By Drew Farmer
Manny Ramirez is like the old west gunslinger unable to put away his gun and holster. The baseball great who rose to prominence with the Cleveland Indians before becoming a household name as a member of the Boston Red Sox is at it again; only this time on the other side of the world.
Ramirez, now 44, is suiting up for Japan independent baseball club Kochi Fighting Dogs in an attempt at another baseball comeback. The designated hitter hasn’t played since 2014 when he spent a season as a player-coach for the Chicago Cubs’ triple-A affiliate in Iowa.
The 12-time Major League Baseball All-Star has already made an impact for his new team, although it is still only preseason. Ramirez hit a run scoring double for the Fighting Dogs as the team gets ready for the Shikoku Island League season.
Ramirez was well-known for his clutch hitting and ability to drive in runs. He finished his MLB career with 1,831 runs batted in, and the baseball hitting great should knock in his fair share of runs in Japan.
In the game on March 16th, Ramirez played as the team’s designated hitter, the position outlined for him in his contract, and hit in the lead-off position.
Despite his preseason hitting catching the eye of some, it is Ramirez’s contract that has attracted more attention to the former World Series Most Valuable Player.
Ramirez’s contract, signed in January, has only had many of its interesting stipulations released to the media. For the most part, the most talked about stipulations seem the kind that foreign sports teams would offer many big name American athletes while overseas. Although one of the contract’s perks would be considered by some as an April Fool’s Day joke, if it were only April.
Ramirez’s contract calls for the power hitter to have a personally driven Mercedes to take him wherever he needs to go while with the team. In addition to the car, Ramirez will receive a personal suite during his time with the club. According to sources, the suite will cost an estimated 80,000 yen per night; or just a little more than $700 based on the current exchange rate.
Another stipulation in Ramirez’s contract calls for the player to skip any practice he doesn’t want to attend. The club will also sell Manny Ramirez exclusive merchandise through a new English language website.
Finally, the item that has raised most eyebrows is the fine print that allows Ramirez to receive unlimited sushi while playing for the Fighting Dogs. Whether Ramirez has asked for the sushi or it was put into the contract by the team is unknown. Regardless, Manny will have plenty of sushi rolls knock home during the season.
Ramirez officially joined the team on March 10th, and already rumors have been floated that the former Red Sox player could sign with a Nippon Professional Baseball team if he does well for Kochi. The NPB is the highest level of professional baseball in Japan, but there is no word on whether he would receive the same all-you-can-eat sushi deal with one of the league’s teams.
While much of the talk about Ramirez’s signing with Kochi has been about his new contract, the fact of the matter is the former big leaguer still has the passion to play. As a player-coach with Iowa, several Cubs’ minor league players credited Ramirez for his help with their hitting.
Ramirez has received a bad rap since completing his first full MLB season in 1994. That year saw him finish second in Rookie of the Year voting to Kansas City’s Bob Hamelin. Amazingly, Ramirez went on to baseball superstardom while Hamelin quit the game in 1999 before going into construction. He later became a professional baseball scout. Ramirez hopes to change his reputation by working with young players, and Kochi is an opportunity for him to do just that.
Ramirez’s glittering MLB career was tarnished in 2011 when he tested positive for a banned performance enhancing drug. Reinstated just over a year later after serving a 50-game suspension, Ramirez attempted his first comeback. However, things never truly worked out for him as he bounced from the Oakland Athletics to Taiwan’s EDA Rhinos before playing in both the Texas Rangers’ and Chicago Cubs’ farm systems.
Despite his MLB Hall of Fame credentials, Ramirez’s PED suspension will keep him out of Cooperstown for the time being. Although that could change in time.
For now, Ramirez is set to light up the Shikoku Island League in Japan with Kochi Fighting Dogs. The career .312 hitter should be a hit with the team as he eats up the league’s pitching one at-bat at a time.
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