ramirez genuinely was.
Now we know he cheated, and really we were the ones who got ripped off. He’ll be fine with his millions of dollars, and who knows if living with the label of PED user bothers him.
It bothers me.
Years from now people will still talk about what an outstanding hitter he was – and a career .312 batting average with 555 homers suggests he was one of the best ever. We’ll talk about “Manny being Manny” and being a cut-off man in left field. We’ll talk about the funny things he said, sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish.
We’ll talk about all those things, but first we’ll talk about him being a cheater.
It’s the last impression – not the first – that matters most.
This article originally appeared on LandLoyalty.com