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If it's not one Ramirez, it's another

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  May 21, 2010 11:55 AM

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In Florida, where the episodes with the star player are as familiar as bad television reruns, maybe they are chalking it all up to just Hanley being Hanley. He plays like a man. He acts like a child.

"Hanley has a tendency to think he’s great and he is great – he’s a great hitter, right? -- but I think he overdoes it a little bit," said Dan Duquette, who was the general manager of the Red Sox when the team signed Hanley Ramirez in 2000. "The thing about baseball is that baseball is a very humbling game, and you could see how it humbled Ramirez the other night. He didn’t make the play and his first reaction is embarrassment, and then he didn’t know what to do. And then he tried to act cool and it ended up coming off where he didn’t hustle."

And then came the worst part: Ramirez opened his mouth. Rightfully pulled from the game and then benched by Florida Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, Ramirez publicly criticized his skipper, attempting to destroy his own manager’s credibility by pointing out that Gonzalez never played in the big leagues. Young Hanley might as well have walked into Gonzalez’s office and spat in his manager’s face, his words serving as the ultimate act of insubordination in a baseball culture where certain things are to be done a certain way.

All of that brings us to today’s topic for discussion in Boston, where Hanley’s professional career effectively was born and bred: would you ever really want a guy like that on your team? And is Hanley Ramirez a winning player or merely a human pinball machine that puts up big numbers in this fantasy-driven age of professional sports?

Even those of us who usually put talent above all else can’t be so sure in this case, particularly when Ramirez seems to go against everything that Theo Epstein has preached during his tenure as general manager of the Red Sox.

The ability is indisputable, of course, and a greater potential still exists for a man who already has won one batting title and a Rookie of the Year Award while twice finishing in the top 10 of the National League Most Valuable Player Award balloting. (He was second last season.) Ramirez will play this entire season at 26. During his first four full major league seasons, he has averaged 154 games played, 118 runs scored, 43 doubles, 26 homers, 78 RBI and 41 stolen bases. He is a certifiable human highlight reel with more talent than the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he is in just the second year of a six-year, $70 million contract that makes him one of the most cost-efficient run producers in baseball.

Here’s the problem: Ramirez is also a colossal pain in the pillows whose immaturity is downright exhausting. This was not the first problem he has had with the Marlins and it will not be the last. Last September, with the Marlins in a playoff race, Ramirez pulled himself from a game with a hamstring issue and drew the criticism of teammate Dan Uggla. He has told reporters one thing and his manager something altogether different, playing one off the other like a frustrated toddler. All of it cannot help but make you wonder if he shares more than a surname with a guy named Manny.

In these parts, for obvious reasons, Hanley Ramirez remains a lightning rod and symbol of both what might have been and what could still be. Following the 2005 season, when Epstein temporarily resigned, the Sox traded him to the Marlins in the deal that brought Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett to Boston. Epstein got a ring out of that trade, but he almost certainly wouldn’t have made the deal. (You’ll just have to trust us on this one.) On the flipside, the revolving door at shortstop in Boston would have stopped turning a long time ago if Ramirez were still in the organization because Theo had his answer at the position and the powers that be traded him away.

In the time since Ramirez’s departure, the Red Sox have made inquiries with Florida about reacquiring him. The Marlins thus far have resisted. Ramirez is making a mere $7 million this season, but his salary begins escalating in 2011 ($11 million). The Marlins are likely to hold onto Ramirez at least until they move into a new ballpark in 2012, at which point Ramirez will begina three-year stretch during which he will be paid a respective $15 million, $15.5 million (in 2013) and $16 million (in 2014). Barring a surprise, Florida isn’t likely to trade away its best player and gate attraction for at least another two years or so.

Unless the Marlins get so sick of him that they can’t take it anymore.

Given the ongoing issues with the Red Sox – particularly in the middle of the lineup – Ramirez seemingly would make all the sense in the world for them. Or would he? As talented as Ramirez is, his immaturity prompts obvious comparisons to Manny Ramirez, whom Epstein put on waivers following the 2003 season. Shortly thereafter, the Red Sox tried to trade Ramirez to Texas for Alex Rodriguez. Those happenings were merely the beginning of a soap opera that lasted greater than five years, culminating with the July 2008 trade that sent Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers and in which the Sox gave up two more players (Craig Hansen, Brandon Moss) while paying both the balance on Ramirez’s deal and the balance due his replacement, Jason Bay.

When you get right down to it, doesn’t Hanley Ramirez represent all the things that drove people like Epstein and Terry Francona so crazy with Manny that they paid out the nose to get him out of town?

Admittedly, Boston and Florida are two very different places. Part of the problem with Hanley and the Marlins is that Ramirez is being asked to stand out front, a responsibility he would not have in Boston. (Imagine what the Red Sox would have been like if Manny were required to lead them.) The Red Sox generally have been (and are) a more veteran team with more established players, and Hanley wouldn’t have the power here he does in Florida. Something suggests he would be held in check far more here by his peers, largely because Ramirez seems to regard himself as superior to his teammates, for whom he obviously has no respect.

Would he so easily dismiss Terry Francona, who has won two World Series? David Ortiz? Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett or, for that matter, John Lackey – all of whom have won titles? In sports, championships are the ultimate trump card. A guy like Hanley could come to Boston and spout off about his numbers, but he’d have absolutely no comeback when the Sox started talking rings.

Again, this brings us back to Manny, whose tumultuous existence in Boston should also be remembered for this: the Red Sox won while he was here. During the eight years in which Ramirez spent at least a part of the season in Boston, the Red Sox went to the playoffs five times and won two world titles. All four of their appearances in the American League Championship Series – even the two losses – went the maximum seven games. Because of that, people like yours truly would eagerly bring someone like Hanley to Boston.

But here’s the question:

Would you?

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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