Before we go anywhere, let me state a fact. If Manny Ramirez had played his full career in Ohio, he would have been one of the greatest hitters to ever swing a bat for Cleveland. If Manny had accepted Cleveland’s offer in 2000, he would have gone on to be a member of Cleveland’s Mt. Rushmore of hitting alongside Nap Lajoie and Tris Speaker.
Controversial? Sure. Based in statistics? Yes.
There are three questions we’re going to cover when looking at Manny’s time in Cleveland. They are:
- How good was Manny Ramirez in Cleveland?
- Why didn’t Manny win a ring in Cleveland?
- Why didn’t Manny stay in Cleveland?
So let’s dive in and discuss one of the great starts to a career in recent baseball history.
How good was Manny Ramirez in Cleveland?
Manny Ramirez spent eight seasons playing for Cleveland. The young Dominican outfielder from New York burst onto the scene in 1993, but truly put himself on the map the following season. In Manny’s “Rookie Season,” the world got a taste of things to come.
One of the youngest players on the Cleveland roster that season, and the youngest to play more than 90 games, Manny’s rookie season almost netted him the 1994 Rookie of the Year (the award ultimately went to Bob Hamelin). The slash line doesn’t tell the whole story, but his 125 OPS+ sheds light on the potential in his bat. The focus the following season of the Cleveland faithful was trained on Manny, but it was another big bat that stole the show. In 1995 the world got their first taste of an explosive Cleveland offense, as Jim Thome‘s breakout season erupted. Cleveland was beginning to see a potential dynasty on the horizon just as Manny’s talent was adapting to Major League level.
Manny’s time in Cleveland tends to be overshadowed by other players, and the league as a whole. In each of his eight years at Jacobs Field, Manny was always the second or third best player on the roster. Whether it was Roberto Alomar, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, or Albert Belle, Manny was always playing second fiddle. Part of that was the fact that Manny’s glove was not nearly as good as his bat.
And his bat was good.
Over his eight years with Cleveland, Manny slashed an outstanding .313/.407/.592, with a .998 OPS when all was said and done. Manny is still the all-time Cleveland leader for career Slugging percentage and OPS. Not bad for a guy who only played the first half of his career for them.
On the single season front, Manny’s offensive output holds a few single-season records as well, the majority of them coming in his final two seasons in Cleveland. When looking back at his 1999 and 2000 seasons, Manny’s numbers look like something out of MLB The Show, but they’re real, and they’re incredible.
- 1999: .333/.442/.663, 1.105 OPS, 174 OPS+, 44 HR, 165 RBIs
- 2000: .351/.457/.697, 1.154 OPS, 186 OPS+, 38 HR, 122 RBIs
- Combined: .341/.449/.678, 1.127 OPS, 180 OPS+, 82 HRs, 287 RBIs
Manny Ramirez was borderline unstoppable in Cleveland. The man was an offensive powerhouse by himself.
Why didn’t Manny win a ring in Cleveland?
With a lineup built on power and speed, Cleveland managed to win 100 regular-season games en route to the team’s first postseason appearance in almost 40 years. With Kenny Lofton leading off, and big loud bats like Albert Belle, Ramirez, and Thome behind him, they swept the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS and fought off a hot Mariners team in the ALCS. All of this leading up to a World Series date with the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves were in the midst of their “Team of the 90s” run, but had yet to secure a World Series ring. With the legacy of their roster on the line, Atlanta took aim at Cleveland, sending them home in six games. But the 1995 World Series wasn’t a complete wash for Manny and company.
It was a learning experience from a team that was just a few years ahead of where they knew they could be.
As expected, Manny, Thome, and Belle were the top three hitters in the lineup, but all of them held series averages between .233 and .200. The Braves famed rotation of Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, and Greg Maddux cooled Cleveland’s hot bats and forced Mike Hargrove’s pitchers to stop Atlanta’s offense. When you’re being held to fewer than two runs a game for half of the series, it’s going to be hard to finish with a ring on your finger. It wasn’t how Cleveland was used to playing in the regular season. This series was a lesson learned and one that would set up a postseason streak that would last as long as Cleveland’s hitters stayed together.
The next World Series appearance for Cleveland would come in 1997 against the Florida Marlins, a team still in their infancy compared to other franchises in the league. As you’re probably aware, the 1997 World Series would go the distance and then some, with Game 7 finishing in extra innings, once again with Cleveland watching their opponents celebrate on the field.
The next year they’d find themselves in the ALCS once again, but this time they’d be facing off against the new dynasty in the making, the New York Yankees, and just like that the Cleveland Indians dynasty was showing signs of flaming out before reaching it’s potential. And with Manny’s extension ending after the 2000 season, and Thome’s soon after, it felt like things were about to fall apart.
Why didn’t Manny stay in Cleveland?
Ask a million baseball fans this question and you’ll get a million answers.
- “He took the money and ran.”
- “Manny overstayed his welcome in Cleveland.”
- “Other teams gave him the chance to finally win a World Series.”
- “Cleveland wasn’t gonna pay him what he was worth.”
- “The guy didn’t care about the game, he wanted to cash in and take the easy road to a ring.”
Everyone is allowed to have their own opinion, even if it’s wrong. But, if you were to ask me, there are multiple reasons that Manny Ramirez left Cleveland, and they’ve already been mentioned in the above paragraphs. But if I had to choose one, it’s an easy choice.
Remember Manny’s absolutely insane 1999 stats? The ones that seemed like they were from a video game? In 1999, Manny finished 3rd in AL MVP voting. Should he have won? No, Pedro Martinez had an insane season for Boston, and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez was equally insane for Texas. But what’s interesting about Manny’s vote total is that he tied with his own teammate Roberto Alomar. Why does this matter? Because it proves a theme.
Throughout Manny’s career in Cleveland, despite his insane offensive output, Manny was always the second-best (or perceived second-best) player on the roster. When Roberto Alomar came to town, he took over the top spot. Before Alomar’s arrival, a combination of Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, and Charles Nagy held the title. Manny was never going to be the guy that Cleveland was building around, he was only part of the construction crew.
This can be seen by comparing Manny to the player who had a parallel career in Cleveland: Jim Thome.
Let’s look at their career numbers in Cleveland and see what jumps out.
- Ramirez: 8 years, .313/.407/.592, .998 OPS, 152 OPS+, 236 HRs, 804 RBIs, 1,086 Hits.
- Thome: 13 years, .287/.414/.566, .980 OPS, 152 OPS+, 337 HRs, 937 RBIs, 1,353 Hits.
If he were to have stayed for an additional two more years, given his average output, Manny’s 10 years accumulative stats would be the same or closer to Thome’s. One player has a statue outside of Progressive Field, and the other is Manny Ramirez.
Leaving Cleveland gave Manny the chance to be the centerpiece of an organization’s offense, and from the jump, he had interest from several teams. The Cardinals, Rockies, and Diamondbacks offered interesting potential, and the Yankees had the money to spend on a big bat. But at the end of the day, when Cleveland’s offer didn’t meet his asks, there was really only one place that Manny fit both financially and organizationally.
If Manny truly wanted to take his talents to a place that would truly respect his abilities, pay him handsomely for his services and make him the centerpiece to build around, he’d have to head to the AL East to GREENer pastures…
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