By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Manny being Manny.
It’s a slogan for a figure who became larger than the game, a man whose jovial personality drew and eventually deceived fans and teammates alike, and temporarily removed him from baseball.
The Manny Ramirez who walked into the Wrigley Field home clubhouse Monday had that same smile and imposing figure, but he spoke as a man humbled by his past. The Cubs offered him a chance in coaching as a club hitting consultant, an opportunity he cherishes.
“It means a lot,” Ramirez said. “This is the game that we love. You get from the game what you have received. It’s a blessing.”
Through good graces, Theo Epstein extended an invitation for Ramirez — the star of two Red Sox World Series title teams that Epstein built — to rejoin the game of baseball. Even in such a minor capacity, it was a decision based on trust. Ramirez was welcomed to influence the Cubs’ young crop of talent.
On Monday, Ramirez offered hugs and pleasantries to every Cub in sight, many of whom he’s become close with since joining the organization in Triple-A Iowa last year. He was an important mentor in spring training, working with both established major leaguers like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo and also teaching young minor leaguers.
Being in such a mentor position is personal for Ramirez, who remembers being a young player with the Indians and learning from Eddie Murray, Orel Hershiser, Dave Winfield and Roberto Alomar, who guided him during short stints in Cleveland.
“I was just a kid,” Ramirez recalled. “All that knowledge those guys passed on to me, I decided to do the same.”
In 2011, Ramirez signed with Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays. He went 1-for-17 in just five games, was busted for performance-enhancing drugs and suspended for 100 games. Ramirez abruptly retired. That’s the last time he was seen in Major League Baseball.
With Epstein’s Red Sox, Ramirez’s playful antics often overshadowed incidents like pushing a 65-year-old traveling secretary, simply because Boston was winning and he was a star. But the rap sheet became no secret.
Now, Ramirez is 42 years old. He was a 12-time All-Star, nine-time Silver Slugger, two-time World Series champion and slugged 555 home runs. He’s gotten everything from the game of baseball but closure. More important to Ramirez, he never got to give back.
“I like what I’m doing now,” said Ramirez, “passing around (through levels of the Cubs organization) and watching players, help them build a routine and help them do the right thing.”
Help them do the right thing. That’s the key in Ramirez’s role with the Cubs, because his legacy in baseball is tainted for doing the wrong thing. In meetings with the club’s young talents, Ramirez has been the one to bring up his mistakes and their consequences.
Before Monday’s game at Wrigley, Ramirez stood by the batting cage with Jorge Soler, who had just hit a ball halfway up the new video board in left field. Ramirez was quick with a joke, then turned serious and got in a batting stance to assess Soler’s swing.
This is the new Manny Ramirez, a man humbled by his past, gracious for his future and eager to help the Cubs and their young core.
“They’re great talents, great kids, and they listen,” he said. “I’m just so happy to be here, be a part of the game and watch the Cubs win a World Series.”
Manny is no longer being Manny. The new Ramirez is grateful for his second chance.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.