As a Little Leaguer, you are taught certain fundamentals and ethics about the game of baseball that are meant to model and exemplify real-world ways of acting and living. Hustling on and off the field teaches always giving maximum effort. Running out ground balls and fly balls that are sure to be outs teaches discipline, and acceptance. Supporting teammates while sitting on the bench teaches cooperation and team-building. Working out and training for the season teaches taking care of your body and preparing it for a long, arduous season ahead.
Let's hope no former Little Leaguers are currently members of the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, the Iowa Cubs, because Manny Ramirez, who not many people would call an advocate of those principles, just was named a player/coach.
Despite his miscues, one thing is for certain: Ramirez is and has always been a student and master of hitting. One might argue, even, that he didn't want to do much else. Instead, he'd rather go take a bathroom break inside the door of the Green Monster and delay the game. Or jog after a catchable ball, allowing it to drop. Or basically walk with a piano on his back to a ball in the hole in the left side of the infield that would have been a sure hit. For Manny, it was home runs, RBIs, or he didn't seem to be interested. And, oh yeah, let's not forget about the performance enhancing drug suspensions at the end of his career.
In a statement to the public, Cubs President Theo Epstein conveyed, "While Manny is not and will not be a fit on the Cubs' major league roster, we do think at this stage of his life he's a nice fit as a mentor for some of the young talented hitters we have in the organization." Epstein went on to say, "Manny will coach full-time and play part-time in a limited role that does not take at-bats away from our prospects." Basically, Epstein wanted everyone to know this wasn't a publicity stunt and that he hopes Cubs prospects learn a lot from one of the MLB's best hitters of this generation.
The Cubs have a number of top prospects that are currently at the Triple-A level, including top prospect Javier Baez, who is struggling mightily after tearing the cover off the ball in spring training. Others will pass through the system, as Manny will be able to share his knowledge of hitting with some of the top prospects in all of baseball and quite possibly the best farm system out of all MLB franchises. How will Ramirez, with no coaching experience, inspire and teach a group of budding MLB players? Here's how: the power of his name, a.k.a. his "star power."
Most of the top prospects in the Cubs organization grew up in the prime of Ramirez's career, when he was by-and-large considered one of the best hitters (if not the best hitter) in all of baseball. Revered in the U.S. as well as most of Latin America (especially his native Dominican Republic), Ramirez was a role model and player whose abilities on the field transcended baseball and became woven into cultures while representing the hopes and dreams of many kids near and far, rich and poor. "Manny being Manny" became known around the world for his lethargic, quirky, yet lighthearted approach to playing the game.
Despite the antics listed above, his numbers speak for themselves:
2,302 games, 8,244 at bats, 1,544 runs, 2,574 hits, 555 home runs, 1,831 RBI, .312 batting average
Not too shabby.
In the release, Manny said:
I'm at the stage of my life and career where I really want to give something back to the game I love - the game that has meant so much to me and done so much for my family... I know I am nearing the end of my playing days, but I do have a lot of knowledge to pass on to the next generation - both what to do and what not to do.
While Ramirez most likely won't push anyone's buttons about running hard on the base paths or not jogging out to their positions, he can teach them about the art of hitting, which is what I deem as the hardest thing to do in the world of professional sports.
He can teach them on what to look for as the pitcher starts his delivery. He can teach them on how to read the seams as the ball is being released. He can teach situational hitting. He can teach on how to improve batting stances and strides. He can teach on how to handle fame and stardom. He can teach about his mistakes and his miscues and what he could have done. Most of all, he can teach how to play the game while having fun. After all, it will most likely be another installment of "Manny being Manny".