It’s unlikely many people knew a career was about to end in the bottom of the 8th inning in a game between the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays. The Angels were leading 4-1 and the Rays had a runner on first with two outs.
Angels starter Dan Haren had pitched a gem, going 7 2/3 innings with 6 strikeouts, no walks and only allowed one run. As Haren had reached 110 pitches, the choice was made to bring in reliever Kevin Jepsen to close out the inning.
Tampa Bay countered by bringing in Manny Ramirez to pinch hit. Ramirez came to the plate with 2,574 hits, 555 home runs and a career OPS of .996.
Ramirez got into the batter’s box on that April 6th afternoon in 2011 and stared down an opposing pitcher for the 9,774th time.
On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Ramirez flew out to right and his career was over. He retired from the Rays two days later.
Professional wrestlers typically lose their last match in a tradition called “going out on your back”. The idea being the retiring wrestler’s loss is giving legitimacy to the wrestler who defeats him and who will continue to wrestle.
A baseball player retiring rarely provides the same cache to the careers of the players who continue on, but the idea of “going out on your back”, or maybe in better terms “giving it all you have”, is apropos for the end of Ramirez’ career.
Because this is what Ramirez on the Rays felt like. The last gasp of a career that was at its end. Five games, 17 at-bats, one hit.
But as forgettable as Ramirez’ time in Tampa Bay was, his career and personality were the exact opposite.
Nearly a decade after Manny’s final at-bat two men began a conversation about his legacy, and kept coming back to one question…
How should Manny Ramirez be remembered?
Is he a savant? Someone with such a preternatural gift at hitting a baseball that his career should be viewed in awe.
Did he more so play the fool? A jester who high-fived fans during live play, cutoff outfield throws while still in the outfield and urinated in the Green Monster.
Could he have been baseball’s Greatest Showman? A player whose bat flips and walk-off celebrations might belong just as much in the Louvre as they do in Cooperstown.
Or was he a villain? A man who pushed an aged team employee and forced his way out of Boston.
Which is the proper way to view “Manny Being Manny”?
As we search for the right conclusion, we’ll be diving deep over this season into The Book of Manny.
A player like Manny and a career like his don’t come around very often. The fact his legacy is still so uncertain is a part of what makes him such a special player. But after 10 years have passed since his last at-bat the time has come to settle what future generations should know about Manny.
Here we go…
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