September 22, 2011
Sometimes it ends with a shrug.
After not playing in a 7-1 victory over Milwaukee, Aramis Ramirez(notes) said on Wednesday that he was likely headed for a multi-year contract in greener pastures and what else were he and Chicago Cubs fans supposed to do besides go on with their day? This wasn't the time — nor the parties involved — for an extended victory lap around Wrigley Field.
While it's true that Ramirez put together nine productive seasons and gave the North Side its best solution at third since Ron Santo — all apologies, Kevin Orie — the real truth is that his relationship with the fans never approached anything reflecting that. Plucked from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle of that run to the 2003 NLCS, Ramirez always had trouble shaking that reputation as the money-making mercenary with a big bat and cover-your-eyes defense. Aramis wasn't hated and he wasn't loved. He was just there, quietly compiling above-average seasons without either side ever becoming too invested.
And now he's off to whatever team wants to promise more than the $16 million option he had on the table with the Cubs, not even waiting until the end of the season to announce that his bags are packed. He's a good ballplayer being a good businessman after his performance this season gave him more options. (After his injury-plagued '09 and '10, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he'd say "yes" to the Cubs' option before they even asked.)
There's no question the 2012 Cubs will miss the production he provided when he was healthy. There was a time when the Cubs' search for a good third baseman was as much of a punchline as the Bears finding a good quarterback and now the team will fish into an uncertain pool of candidates currently topped by D.J. LeMahieu(notes). Then again, the next GM will have $16 million more to play around with as baseball's most-watched rebuilding project begins. With Ramirez planning to decline his 2012 option, it's worth arguing that he's doing the Cubs a favor by not saddling them with an unnecessary luxury.
Whether it was Ramirez's playoff struggles (after being productive in '03, he went 1 for 25 in 2007 and '08), his alleged involvement with cockfighting a few years ago or his reluctance to be a visible voice and leader in the Cubs clubhouse, he never became one of the most lovable losers.
Instead, he was what he was. A good ballplayer who showed up and did his work but never found his way onto the backs of the best-selling jerseys in Wrigleyville. You don't need to be overwhelmingly popular to help a baseball team win, of course, but it can certainly help provoke some sort of reaction when you leave.