By Dick Flavin
Special to the Reporter
Now that the dust has settled, the duck boats have been parked, and the trophy has been repaired after being wounded by the in-coming barrage of beer cans during the parade, what would you say was the key moment that allowed the Red Sox to win the World Series?
Not the moment that Manny Machado made that final, futile swing that ended with him on one knee, genuflecting in the direction of the Red Sox dugout (although that was sweet, wasn’t it?); I’m talking about the moment that made it all possible; the division title, the pennant, the World Series victory, and the duck boat parade.
And I submit that moment came at 11:30 on the morning of Thurs., May 24, 2018. That’s when Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski picked up his ringing phone and heard team manager Alex Cora offer a bold, even courageous, suggestion.
There had been a plan in place to trade little-used catcher and jack-of-all-positions Blake Swihart the following day to make room on the roster for Dustin Pedroia, who was coming off the disabled list (Pedroia wouldn’t be off the list for long; his bad knee flared up again after only three games, putting him out of action for the season). But Cora was advocating for keeping Swihart and giving another player his walking papers.
Does anyone remember Hanley Ramirez? I didn’t think so.
Ramirez was one of the high profile, and high priced, members of the team. He’d been one half of the twin signings (twin disasters?) that were announced on the same day back in November of ’14, the other half being the immortal Pablo Sandoval. The two eventually cost the Red Sox a total of $183 million, plus one belt buckle, to replace the one that the –dare we say chubby? – Sandoval famously popped one day while taking a mighty swing.
In addition, the deal cost the-then general manager, Ben Cherrington, his job, and brought Dave Dombrowski to Boston. Everything in baseball is interconnected, isn’t it?
The signing of Ramirez was a cause for celebration in Boston. He had been signed by the Red Sox originally and was an elite prospect, but he was traded to the Miami Marlins prior to the 2006 season as the key component in a deal that brought Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett to Boston. He won National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2006 and was the National League batting champion in 2009. But red flags were raised along the way.
In 2010, he was benched by Marlins’ manager Fredi Gonzalez for lack of hustle when he jogged after a ball, allowing two runners to score. This led to a war of words and the ultimate firing of Gonzalez. In subsequent years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he developed a tendency toward injuries and was often out of action.
Ramirez had a lousy year for the Sox in 2015, a pretty good one in ’16, then another stinkeroo in ’17 when he batted .242 with 23 home runs and a measly 62 runs batted in.
He was off to a good start last April, but that quickly faded, and he was batting only .163 for the month of May, without a hit in his previous 21 plate appearances. Still, it would be a shock to the baseball world, including Ramirez himself, if such a big name player were to be dumped.
Dombrowski and Cora had a relatively new relationship, with the rookie manager less than two months into his first season at the helm, but he had already earned the boss’s respect: He had a feel for the clubhouse and for the needs of his team.
Dombrowski took his manager’s advice to heart. The trade-Swihart plan was put aside, and at 3:45 the next morning, when the team returned from a road game in Tampa Bay, Ramirez was given the word that he was history.
It seems now that he is ancient history. He has been seen or heard from since then about as often as Jimmy Hoffa. And the Red Sox never looked back.
In July, they acquired Steve Pearce, which could never have happened if Ramirez were still on the roster. That’s the same Steve Pearce who was named MVP of the World Series. He and Mitch Moreland worked in tandem through the World Series to handle the first base duties ably and productively.
Ramirez came to town with the reputation of someone who could be a divisive force in the clubhouse but it was never an issue with the Red Sox. In fact he was exceedingly funny and accessible, especially with children. But would he have been a problem if he had been demoted to a bench-warmer? That’s something that we’ll never know, thank goodness.
By saying goodbye to him, the Red Sox ate approximately $15 million, what was due him for the remainder of 2018, but the team saved $22 million from a vesting option for 2019 that Ramirez was on track to reach. (They will still be paying Sandoval for 2019. He has made a bit of a comeback as a back-up third baseman/first baseman with his original team, the San Francisco Giants, and the Giants announced at the end of October that they are picking up the option on his contract, which is for the major league minimum of $550,000. The balance of the $18 million that he’s owed will be paid by John Henry and friends.)
And what of Hanley Ramirez? Will he magically reappear in 2019 from the dustbin of baseball history to make a dramatic comeback with some other team?
To borrow a phrase from that great baseball savant, Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Dick Flavin, a veteran of the Boston broadcast scene, ballpark announcer during home games at Fenway Park, author, and playwright, is known as the poet laureate of the Boston Red Sox.