The Cubs' moves just keep getting curiouser and curiouser. Upon reading the headline of Patrick Mooney's post, I first blinked a couple times to clear my vision. Then I checked the calendar: yep, still Memorial Day and not April 1st.
That's right, folks: the Cubs have signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal that will make him a player-coach for the AAA Iowa Cubs. Yes, that Manny Ramirez; the man who was popped for juicing, who seemed at times to be oblivious to the game going on around him, who once disappeared into the outfield scoreboard at Fenway.
But speaking about Man-Ram on Sunday morning, Cubs president Theo Epstein described him as both a “gifted teacher” and a “tireless worker who is very serious about the craft of hitting.” I can't speak for the first of those superlatives, but the latter is certainly true. I mean, dude swatted 555 HRs and hit .312 over a career that stretched 19 years.
When I first heard the news, I pictured Theo as some sort of gonzo marketing vigilante, stroking his chin with a maniacal laugh, saying, "How can I take the attention away from the mess the jackasses on the business side have made? I know: Manny!" My little thought bubble was quickly butst, however, when I read these words from Epstein:
“While Manny is not and will not be a fit on the Cubs’ major-league roster. We do think at this stage of his life he’s a nice fit as a mentor for some of the young talented hitters we have in the organization. Manny will coach full-time and play part-time in a limited role that does not take at-bats away from our prospects.
“If he shows there is still some magic in his bat, perhaps he will find his way to the major leagues and help another team. But that is not why he is here. We are thrilled that he wants to work with our young hitters and make a difference.”
Okay, whew, this does appear to be a move aimed at helping the young players and not simply at sending a much-needed jolt of excitement into the major league team. I mean, gimmicks with the decade celebrations and all the decorations at Wrigley are one thing, but bringing in a big name just for the sake of novelty would be so much worse.
Now, when it comes to the Cubs bringing in disgraced sluggers, Manny Ramirez isn't the first name that comes to mind. I wonder what Sammy Sosa's thinking right now; maybe he's been too busy getting facials and building his Pinterest following to notice, but I'm guessing he might be a little miffed. Oh well.
But for his part, Ramirez seems to be totally on board with his role as a teacher and isn't viewing this as some sort of opportunity to recapture his former glory. And I think it's his willingness to take on this, I don't know, challenge, that surprised me most of all.
“I’m at the stage of my life and career where I really want to give something back to the game that I love — the game that has meant so much to me and done so much for me and my family. I know I am nearing the end of my playing days, but I have a lot of knowledge to pass on to the next generation — both what to do and what not to do.
“The Cubs have some very talented young hitters, and I would love nothing more than to make a positive impact on their careers. I am passionate about baseball and about hitting, and I have a lot to offer. While I would love to return to the major leagues, I leave that in God’s hands. My focus will be on working with the young hitters, making sure they don't make the same mistakes I made, and helping the team any way I can.”
Much has been made of the Cubs' lack of veteran leadership and the fact that the team is becoming ever more reliant upon youngsters to lead it. Perhaps this is a way to bridge that gap without impacting the development of those players in the minors and without making Wrigley any more of a circus than it already is.
And now players like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant won't be the biggest names in the minors for the Cubs, though they're still clearly the most sought-after ones. Maybe this move can take some of the pressure off of those players as they develop, although Bryant certainly doesn't seem to be suffering any ill effects from the high expectations.
Sure, it's an experiment. But with little to no risk, it's one that really can only help. Okay, it might do nothing. So why not, right? I mean, what's the worst that could happen? On second thought, don't answer that.
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