With a camera in his face, he stood yesterday at the base of the Green Monster until his lips turned blue from the cold. The Hub’s new coverboy. The next great Red Sox hope. A slugger in the tradition of Ted and Yaz and the rest of Boston’s best.
He shivered as the shutter clicked. But still, Manny Ramirez smiled.
And a city smiled with him.
The Red Sox served chowder and oyster crackers when they introduced their new $160 million man with a flourish in the plush 600 Club at Fenway Park. The State House dome gleamed in gold on the horizon. The natural color had returned to Ramirez’s lips.
And there were glimmers of great expectations among the men and women on Yawkey Way who are paid to eradicate the club’s 82-year World Series famine.
With Ramirez in the fold, the Red Sox celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2001, and the team that Tom and Jean Yawkey built for sale, general manager Dan Duquette said, “We’d like nothing better than to win a World Series championship and make that the crowning achievement.”
Neither would Ramirez, the fearsome hitter who described himself during the celebratory news conference as “a humble, simple guy” with a singular goal: to vanquish the New York Yankees, who play not far from the streets of his youth in Manhattan’s Washington Heights.
With cameras whirring and flashes flaring, Ramirez uttered, “Bueno,” and threw two thumbs up as he modeled his new Sox uniform (No. 24).
“Over here, we have the best pitcher in both leagues [Pedro Martinez] and the best hitter [Nomar Garciaparra],” he said. “I think if we get another guy [a starting pitcher], we have a good chance to win it all.”
Ramirez, 28, a native of the Dominican Republic who moved to New York when he was 13, said all the right things and made all the right moves in his Boston debut.
“I’m just tired of seeing New York always win,” said Ramirez, though his boyhood idol was Yankee great Don Mattingly.
Fresh from a night at the Four Seasons, he shifted from one television camera to another, one radio headset to the next, one group of reporters to another, alternately answering questions in English and Spanish while agent Jeff Moorad and Duquette separately fielded queries about the talks that produced the richest contract in the history of Boston sports.
Who is Ramirez’s current idol?
Garciaparra. “He’s unbelievable,” Ramirez said. “Every time we played Boston, I was so scared to play the outfield when he was coming to bat because I knew he was going to hit something hard anywhere.”
What does he know about Red Sox history? “Ted Williams, probably the best hitter in baseball history. I’m happy to be here and be part of that.”
Is he prepared for the sometimes-savage media? “Pedro told me about you guys. He said, ‘Hey, just go out there, man, and do your thing and you’re going to be fine.’ I’m not worried about it because I don’t watch TV or see the papers.”
When did he decide to end his bond with the Cleveland Indians to spend, perhaps, the rest of his career in Boston? “I was talking to my mom. I told her I was kind of afraid to make a change and she was telling me, ‘No, go ahead, you’re an awesome player, and they have Pedro and other Spanish players over there. You’ll be fine.’ ”
What is he going to do with all his money? He hasn’t thought about it beyond pledging to donate $1 million to Boston-area charities that benefit Latino youth. Ramirez, who becomes the 10th Latin American player on the roster, presented himself to several dozen New England journalists just moments after signing his eight-year pact in Duquette’s office on Yawkey Way. The Sox have options for 2009 and 2010 for $20 million each, which, if exercised, would bring the total value of his contract to $200 million.
Before Ramirez signed, though, he needed to tour the Sox clubhouse, which, not surprisingly, became one of the sticking points in Duquette’s attempt to lure the slugger to Boston. The visiting team’s clubhouse at Fenway is one of the worst in baseball and any player would naturally believe the home team’s was just as poor.
Duquette said he needed to assure Ramirez that the Sox clubhouse “has better amenities: bigger lockers, nicer carpet, bigger training area.”
In his last-minute visit to the Sox clubhouse, Ramirez discussed his uniform measurements with equipment manager Joe Cochran. Afterward, he declared the room suitable. “I thought it was going to be uncomfortable,” he said. “But I liked it. It’s bigger than the visiting team’s.”
In the end, Ramirez’s signing was a major victory for Duquette. Moorad said Duquette overcame Cleveland’s “relentless” attack not only by outbidding the Indians by about $22 million but by matching his rival’s intensity. “He was a real warrior,” Moorad said.
A relieved Duquette said he envisions Ramirez and Garciaparra forming “arguably the strongest 3-4 [lineup] combination in Red Sox history.”
The Ramirez acquisition “will make Nomar and Carl Everett better hitters,” Duquette said. “It will make Jimy Williams a better manager. It will make Pedro a better pitcher. It just does so many things.”
Ramirez said he was not concerned that he has hit worse at Fenway than almost any other ballpark. Though he has hit .321 over the last five years overall, he has batted just .278 at Fenway. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I think I can make a change.”
A righthanded hitter who hits with power to all fields, Ramirez said he will not change his swing to try to aim at the Green Monster. Nor will he make an adjustment because of Fenway’s deep right-center field, which is his natural power alley. “I’ll continue to try to use the whole field,” he said.
When all the questions were exhausted and the photographers were satisfied, Ramirez returned to the Sox’ front offices, where the team’s receptionist of 60 years, Helen Robinson, declared him “a very nice young man.”
Before he left, Ramirez made a final, private gesture to the Hub: He downed a cup of chowder. Then he headed home - smiling.