I'm looking at Manny Ramirez's final baseball card. I opened it in a pack recently and, despite his recent "slide" as a player, I immediately moved it to the front of the stack. The best cards go on top, after all. The photo on the card shows Manny, in a White Sox uniform, running hard between second and third, baggy-clothes flopping from the movement, arms pumping, and dreadlocks bouncing in the air. His lips are pursed, a look of determination on his face as his eyes lock on third base.

Manny Ramirez, 2011 topps

Behind Manny on the card is a prominent piece of ad space, found on the rightfield wall of Comerica Park (Tigers' second baseman Will Rhymes is also visible). The wall-ad is for Dynamic Rehabilitation. The tagline for the ad reads "For Back & Neck Pain." Visible on the card itself are the words "For Neck P…". It's almost as if the Topps Company is trying to send us a message.

Flipping the card over, we see the true beauty of Manny's career: those numbers! Defense was never Manny's strong suit, but his offense was nearly unparalleled. Very few people have ever been able to swing a bat as well as Manny Ramirez, and it shows in the numbers. There are no UZR or FRAA tallies here, only the age-old runs, hits, RBIs, walks, slugging, average, home runs and more, categories Manny has excelled in almost since Day 1.

The 40-home run seasons, the 100-/120-/150-RBI campaigns, the 90-walk years, the .350-seasons… You can't look down the years without running across a stat that most ballplayers would kill to have as their career best, yet they end up being Manny's average-to-below-average seasons. Most remarkable, though, are the numbers found in the OPS column (yes, Topps actually includes OPS on their cards). From 1999 to 2006, Manny had an OPS above 1.000 in all but one of the years, with two years topping 1.100 (and a third coming just short at 1.097). His only contemporaries with more 1.000-OPS seasons are Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols.

At the bottom of all these numbers is, of course, Manny's career line: 2,297 career games; 1,544 career runs scored; 555 career home runs; 1,830 career RBIs; 1,329 career walks; 1,809 career strikeouts; a .586 career slugging percentage; and an incredible .998 career OPS. These are the numbers of a Hall of Famer.

When Manny signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays on January 31, it was hailed as a wise, low-risk-high-reward deal for Tampa Bay. If things went right for Manny and the Rays, those career numbers would increase in purely positive ways and Tampa Bay would be competing for the playoffs.

Things did not go right and Manny Ramirez is now retired, only six games into the 2011 season, after a failed drug test that threatened to take him away from baseball for a long period of time. In his five appearances in Tampa Bay's lineup in 2011, Manny managed only one single and one RBI. He did not walk or get hit by a pitch or put down a sacrifice. He did manage to strikeout four separate times. Sadly, despite a nineteenth season in major league baseball, the career line on Manny's 2011 Topps card is, for all intents and purposes, all anyone will ever need.

The photo on the front of the card was taken almost certainly on September 6, 2010. In Manny's short time as a member of the Chicago White Sox, the team visited Detroit only once, for a four-game set in early September. Manny appeared in all four games that series, but in only one – the September 6 Labor Day tilt – did he manage to even reach second base. That Monday afternoon, Manny went three-for-five with three singles and two strikeouts. He scored in the second inning on a single from A.J. Pierzynski (the photo would have been snapped during the prior at-bat, when Andruw Jones singled to center and Manny moved from second to third).

It was Manny's last good day as a hitter. He did manage one final home run before the season was over and a couple of two-hit games, but none were as productive as Labor Day. It's fitting, then, that the single most permanent memento of Manny's final season is a photo of him performing at his best for one final time.

I was a fan of Manny. He never really played for a team I follow closely (though I do have some Dodgers' ties from growing up) but his personality and talent always made the sport a better place. There are very few players whose presence in the lineup compels you to attend the game just to make sure you didn't miss anything. Manny has always been one of them. Now that he is gone, baseball is that much worse…

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It was hard not to like Manny. He was a character. Unfortunately the drug issue will probably keep him out of the hall of fame (for a considerable period at least). He does deserve Baseball Reliquary consideration however...
I enjoyed this article, up until the last sentence. I like Manny too, but really, is baseball worse? I don't get it?
Baseball is a richer sport when it has colorful and fun superstars leading the way on the field and in the clubhouse. With Manny gone, we lose a great character and a great hitter (even if he was declining). To me, that makes the sport poorer at least (maybe that's the word I should have used).
I agree with you wholeheartedly, Larry.
The last time I saw Ramirez play was 26-August-2008 in Washington, DC...In the middle of a pennant race, LA was down 2-1 to the lowly Nats after 5 innings. In the top of the 6th, LA loaded the bases with one out. Ramirez stood on third base (Larry Bowa was coaching third). He was promptly doubled off third when Nomar Garciaparra lined out to Ryan Zimmerman (LA lost 2-1)...Larry Bowa's body language told you everything you needed to know about Ramirez... This is how I will choose to remember this "man"...He is an ass...There is no other way to describe him...He disgraced the game time and time again...Like all of you here, there are hundreds and hundreds of baseball players I remember fondly --- Frank Robinson, Richie Hebner, Al Oliver, Ken Griffey, Don Buford, Keith Foulke, Roy White, Paul Blair, Bill Lee, Curt Flood, Fred Patek, Doug DeCinces, Gene Tenace, on and on and on...Ramirez is not one of them...This guy is a horse's ass.
Yes, individual personal experiences color's our impression of a human. For me, Ramirez entertained me with his batting skills even when, and usually when, he was on the opposing team. Of course it is also dangerous to spend time discovering more about the quality of the humans we fondly remember - one often is disappointed with the results.
"…his personality and talent always made the sport a better place." I just cannot let this comment pass by. If you watched Manny his last month with the Red Sox, you simply cannot believe that. His team mates could not trust that he would play the game, even if he was on the field. He took a three-strike pinch hit ninth inning appearance with the bat on his shoulder. He begged out of games confusing which knee had tendinitis. They could not trust nor believe him. The best right handed hitter I ever saw, but an unprofessional and untrustworthy team mate. He blew an extraordinary talent and career.
That may be true. Manny wasn't always a positive player, and there are plenty of stories proving such. There are a few things I'd say to that (none of which are meant to entirely excuse Manny's actions, just explain why I don't focus on that): 1) there are many, many superstars who have had bad stints with/divorces from their teams. 2) We don't know the full story with the example you cited and, even if there is no more to the story to know, 3) I refuse to believe that a bad divorce from the Red Sox wipes away the years and years of positive influence he had on Cleveland and Boston. Nothing you can say will make me believe that and I guarantee you that, once Red Sox fans allow themselves a little perspective, his years on the team will be looked at fondly. He was a big part of that 2004 team, and not just for his bat. Maybe I shouldn't have used the word "always", but the sentiment isn't wrong.
I appreciate your thoughtful reply. I have many clear memories of times Manny lifted the Red Sox out of some hole, including the 2004 Yankee ALCS, when he said something to the effect that 'its not the end of the world' to have lost yet another game… meaning each game stands on its own, we just have to win the next one. Fans were apoplectic; the players, I read, agreed with him. Many players in the past expressed admiration for him as a team mate and hard worker, including Pedro Martinez repeatedly when with the Red Sox. Keeping that context in mind, it is not the forced divorce that irritates, it is that he forced the issue by making himself untrustworthy to his own team mates, and his manager. They were appalled at the time. I still am. And you may be right… I would have thought the same way, but might not even have written if the word 'always' had not been used.
Just add to his baseball card -- "Proven cheater & Numbers may be impacted by steriods usage". Manny is out of the game because of his poor decisions. It is okay for you to sentimental over Manny -- Just stop trying to tell me I should too.
I would love for you to identify the place(s) in this article where Larry tried to tell you that you should do anything.