Say what you want about Manny Ramirez -- and over the years, fans and writers have said a lot -- but the guy clearly loves baseball.
The latest evidence? Agreeing to be a player-coach for the Chicago Cubs at Triple-A Iowa even though team president Theo Epstein says, "Manny is not and will not be a fit on the Cubs' major league roster."
According to Baseball Reference, Ramirez has made more than $200 million in his playing career, which suggests that money is not what is driving him anymore. Yet last summer, he spent a few weeks trying to earn his way back to the majors playing for the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock, Texas, and prior to that he spent a few weeks tearing up the Taiwanese league.
Over the years, Ramirez's antics have left him open to a lot of criticism, and as Emma Span outlined here, a lot of it is deserved. But as a baseball fan, you can't help but appreciate his desire to keep playing in some form. I can think of only one other player of his stature who went to such great lengths to extend his playing career, and that was Rickey Henderson, another all-time great player who, like Manny, was infamous for his eccentric personality.
After Henderson's MLB career ended in 2003 at the age of 44, he went on to play for the Newark Bears and San Diego Surf Dawgs, both independent league clubs. In 2007, there was a rumor that the Oakland Athletics were interested in adding him to the roster for one game that September, but Rickey balked when he found out that if it happened it would be only a publicity stunt. Here is what Henderson said at the time:
"I don't want one day. I want to play again, man. I don't want nobody's spot. I don't want to hurt nobody. I just want to see if I deserve to be out there. If I don't, just get rid of me, release me. And if I belong, you don't have to pay me but the minimum -- and I'll donate every penny of that to some charity. So, how's that hurtin' anybody?"
You can criticize Henderson for some of his odd behavior over the years -- such as allegedly playing cards in the clubhouse as the Mets lost the 1999 NLCS -- but you can't question his desire to extend his career. Ramirez belongs in a similar category.
It seems as though we always wish that our favorite athletes cherished their opportunity the same way that we would if we could play professionally, so I love the fact that Manny is willing to go play in Triple-A, entertain some fans, and hopefully mentor top prospect Javier Baez, even if the majors are not in his future. The cynic might say that he's only doing this because he doesn't know what else to do with his life, but I choose to view this as a player taking every opportunity to stay on the field until he is no longer given the chance.
Sometimes great athletes choose to go out on top, while others like to linger as long as we'll let them. It's tough blame those who choose to go that route.