After being arrested on charges that he slapped his wife across the face during a domestic dispute in September 2011, and briefly jailed, Manny Ramirez was told he couldn’t see his kids. He doesn’t remember for exactly how long, saying it was two or three months, but he does remember waking up one day and experiencing an epiphany.
“I looked myself in the mirror, and I said I needed to change,” he said. “So I started going to Bible studies, and I saw that it was good, so I kept going and God helped me to change my life.”
The skeptics will say it's lip service from a player whose rap sheet includes not only that arrest (on which the charges were eventually dismissed), but two performance-enhancing drug suspensions, allegations of a third positive test, an incident where he threw down the Red Sox traveling secretary, and a litany of other behind-the-scenes incidents of varying degrees during his time in Boston.
But apparently among those convinced Ramirez has changed is Theo Epstein, the team president who last week signed the former star to be a player-coach for the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate in Iowa, nearly six years after trading the malcontent outfielder in his role as Red Sox general manager. And Wednesday night’s appearance at a Fenway Park celebration honoring the 10th anniversary of Boston’s 2004 World Series title could be interpreted as another indication that he is trying to right the wrongs of his life.
Especially if he was sincere in noting how many of those wrongs he committed while with the Red Sox.
“I’ve been in church almost for four years now, me and my wife, and now I realize that I behaved bad in Boston,” Ramirez said. “The fans, they were great. I also played great over here when I was here – but now I really realize that I behaved bad, and I apologize for that. But I’m a new man. That’s what Jesus said, and that’s what I believe.”
The 2004 World Series MVP, and arguably the greatest righthanded hitter in Red Sox history, Ramirez said that in coming back and seeing David Ortiz, as well as more of his old teammates, makes him wish things could’ve turned out better. He regrets the way it ended, which saw him shipped out in exchange for Jason Bay despite Boston being in the thick of a pennant race.
Though he doesn’t regret what he did. He points to his numbers as proof that he “always gave my best” in Boston – and the numbers are ridiculous, showing an average of 34 homers, 109 RBIs, a .312 average and .999 OPS over eight seasons that rendered two titles – but, furthermore, he says that his more recent revelations wouldn’t have happened if not for the mistakes he made along the way.
“I ain’t got no regrets,” he said. “You know why? If those things didn’t happen, I wouldn’t get to know God. So I don’t regret anything that I did.”
He says he did apologize for one of his more indefensible indiscretions, telling reporters that he apologized to longtime traveling secretary Jack McCormick after pushing him down in a dispute over tickets shortly before he was traded. “I apologized to Jack. I told him, ‘Jack, I want you to forgive me because it was my fault. I behaved bad here with everybody. I want you to forgive me,’” according to Ramirez. “He said, ‘Manny, thank you, I was waiting for that.’”
But as far as how the failed drug tests and his tattered reputation might someday impact his chances of getting elected to the baseball Hall of Fame, Ramirez says he hasn’t given it much thought. He’ll leave that decision to God.
“Where I want to be is in the book of life,” he said, “because you know something? The Bible said that you’ve got to focus on the things that you cannot see, because the things that you see right now, everything is going to pass – so why are you going to worry about that? I’m going to keep learning at the word of God, preaching, giving people my testimony, and that’s going to be my life.”
Ramirez said he has shared that testimony with Ortiz, and with Ortiz’s friends, and while he misses and loves the game of baseball, he is convinced “God has a better purpose” for his life.
That’s why, he says, “God put it on” Epstein’s heart to hire his former player. Most of the baseball world was shocked by the decision, but Ramirez says he himself wasn’t surprised when his agent called him at home to say the Cubs were offering the outfielder a job just prior to his 42nd birthday.
He was told he’d play twice a week, and that his at-bats wouldn’t come at the sacrifice of the team’s prospects, but he expressed greater interest in being a mentor than a player – even as he wouldn’t dismiss the notion that he could still hit in the majors.
“I belong in the game, and when you can help out young people, and you can give advice – those advice that you got for free – it’s good to give it up to the young players,” he said. “I think my role is going to be preaching the word of God, and showing people my testimony – what I did and what God did in my life.”
According to Pedro Martinez, one of those former teammates, Ramirez has a “great bunch of people” rooting for him to get his life together. Given his place in history, but also given the difficulties he’s encountered, the pitcher sees the outfielder deserving of another chance, and says “what a role model he could be” if he can take advantage of this opportunity.
And Martinez expects him to do so.
“Manny is in a perfect to be an example of what not to do, and also what to do,” Martinez said. “Manny is really smart. Manny knows how to hit, and how to pitch. I don’t know if you noticed, but David misses Manny a lot, because David learned a lot from Manny, and I think if Manny is able to relate his knowledge to some of those kids in the minor leagues, and tell them that people have the right to change, to become a better person, that bad things shouldn’t be done in baseball or in any sport –
“Manny could be the right messenger for all those aspects that we’re talking about.”
Indeed, Ramirez has seen the game from all angles. Even from the inside of the Green Monster. He can relate stories of what it’s like to be a young stud, what it’s like to be a star, what it’s like to be a hero, what it’s like to be a villain, what it’s like to lose crushingly, and what it’s like to be help evacuate decades of agony.
The future Cubs could find that a particularly valuable lesson, and when Ramirez thinks of the job his team did in 2004, he says he first remembers Ortiz’s heroics. “Without David, we wouldn’t have made it,” he said, though he’s also quick to credit that team’s ability to relax and enjoy the game. It all factored into what that team achieved.
But while Wednesday was an occasion to look back, this changed Manny was more interested in moving forward. And advancing his message.
“It was a great moment,” Ramirez acknowledged, “but, like I said, I behaved bad with the organization, with my teammates. Now I realize that and I’ve got to move on. I can’t be looking in the past.
“The Bible says that when you come to Christ you a new man. He takes your sins and he throws them in the sea, and he’s going to clean you like the snow. I don’t worry about the past because I know Jesus lives in me.”