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March 12, 2013

Out of Left Field

The Letting Go

by Matthew Kory

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This past week brought news that the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history has decided to retire following the season. Mariano Rivera broke into the major leagues with the Yankees in 1995. That season he appeared in 19 games for New York, starting 10, with an ERA of 5.51. That was the last season in his 18-year career that he started games and, other than 2007, the last in which he posted an ERA over the 3.00. He may not be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but if not it’ll be due to ridiculousness on the part of the voters.

While Rivera prepares for his graceful swan song, a coda to a certain Hall of Fame career, another all-time great is preparing for a very different postscript. This past weekend CBS’s Jon Heyman reported that Manny Ramirez signed a contract to play with the Rhinos. That would be the EDA Rhinos of Taiwan. The Rhinos play in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, which, I have been informed through a very special source COUGHwikipediaCOUGH, contains four teams. Including the Rhinos.

Here is the team’s logo:

Did you know Rhinos are baby blue and enjoy wearing purple clothing? Incidentally, that logo should be the basis of a system for rating team uniforms. How good is the Orioles spring training uniform? 

 

I give it four blue rhinos!

I might also note at this point that the Rhinos' competition consists of the Elephants, Lions, and Monkeys. I note that because I desperately want to show you the Monkey’s logo.

Live a wild life!

The Rhinos play at Chengching Lake Baseball Field in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. It looks like this:

I’m sure it’s nicer on the inside, and maybe it’s the grey weather and drab cement exterior in the photo, but it looks like a cross between a bomb shelter and a post-apocalyptic Mall of America. Regardless, this season it will improbably be the home of Manny Ramirez’s baseball career.

I bring all this up because, well, it’s kind of funny. But also, because if you’re Ramirez, a two-time World Series winner and earner of over $250 million in your career, putting yourself through this means you’re crazy, or you really want to play baseball. I’m betting on the second, and not entirely discounting the first.

Rivera is a Yankee icon, having played his entire career with the Yankees. As such he is impossible to picture on a baseball diamond without an interlocking NY hat. Ramirez isn’t that way. He has bounced around, and especially so after getting traded to the Dodgers following seven seasons each in Cleveland and Boston. After a year and a half in Los Angeles, the Dodgers shipped him to the Chicago White Sox. Did you remember that Manny Ramirez played for the White Sox? Me neither. The following season he signed with Tampa Bay. We remembered that, right? Sure. Totally. Ramirez played in five games for the Rays before being suspended for violating baseball’s drug policy, upon hearing of which he abruptly retired, leaving Johnny Damon to decompose on the field all by himself. How ungentlemanly! Last season Ramirez signed a minor-league deal with the A’s but was released upon his own request in June when it became clear Oakland had no plans to bring him up. His .697 OPS in Triple-A may or may not have played a role in Oakland’s decision.

Ramirez played more games for the Red Sox than for any other team, but because of acrimonious departures from Boston, Cleveland, and, to an extent, Los Angeles, Ramirez doesn’t really have a team he’s identified with. That, a history of petulant behavior and numerous PED suspensions mean Ramirez won’t be celebrated like Rivera. And yet, if you can put the PED stuff to the side for a moment, as great as Rivera has been, he’s contributed far less to winning baseball games than has Ramirez has. We’ll use WARP, which I suppose you could argue underestimates the role of the closer, but you won’t read that argument in this space. Anyway, Rivera has 31.2 WARP in his career. PECOTA sees another 1.2 this season. Ramirez had 32.1, roughly the same amount as Rivera, but that’s just counting his time with Cleveland. In his career he has totaled 75.0. At least by WARP, Ramirez has been more than twice as valuable as Rivera over the course of his career.

But at least to this point, people aren’t using WARP as an indicator for who to celebrate and who to ignore. Rivera is voluntarily giving up the game he loves and will go through what may wind up resembling an eight-month going-away party. Ramirez is clinging to the game for dear life, unwilling to let go even if it means playing in a foreign league across the ocean for what can’t possibly be much money*, and other than a few mentions in blogs, he will spend the season hidden from the view of North American professional baseball.

*Heyman did not report Ramirez’s salary, but he did write, “Professional players in Taiwan generally make very little money.” It may, at this point, be safe to assume that Ramirez is not doing this because he has rent to pay.

When it’s over, the 2013 baseball season may be known as Mariano Rivera’s farewell tour, complete with gifts and enough standing ovations to give you knee trouble. Some Yankee fans might even get misty when thinking about how much Rivera has meant to them. Meanwhile across the ocean, a greater player will spend the 2013 season out of the public eye dressed like a fashion-challenged rhino with a silver-consumption problem, playing in a stadium with all the charm and subtlety of Donald Trump.

You might think Ramirez sad, especially in comparison with the valiant Rivera, but in a way there is something gallant about both players. Rivera, who fought back from a serious injury for one more season with the only team he’s ever known, will top off his reputation as one of the greatest relief pitchers ever. Ramirez, who is refusing to let go of the only profession he has ever known, will play until his body has nothing left to give. There is greatness in each, even if only one is garnering a celebration.

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

Related Content:  Mariano Rivera,  Manny Ramirez

12 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Dig a Pony

Even in my Taiwanese League draft Many didn't go until the 14th round as most suspect he's over there just to get away from his wife, the formidable Mrs. Manny, for a month or so.

Mar 12, 2013 06:37 AM
rating: 7
 
fawcettb

All very bitchy, but sort of fun anyway...

Mar 12, 2013 06:43 AM
rating: 1
 
Shaun P.
(676)

"Some Yankee fans might even get misty when thinking about how much Rivera has meant to them."

Some Yankees fans might just be in outright denial, thank you very much. If I don't see it (it being any video of Mariano saying he's retiring), it isn't happening.

Mar 12, 2013 07:51 AM
rating: 0
 
dodgerdan

Wow! You have introduced new meaning to the term "...putting it into perspective".

Mar 12, 2013 08:17 AM
rating: 1
 
Nathan Aderhold

So is a four Rhino rating a good thing or a bad thing?

Mar 12, 2013 08:29 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I was thinking it's a five blue rhinos scale, so four out of five blue rhinos = pretty good.

Mar 12, 2013 11:30 AM
 
jimcal

It's worth noting that Brothers Elephants 's logo is somewhat close to A's mascot...of which I root for years grew up in Taiwan.

Mar 12, 2013 11:34 AM
rating: 0
 
GrinnellSteve

I think there is something noble about playing the game just because you love it and don't want to stop. Perhaps Manny thinks he can earn one more shot at Major League redemption, but perhaps he just loves to play. Rickey Henderson might be another example of this. He was playing in independent leagues. You know it wasn't the money that was motivating him.

Mar 12, 2013 12:20 PM
rating: 4
 
JPinPhilly

Two years ago I went to see a Camden Riversharks game with a group of friends on my birthday. Pedro Feliz was playing. Campbell's Field is a nice park but it is in Camden so there's not a lot of glamor involved and I'm sure he wasn't making much money. But there was a moment, maybe in the 8th or even the 9th inning, where Pete Happy came to the dish with the game on the line. It wasn't Game 5 of the 2008 World Series in South Philly but it was close enough that the memories came back even if only for a second.

I'm pretty sure I saw Rickey in a game at Campbell's Field a few years prior to that one. It's cool to see these guys in some game in the independent leagues. I'm sure it's pretty sweet for their teammates on those rosters too.

Mar 14, 2013 20:53 PM
rating: 0
 
NYYanks826

I heard on the radio this morning that Manny will be making $25,000 per month. Not sure what the source was, or how official that is, but over an eight-month season, that amounts to less than half the major-league minimum.

Mar 12, 2013 13:03 PM
rating: 0
 
WaldoInSC
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

To describe Ramirez as a "greater player" is to genuflect at the shrine of WARP without recognizing that it has never come to grips with reliever value.

Even if Mariano Rivera contributed less to his teams than Manny Ramirez, the fault is in his usage, not in his dominance. He is the greatest relief pitcher of all time; Ramirez is hardly the greatest outfielder of all time, the greatest rightfielder of all time, or even the greatest knucklehead rightfielder of all time.

Mar 12, 2013 14:28 PM
rating: -4
 
bobcbucks

isn't that something ihave a team in a keeper league for a few years now my name the rhino nine unreal eh

Mar 13, 2013 08:36 AM
rating: -1
 
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