For whatever his transgressions both on and off the field — and he amassed an unenviable collection of them to go with the highlight reel from his 19-year major league career — nobody could ever say that Manny Ramirez doesn’t love baseball and wouldn’t go to the end of the earth, or at least halfway around the globe, to play it. After a brief, unsuccessful comeback bid in the A’s organization in 2012, the then-41-year-old slugger surprised the baseball world by heading over to Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League, where he played 49 games with the EDA Rhinos. Seven years later and more than two years removed from his last stint at any level, he’s itching to go back to the only professional league currently playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The people of Taiwan treated me like ‘baseball-royalty’, and I was truly overwhelmed by the island’s love for the game,” the 48-year-old Ramirez told Mark Buckton of The Taiwan Times. “My goal for 2020 is to find a roster spot in the CPBL,” he said, adding:
I have been itching to get back in the batter’s box and be able to compete again. I also miss being around teammates and team dinners post-game.
I know if I was given the opportunity to come in an organization as a player-coach, it would do great things for the organization and the league.
During the pandemic, Ramirez says, he’s “taken this down time to not only get my body back in playing shape, but also my spirit.” Currently living in South Florida with his wife and three sons (Manuel, Manny Jr., and Lucas), he’s been “sneaking around the local hitting cages in my area.” He says he awakens by 6 AM, reads the Bible, and then watches nine innings of CPBL baseball, which is currently being streamed over Twitter via @ElevenSportsTW, @FubonGuardians (the team the Rhinos became when Fubon Finanical Holding Co. purchased them in November 2016), as well as the on-demand CPBL TV site.
Recall that in 2011, after his two-year, $45 million dollar contract with the Dodgers — who traded him to the White Sox before it ended — had expired, the 12-time All-Star signed with the Rays as a free agent. He played just five games, however, before the league announced that he had failed a drug test, earning him a 100-game suspension; he had served a 50-game suspension in 2009. He opted to retire, sat out the season, and upon apply for reinstatement that winter, struck an agreement with the league and the MLBPA that reduced his remaining suspension to 50 games. In February 2012, he signed with the A’s, served his 50-game suspension, and spent 17 games with the Sacramento River Cats, but hit just .302/.348/.349 before requesting his release once it was clear he wasn’t going to be promoted. After playing in the Dominican Winter League, he signed with the Rhinos at a salary of $25,000 a month, and made his debut on March 27.
Ramirez hit .352/.422/.555 with eight homers and 43 RBI in 41 games for the Rhinos, but when his contract expired on June 30 — half-season deals are not uncommon for first-year foreign players — he departed. The Rhinos claimed it was because he was homesick, but a Japanese website reported that he had drawn interest from the Chibe Lotte Marines of NPB’s Pacific League, while Fox Sports reported that he was eying a major league comeback. A couple weeks later, he signed with the Rangers, but his thin .259/.328/.370 showing with three homers in 30 games didn’t induce a call-up, either. Released in mid-August, he made yet another comeback attempt with the Cubs’ Iowa affiliate in 2014, but was similarly woeful, though he fared better in a 2014-15 stint in the DWL. He spent 2015 and ’16 working as a hitting instructor in the Cubs’ organization, then spent a spell with the Kochi Fighting Dogs of Japan’s Shikoku Island League, but returned home in midseason due to a knee injury.
Ramirez cited Taiwan’s food, its tea, and its fans (who currently aren’t allowed into ballparks as a safety precaution) as attractions for a return to the league, adding, “Now that I am longer ESPN material, I now look for other ways to serve and help out any way I can without being in the spotlight.”
It’s easier to imagine the once-mighty slugger returning to action than it is to believe that he can avoid the spotlight given his flair for the dramatic. Here’s hoping he can find an offer, because who among us doesn’t want to see Manny be Manny once more?
Assuming he does not return to the majors during this latest comeback attempt, Ramirez’s Hall of Fame eligibility would not be affected. On the 2020 BBWAA ballot, his fourth year of eligibility, he received 28.2%.