Check the calendar. This is not an April Fools joke. Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein announced on Sunday morning that Manny Ramirez has agreed to sign a minor league deal with the organization and will soon report to Triple-A Iowa to serve as a player-coach.
Ramirez, who turns 42 later this week, will not factor into the Cubs big league plans according to Epstein. Instead, he's bringing in his former star from his Boston Red Sox days to serve as a mentor, which the coach label cements.
"We are excited to welcome Manny to the Cubs organization and look forward to him working with our young hitters," Epstein said. "Manny is not only one of the best hitters of all time, he is also a dedicated student of hitting and has proven to be a gifted teacher with younger teammates who have worked with him in the batting cage. Behind the scenes he has always been a tireless worker who is very serious about the craft of hitting. Manny has made real mistakes in the past but he has owned up to them and moved his life in a positive direction the last couple of years. He is in a really great place right now and wants to share the lessons he's learned along the way. We think he deserves another chance and that our young hitters will benefit from it."
"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. Manny will coach full-time and play part-time in a limited role that does not take at-bats away from our prospects. If he shows there is still some magic in his bat, perhaps he will find his way to the major leagues and help another team, but that is not why he is here. We are thrilled that he wants to work with our young hitters and make a difference."
It's a shot at redemption for Manny, whose final years in MLB were marred by controversy and positive tests for PEDs. In 2009, he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for the female fertility drug human chorionic gonadotropin. In 2011, he received another 50 games for artificial testosterone after signing with the Tampa Bay Rays.
There were also his often bizarre antics on the field, which made one wonder if he was taking the game seriously, but no one could ever question his skill as a hitter. Ramirez posted a career line of 312/.411/.585 with 555 home runs, 1,831 RBI and 2,574 hits over parts of 19 seasons. He was consistently productive, and should have some good advice to give. But he can't teach instincts or bat speed.
Still, this opportunity gives him a chance to be viewed in a different light before he ultimately rides off into the sunset. It's a chance to give back to the game, and apparently that's something he's very passionate about.
"I'm at the stage of my life and career where I really want to give something back to the game that I love -- the game that has meant so much to me and done so much for me and my family," Ramirez said. "I know I am nearing the end of my playing days, but I have a lot of knowledge to pass on to the next generation - both what to do and what not to do. The Cubs have some very talented young hitters, and I would love nothing more than to make a positive impact on their careers. I am passionate about baseball and about hitting, and I have a lot to offer. While I would love to return to the major leagues, I leave that in God's hands. My focus will be on working with the young hitters, making sure they don't make the same mistakes I made, and helping the team any way I can."
Naturally, the reactions to the news have been almost as interesting as the news itself.
Theo Epstein hired Manny Ramirez to mentor young hitters. He’ll be a player/coach at AAA. Guess anything really is possible.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) May 25, 2014
But it's the opinion of the Cubs organization that matters most, and it's obvious Esptein trusts Ramirez to show up and perform the duties he's agreed to.
Time will tell how it works out, but there's no doubt Triple-A just became an infinitely more interesting place to be.
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