Aramis Ramirez, honored by Cubs, reflects fondly on time in Chicago

CHICAGO -- Aramis Ramirez came here in 2003 in a trade that should qualify as grand larceny.

Although he only left in 2011, there has been so much turnover in the organization that there aren’t many people in the Cubs' front office who worked here when Ramirez played. Even so, fans remember him.

Ramirez, one of the best Cubs hitters of all time, got a deserved standing ovation when the Cubs honored him with a tribute video and short on-field ceremony before Sunday’s game against the Pirates. Starlin Castro, the only teammate remaining from Ramirez's time in Chicago, presented him with a No. 16 tile from the center-field scoreboard.

Yes, Ramirez smiled. He was grinning from ear to ear as he acknowledged the crowd. Before the game, one front-office holdover laughed as he remembered how involved Ramirez got in offseason vacation packages the team offered fans. Ramirez -- yes, Ramirez -- would play goofy games with the fans and dive with abandon while playing beach volleyball in the Dominican Republic.

Before the game Sunday, Ramirez, who is usually even-keeled with the media, said he was flattered by the Cubs' honoring him.

“Any time they do something like that, you have to appreciate it," he said. "That means they appreciate what I did here for a long time.”

All he did in a Cubs uniform was hit .294 with 239 home runs, the sixth-most in franchise history, to go with his .531 slugging percentage, the third-best in Cubs history. His .887 OPS is fourth in Cubs history.

Ramirez played only 1,124 games as a Cub. Most of the players above him on the homer list played more than 1,000 additional games in Cubs uniforms. Ramirez is a career .283 hitter with 386 homers and 1,417 RBIs. He’s ninth among active players in home runs and seventh in RBIs.

“I’m pretty proud of what I did in my career, not only here in Chicago, [but also] in Milwaukee [and] back in Pittsburgh," he said. "I’m proud [of] every single moment in my career.”

Along with Carlos Zambrano, Ramirez played on the 2003, 2007 and 2008 division-champion squads. It was Ramirez’s arrival in 2003 that helped spark the team's run to the National League Championship Series.

That summer, in one of the all-time one-sided deals, then-Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield traded Ramirez to his good friend Jim Hendry for some hot dog buns, a case of Old Style and a bag of Chocolate Malt Cups the vendors forgot in an upper-deck freezer.

OK, Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill were involved too. When Littlefield was fired, he landed a front-office job with the Cubs.

Now Ramirez is back with the Pirates, a team primed to make a World Series run. It’s a completely different organization now than it was in his first days there.

“I didn’t leave -- they traded me,” he said. “I didn’t ask for a trade. I was perfectly fine there. That’s the team I came up with. I didn’t want to go anywhere. But I’m back, and it’s good to be back. This is a real fun time now in Pittsburgh. Two straight playoff appearances, and I’m part of it this year. I’m having a blast.”

Ramirez is hitting only .256 with six homers in 50 games, but he has 12 doubles, including a big one in Friday’s 3-2 win over the Cubs. With Jung Ho Kang out, Ramirez’s bat is necessary to help this team advance in the postseason.

Like the Cubs, Ramirez hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008. He hit just .194 in 18 postseason games with Chicago, but the Pirates have a pretty potent offense around him.

“They’ve been there,” he said of the guys who have made two straight postseasons. “We have a good team. We have 93, 94 wins for a reason. We think we can beat anybody.”

Of course, to get there, the Pirates might have to go through Chicago ace Jake Arrieta if they don’t catch St. Louis to win the division. The Pirates were 2 1/2 games back of the Cardinals before Sunday. They play host to St. Louis in a three-game series beginning Monday.

“To be the best, you have to beat the best guys out there,” Ramirez said. “For us to achieve our goal, we’re going to have beat guys like Arrieta. St. Louis has pretty good pitching. You’re not facing No. 4, No. 5 guys in the postseason.”

Ramirez, 37, has been a harbinger of good luck before. After the trade in 2003, he hit 15 homers in 63 games with the Cubs.

Ramirez, who wasn’t re-signed after Theo Epstein took over before the 2012 season, was never the cuddliest of Cubs, but don't confuse countenance with not caring. Ramirez, back with the Pirates to finish out a fine career after a midseason trade from Milwaukee, was happy to see Wrigley Field rocking for this weekend's series.

“It’s fun to see the city having fun again,” he said Saturday. “They made the playoffs last night, I heard. It’s good to see the Cubs be back in the race.”