In nearly eight seasons with the Red Sox, Manny Ramirez was many things: Slugger, clown, malingerer, entertainer, enigma.
In 1,083 games with the franchise, Ramirez left a lasting mark on the Red Sox record book. He ranks fifth in team history in home runs (274), seventh in RBIs (868), third in slugging percentage (.588) and third in OPS (.999).
But with Ramirez, you can't just talk numbers; you have to talk Manny. His colorful comments in the clubhouse, the demeanor that oscillated between ebullience and apathy and the bizarre decisions he made during games are as essential to the Manny legacy as any statistic, record or trophy. As he returns to Fenway on Friday for the first time since the trade that sent him to the Dodgers on July 31, 2008, we look back on some of the more memorable Manny moments.
• No. 10 (April 6, 2001): Manny makes a splash in Fenway debut
In what would become a recurring scene, Ramirez swung at the first pitch he saw at Fenway and drove it deep into the stands for a three-run home run in the season home opener. Ramirez would go on to win Player of the Month that April, hitting a blistering .408 with nine homers and 31 RBIs in his first 25 games with the team.
• No. 9 (May 11, 2004): Manny the Citizen
In one of his more flamboyant gestures, the Dominican-born all-star raced onto the field at the start of a Tuesday night game against the Indians with an infectious grin on his face and a miniature American flag in his hand. Twenty years after his family emigrated from Santo Domingo to Washington Heights, Ramirez had achieved citizenship in the United States at the age of 33, and he celebrated his recent naturalization with unabashed joy. For Manny, this was no small accomplishment. He had missed the first start of his Red Sox career the day before to make it to the required citizenship interview in Miami. The Fenway crowd rose to their feet when he stepped up to bat in the second inning, giving him a rousing ovation. Neil Diamond's "America" was played over the PA system.
• No. 8 (October 11, 2003): Manny ignites a postseason brawl
With future Cooperstown fixtures Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens squaring off on the hill in a pivotal Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, the crowd at Fenway was charged with a particularly volatile electricity that Saturday afternoon. This became more than an event, it became a passion play, and Manny was right in the middle of it.
With no outs in the fourth and runners at second and third, a frustrated Martinez flung a fastball behind the head of Karim Garcia, grazing the top of his back. Warnings were issued, Martinez and the Yankee bench traded profanities, Garcia chopped down Todd Walker at second base on the next play and Martinez appeared to threaten he was planning to throw at Jorge Posada's head. When the Red Sox came to bat in the bottom of the fourth, Clemens split the plate with an eye-level fastball to Ramirez, who ducked away as if the pitch was much closer than it was. Benches cleared as one legend approached another, and before anybody could even process the ensuing chaos, a livid Don Zimmer was being cast to the ground by Martinez. After 15 minutes of carnage, the two teams were untangled, Zimmer was taken to the hospital, and New York went on to win the game and the series.
• No. 7 (July 31, 2005): Manny debunks trade talk and wins the game
Trade rumors were certainly not an uncommon theme of Manny's tenure with the Sox. Speculations of possible blockbuster transactions began as early as the '03-'04 offseason after a tumultuous year of controversy that ran the gamut from sore throat shenanigans to a staunch refusal to pinch hit. Talks of a deal quieted down in the wake of the ticker tape parade, but they resurfaced more intensely than ever in July 2005. Many believed a move was inevitable, based on the frequency of meetings between Manny and the front office.
As the 4 p.m. deadline passed that Sunday afternoon, many fans had no idea whether Ramirez was still with the team. Then suddenly, he emerged from the dugout to pinch hit in the eighth inning of a tie game, and the masses at Fenway went berserk. The pandemonium climaxed when Ramirez smacked a ground ball up the middle to bring in the go-ahead run. Booed just two nights earlier, Manny stood at first base, waving his helmet over his head.
• No. 6 (July 21, 2004): Manny redefines the cutoff man
In the seventh inning of a night game against the Orioles at Fenway, David Newhan drove a pitch deep into the gap in left-center field. As he headed to third for a triple, Sox outfielder Johnny Damon fielded the ball and threw toward the infield. Out of nowhere, Ramirez lunged and intercepted the throw, for reasons known only to him. By the time Ramirez gathered the ball and wheeled to fire home, Newhan was well on his way to an inside-the-park home run.
• No. 5 (October 5, 2007): Manny tags a walkoff in the ALDS
It was pick your poison when Francisco Rodriguez and the Angels intentionally walked David Ortiz with two outs and a base empty in the ninth inning of Game 2 to face Ramirez. Manny had missed almost the entire month of September with a muscle strain.
At 12:44 a.m., 34 minutes after the last train was supposed to stop running in Kenmore Square, Ramirez stood transfixed at home plate, his arms raised overhead, watching as his ninth-inning home run disappeared over the Green Monster and into the mists of Red Sox history.
"My train doesn't stop," Ramirez said after his first walkoff home run in a Red Sox uniform.
• No. 4 (May 14, 2008) Manny turns the old over-the-shoulder, high-five, turn-and-throw double play
When Manny makes a great defensive play, it usually gets noticed, mainly because they are so few and far between. The double play he turned on a deep line drive off the bat of Kevin Millar, however, was the stuff of highlight reel infamy. Ramirez actually got a bad jump on the ball, but he managed to track it all the way to the wall for an outstretched over-the-shoulder snag. Without missing a beat, Manny planted his foot on the wall, leapt up to high-five a random fan, shifted his momentum back towards the field, and heaved a throw to second baseman Dustin Pedroia who relayed it to first to double off Aubrey Huff. The 7-'five'-4-3 inning-ending double play quickly became a staple in the archives of classic Manny moments.
• No. 3 (May 31, 2008): Manny joins the 500 club
Here is my lead from the Boston Globe the next morning: "He stood at home plate long enough for Gilbert Stuart to sketch the outline of his portrait. Long enough for Armand LaMontagne to cut the first rough carvings of his sculpture. Long enough for Annie Leibovitz to frame her photograph just right.
Manny Ramirez posed long enough for history to share his gaze as he contemplated what he had just wrought with one powerful flick of his wrists at 9:29 p.m. last night. With a swing of his 34-inch, 32-ounce, all-black SSK maple bat, Ramirez sent a baseball deep into the Maryland night, the ball simultaneously landing in the right-center-field bleachers and the record books.
One hundred seventy-seven months after Ramirez hit his first home run as a 21-year-old playing in Yankee Stadium, the grand edifice whose shadows fall not far from the bodegas of Washington Heights where he grew up, the Red Sox left fielder hit the 500th home run of his career, one day after his 36th birthday."
• No. 2 (July 18, 2005): Manny the magician
Just when Boston fans had thought they had seen everything from their incorrigible left fielder, Ramirez found a way to raise the bar yet again. When Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace decided to take a trip to the mound to chat with Wade Miller, Manny decided to take a trip to the bathroom inside the Green Monster. Left field was still empty when the game resumed, and No. 24 emerged from behind the manual scoreboard just before Miller released the next pitch, tucking in his shirt on the way back to his spot. This moment cranked the Manny-being-Manny meter to a new level.
• No. 1 (October 27, 2004): Manny named World Series MVP
With an 86-year championship drought ended and the great curse of the Bambino finally lifted, the World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in '04 was the sweetest of triumphs in Boston sports history. Ramirez batted .308 during the season while racking up league-leading totals in home runs (43), slugging percentage (.613), and OPS (1.009). His regular season achievements were honored before the start of Game 4 with the Hank Aaron Award as the game's best hitter and his postseason dominance was rewarded after the final out with the World Series MVP, an accolade never before given to a Boston player. Ramirez hit .412 in the series, and he had at least one base hit in every game that postseason, including six multi-hit efforts.
"We're just a bunch of idiots," he said that night. "We don't think. We eliminate thinking. We just go out and play and have fun."
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here. Daniel Pesquera of Williams College assisted in putting this together.