Manny Ramirez has found religion and discovered accountability. He is a born-again baseball player. He has gone from impetuous to pious. He is a new Manny. To quote Red Sox play-by-play voice Joe Castiglione, can you believe it?
“To be honest, I’ve been in church now for almost four years, me and my wife. Now, I realize that I behaved bad in Boston,” said Ramirez in a gathering with the media before the 2004 World Series champion Red Sox were feted on the Fenway Park lawn. “The fans, they were great. I also played great when I was over here. I really realize that I behaved bad. I apologize for that, but I’m a new man. That’s what Jesus said, and that’s what I believe.”
The former Red Sox slugger, known as much for his unpredictable behavior as his righthanded batting prowess, was greeted with a hero’s welcome on Wednesday as the Red Sox celebrated the 10th anniversary of the curse-breaking, catharsis-bringing 2004 team, the timeless ball club that provided deliverance to Red Sox fans after 86 years of unrewarded, unrequited fealty.
Ramirez, the MVP of the 2004 World Series, was treated like John F. Kennedy in Berlin in 1963 by forgiving Sox fans. The Sox made sure he was the last player to be introduced who was on hand from the 2004 team, emerging from the door in the Green Monster. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch and had it cut off by a diving Johnny Damon. His trademark dreadlocks are gone, replaced by a mop-top Mohawk, his scalp speckled with silver stubble.
Ramirez spent 7½ tumultuous seasons in a Sox uniform. He won two World Series and had countless “Manny Moments” here, some comical, like taking a coffee break inside the Green Monster in 2005, others regrettable, like shoving esteemed Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the floor in 2008.
But Manny being Manny means something entirely different now if you are to believe Ramirez, who will turn 42 on Friday. Chastened by time, the diminishing of his skills, and his newfound faith, he has finally found a manager he likes — God. Should we believe him? Those who knew him well and were burned by his antics here, David Ortiz and former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, seem to.
Epstein, now the president of the Chicago Cubs, hired Ramirez to be a coach, mentor and part-time player for the Cubs’ Triple A affiliate.
“I tell you what, man, Manny, he did so many things back then. It was him being himself,” said Ortiz. “The Manny that you look at today is a whole totally different guy. We talk, try to stay in touch. He is different. Good for him and his family and for people to understand that people crash into a hard wall, and they start figuring things out a better way.”
Ramirez is the last player anyone thought would be a baseball coach, but he is looking forward to giving back with the Cubs.
“That’s a blessing from God,” said Ramirez. “I can go over there and give those kids my testimony, what to do in the field and what not to do off the field. It’s going to be a blast. We’re going to go out and have fun out there.”
Ramirez was the ultimate Fenway Faustian bargain. He was maddening, mercurial, unmanageable, and menacing with a bat in his hands, arguably the greatest righthanded hitter of his generation. He made 12 All-Star teams, finished with a .312 average (the same he had during his Red Sox career), and blasted 555 home runs, good for 14th in the annals of major league baseball.
Ramirez forced his way out of town in 2008, feigning a knee injury and quitting on the team. He was shipped to the Dodgers in a three-team deal.
The Sox had tried to rid themselves of Ramirez before. He was placed on irrevocable waivers in 2003. He was nearly traded in 2005, after he refused to sacrifice a previously scheduled day off when Trot Nixon got hurt in late July against Tampa Bay. Ramirez didn’t start the trade deadline game against the Minnesota Twins. He came on as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth and stroked the game-winning hit.
Many have forgiven Ramirez for his sins, but baseball writers may be less willing to grant career clemency. Ramirez has a complicated legacy and a complicated Hall of Fame candidacy. He was implicated as a performance-enhancing drug user three times. Don’t forget Ramirez was part of the 2003 steroid list that was never supposed to be released for public consumption. He drew suspensions from major league baseball in 2009 and 2011.
Manny has been a baseball vagabond since he retired in 2011, facing a 100-game PED suspension. He played in the minors for Oakland in 2012, in Taiwan in 2013, and had a brief stint in the minors with the Texas Rangers last season, too.
He had been out of baseball, until the Cubs’ offered him a role and another retirement reprieve.
It’s doubtful that the New Manny will ever play in the majors. The Cubs have made it clear that Ramirez is not a candidate for the their big league team. Ramirez said he was told he was only going to play two games a week in Triple A.
“I know my role over there,” he said.
Of course in typical Manny fashion that didn’t stop him from declaring he could still hit in the big leagues.
You really want to believe that Ramirez has turned over a new leaf and found religion. He said it happened when he was jailed in 2011 for allegedly slapping his wife, Juliana, in their South Florida home. The charges were later dropped.
Ramirez spent a lot of time repenting for past Sox sins, but he was most contrite about the incident with McCormick.
“Yes, yes, yes, I went and spoke to Jack,” he said. “I apologized to Jack. I said, ‘Jack, I want you to forgive me because it was my fault. I behaved bad here with everybody. I want you to forgive me.’ He said, ‘Manny, thank you. I was waiting for that.’ ”
McCormick confirmed to the Globe’s Nick Cafardo that he accepted Manny’s apology.
He was one of many at Fenway on this chilly night that were offering Ramirez absolution.Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.