Bohm: Manny belongs in the Hall

April 12, 2011, 1:48 a.m.

Manny, Manny, Manny (writer looks down, shakes his head disapprovingly).

On Friday, the baseball career of arguably one of the top-five right-handed hitters of all time came to an end most unceremoniously. Facing a 100-game suspension for a third positive test for performance-enhancing drugs in his career, Manny Ramirez, as he has done time and time again, walked away from his team and likely from the hearts and minds of baseball fans and players that both feared and admired him for the past 15 years.

Since his retirement on Friday, there has been much discussion in newspapers, across the Internet and on television about whether Ramirez belongs in the Hall of Fame. At first glance, a .312 career batting average and 555 home runs should be enough, but of course, most pundits argue a three-time cheater doesn’t belong. After all, Mark McGwire, who never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs but has admitted use, only got 19 percent of the vote in last year’s Hall of Fame vote—plus, if you get caught three times, there’s clearly something more-than-fishy going on, not to mention Ramirez clearly thought he was above the law.

I’m going to go against the grain a bit and say that if I had a Hall of Fame vote, Manny Ramirez would receive one from me. I don’t want to turn this into a column about the Hall of Fame merits of purported steroid users, but I will say that steroids were pervasive in baseball during Ramirez’s career, that no one is quite sure who was taking them and who wasn’t and that pitchers and hitters were both using. Not to mention the fact that for much of Ramirez’s career, Major League Baseball hadn’t banned steroids, and many people around baseball turned a blind eye to their use.

So using steroids as an automatic disqualifier doesn’t work for me. Can it knock you down a peg? Sure, but if it weren’t for Albert Pujols, we might be calling Ramirez the best right-handed hitter that ever lived (yes, there are other players that you could argue belong in the conversation).

Ramirez was scarily good throughout his career. When he came up with the Cleveland Indians as a rail-thin kid, he was already terrifying for pitchers to face. In his first full season in 1995 (because the 1994 season was shortened by a strike), all Ramirez did was hit .308 with 31 home runs and 107 RBI in only 137 games. And with that, he was just scratching the surface.

Ramirez spent the heyday of his career with the Boston Red Sox. As many of you know, I’m a New York Yankees fan, and I have a visceral hatred for the Red Sox. I won’t pick Red Sox on my fantasy teams, I think their fans are a bunch of bandwagoners who jumped on in 2004 and I’ve been to Fenway Park just once (and probably won’t go back unless it is to watch the Yankees play there). That said, there were few players I enjoyed watching—and feared—more than Manny Ramirez.

Give me the choice of pitching to David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia or any of the Red Sox stars, and I would gladly throw four high and wide to Manny to get to them. Watching him hit in his prime—which was my own baseball prime (if you could call it that)—was terrifying and beautiful at the same time. He would hit the ball so hard that you felt that it might come through the television screen. He could hit fastballs, he could hit breaking balls, he could pull the ball and he could go the other way. To quote Forrest Gump, he was like a fish in water. He may not have appeared to know what the pitcher was throwing, but he seemed to, without fail, get his barrel to the ball.

Sure, Ramirez was a character. He was Manny being Manny. Yes, he made stupid plays in the field and on the bases, and yes, he did quit on the Red Sox, the Dodgers and the Rays (I was at his last game as a Red Sock; it was Sunday night baseball at Yankee Stadium, and he came in to pinch hit against Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the eighth inning and took three straight strikes right down the middle—I’m convinced to this day that he had no intention of swinging or trying anymore). But there was something about the carelessness with which he played the game that was refreshing. You could tell he was just a big kid out there playing with men. He never took anything too seriously, and to fans of baseball like myself, he will be sorely missed.

Daniel Bohm’s baseball “prime” was when he took three straight strikes from Rivera in a video game. Find out how terrifying and beautiful he was at bohmd “at”

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