The Red Sox have had many polarizing figures throughout their storied history, but none quite like Manny Ramirez. Ramirez spent nearly eight years in Boston, years that were mired in controversy, goofy antics and, of course, countless big hits. It was a rare year when he didn’t show up late to spring training, demand a trade, shut out the media or make up injuries. It was even rarer when he didn’t make people laugh (remember this?). He gave the Red Sox a little bit of everything on and off the field.
Ramirez was one of the best hitters in recent team history, and was an instrumental part of two World Series championships. He was an All-Star each season in Boston (although he enjoyed skipping the event) and made hitting look easy. He and David Ortiz were arguably the best one-two punch in baseball in their five-plus seasons together.
This week marks the 15th anniversary of the Red Sox signing Ramirez to an eight-year, $160 million contract, beginning an era that was far from boring. In light of that, we counted down the 15 most memorable moments of Ramirez’s Red Sox career. There are the home runs, the head-scratchers and everything else that embodied Manny being Manny.
- Dec. 13, 2000 – Introduced as member of the Red Sox
Red Sox fans got their first taste of Ramirez’s colorful personality at his introductory news conference, when he cracked a wide smile and gave two thumbs up as he tried on his new uniform. He certainly had reason to smile. His contract was then the largest in club history and made him the second-highest paid player in baseball. But it was more than just dollar signs that drew Ramirez to the Red Sox. “I’m tired of seeing New York always win,” he told reporters.
- April 13, 2001 – Hits walk-off single off Mariano Rivera in first Red Sox-Yankees game
Ramirez’s first Red Sox-Yankees game was a memorable one. It was a pitcher’s duel for most of the night, as a matchup between the great Paxton Crawford and Orlando Hernandez left the teams tied 1-1 heading into extra innings. New York took a 2-1 lead in the top of the 10th on an RBI single by Scott Brosius, but Ramirez, who drove in Boston’s first run with a double in the fifth, hit a two-on, two-out, two-strike single off Mariano Rivera to give the Red Sox a 3-2 win.
That was only the beginning of Ramirez’s success in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, as he hit .340 with 33 home runs in his seven and a half seasons part of it and .305 in 14 postseason games.
- May 15, 2005 – Launches career home run No. 400
Ramirez became the fifth player in Red Sox history to reach the 400-home run mark when he drove a 1-1 fastball off Mariners starter Gil Meche into the right-center field seats. His three-run blast made him the 13th player to reach the mark before his 33rd birthday and the fifth fastest in number of at-bats. Ramirez finished the 2005 season with a career-high 45 home runs for the second time and would end up with 555 blasts for his career.
- December, 2003 – Nearly traded to Texas for Alex Rodriguez
One of the most bizarre, emotional roller coasters in recent Red Sox history took place during the 2003-04 offseason, and Ramirez was at the center of it. The Sox nearly traded Ramirez to Texas in a blockbuster deal for Alex Rodriguez. The deal was agreed upon and Sox fans were jubilant. Rodriguez even agreed to restructure his contract. But the trade fell through when the Players Association rejected the restructuring. Ramirez stayed in Boston and Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees later that offseason.
This madness is best captured in ESPN’s 30 for 30 short film, “The Deal.”
- May 14, 2008 – High-fives fan in outfield after catching fly ball
It’s not often Ramirez made highlight reels for his outfield play. This one may be his best. It’s certainly his most entertaining. The Red Sox led 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth with two on and one out against the Orioles at Camden Yards when old teammate Kevin Millar lifted a fly ball to left. Ramirez made an over-the-shoulder running catch, then, in classic Manny form, leaped, stuck his foot into the wall and high-fived a fan in a Red Sox shirt before firing to cut-off man Dustin Pedroia, who threw out Aubrey Huff at first to complete the double play.
- May 11, 2004 – Runs onto field carrying American flag after becoming U.S. citizen
Ramirez again showed his playful side in his first game at Fenway Park after becoming a United States citizen. The Dominican Republic native ran onto the field carrying a small American flag prior to a game against the Indians and was met with cheers from the home crowd.
- 2002 season – Wins batting title
Ramirez had a career year in 2002, slashing .349/.450/.647 to earn the American League batting title. He topped Kansas City’s Mike Sweeney, who finished with a .340 mark, after going 0 for 1 in his lone plate appearance in the season finale. Ramirez’s 5.7 WARP was among the best in his major-league career and his .361 true average was his highest in any season in which he had at least 500 plate appearances.
- July 21, 2004 – Makes bizarre diving cutoff of Johnny Damon relay throw
There’s a reason why Ramirez’s outfield highlights are limited. Nothing exemplifies Ramirez the left fielder more than a play that is just plain odd. Baltimore’s David Newhan hit a fly ball to the center field wall that Johnny Damon couldn’t corral. Damon fired from center and Ramirez dove right to cut it off before throwing to the next cutoff man. That allowed Newhan to score an inside-the-park home run in an eventual 10-5 Orioles win.
- April 6, 2001 – Homers on first pitch he sees in first home opener with Red Sox
Ramirez’s Red Sox career at Fenway Park got off to the best possible start, as he crushed a three-run home run off Tampa Bay righty Ryan Rupe on the first pitch he saw in his first home opener in Boston. The shot gave the Red Sox their first runs in what would be an 11-4 win over the Devil Rays.
- Aug. 14, 2003 – Hits tying homer off Keith Foulke in ninth to help give Sox Wild Card lead
Some may disagree with this being so high on the list, probably because many have forgotten how big this game was. The Red Sox were on the verge of losing three of four to Oakland and falling behind the A’s in the AL Wild Card race when Ramirez led off the ninth against closer Keith Foulke, who was trying to hold a 2-1 lead. The slugger belted a 3-2 pitch off Foulke to tie the game at 2-2 and the Sox won it in the 10th, giving them a Wild Card lead they would not relinquish.
- May 31, 2008 – Joins 500 home run club
Ramirez reached his last major career milestone with the Red Sox when he hit a solo home run off Chad Bradford to right-center field at Camden Yards, becoming the 24th player in major league history to join the 500-home run club. In classic form, Ramirez admired his seventh-inning shot from the batter’s box before trotting around the bases and embracing his teammates. “As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone. I was happy to move on,” Ramirez said afterward.
- July 31, 2005 – Drives pinch-hit game-winning single 45 minutes after trade deadline
The Red Sox were less than a year removed from a World Series title, but that wasn’t enough to keep Ramirez happy in Boston. That wasn’t anymore evident than in July, when reports surfaced that the slugger asked to be traded. Ramirez was booed as the Red Sox began a three-game series against the Twins on July 29. He sat the next game. Meanwhile, the front office was actively shopping him, at one point nearing a trade with the Mets. But the Sox couldn’t complete a deal and Ramirez remained in Boston.
Ramirez was left out of the lineup the day of the July 31 trade deadline, the series finale against Minnesota, but manager Terry Francona called upon him to pinch hit with the game tied in the bottom of the eighth inning — 45 minutes after the deadline. It was only fitting that Ramirez delivered with a game-winning single up the middle, announcing his return in a big way.
- Oct. 6, 2003 – Breaks tie with three-run homer in Game 5 of ALDS
Ramirez’s first postseason in Boston was off to a quiet start, as he had just three hits through the first four games of the ALDS against Oakland. It was enough to overcome an 0-2 series hole to force a decisive Game 5, but the Sox would need more from their cleanup hitter to advance to the ALCS. They got just that with two on and one out in the fifth, and the game tied at 1-1. Ramirez lined a 2-2 pitch off Barry Zito into the left field seats for a three-run homer that gave the Red Sox a 4-1 lead in an eventual 4-3 win.
- Oct. 5, 2007 – Hits walk-off home run in Game 2 of ALDS
This one was as big as it gets. Game 2 of the ALDS between the Red Sox and Angels was tied at 3-3 entering the bottom of the ninth, and Anaheim closer Francisco Rodriguez intentionally walked David Ortiz to face Ramirez with two on and two outs. Ramirez made K-Rod pay with the second pitch he saw, crushing a walk-off blast over the left-field wall to give the Red Sox a 6-3 win and 2-0 series lead in an eventual three-game sweep. The iconic image from that series is Ramirez standing at home plate with both arms raised as he admired his majestic shot to end the game.
- October 2004 – Named World Series MVP, leading Sox to first title in 86 years
Ramirez told reporters when he signed with the Red Sox in December 2000 that he wanted to bring Boston a World Series title. He helped deliver in 2004 as he slashed .412/.500/.588 over four games to sweep the Cardinals in the Fall Classic, leading the Red Sox to their first championship since 1918 and earning Series MVP honors. Ramirez’s brightest moment came in Game 3. He homered off Jeff Suppan with two outs in the top of the first inning, then with the bases loaded and one out caught a shallow fly ball from Jim Edmonds and gunned down Larry Walker at home for the inning-ending double play. The Sox won the game 4-1.
Ramirez brought a pretty cool sign with him to the parade in Boston, too.
Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports Images