Cleveland Indians

Manny and Thome – Ohio Players

A quick glance at baseball’s league leaders in home runs reads like this: National League – Jim Thome, American League – Manny Ramirez.  They are two of the biggest stars in the game, both establishing their Hall of Fame credentials with every titanic blast, but have both remained somewhat mysterious to the public.  Blame part of that on Major League Baseball’s reluctance to promote superstars, but also look at the two men as two personalities that you wouldn’t expect to find in professional sports.Jim Thome comes across as an ultra nice guy and a bit of a simpleton, who just wants to do his job and make people happy.  The violence of his swing and the way he stares down pitchers before every delivery, helmet low, socks high and bat threateningly pointed out to centerfield, does not carry over to the rest of his personality.  Thome is extremely likeable to the point of being boring to many fans.  His game is based on working deep into at bats, looking for the one perfect pitch to pulverize.  Because of that approach, you will see Jim Thome strike out a lot and draw a whole bunch of walks.  As the centerpiece of the offense in the city of Philadelphia, that loves to put its sports heroes on a pedestal, he might finally receive his overdue national attention this year.  But he’s just so nice and kind, not really what you would expect from Philly.  

Manny Ramirez is basically a ditz.  It drives the media crazy that this baseball legend is so disconnected from what they perceive to be the important reality of wins and losses, stats and standings.  The best explanation given for Ramirez is that “Manny is just being Manny”.  He’s special, both on and off the field, and it might be no deeper than that.  Inside of a batter’s box, Ramirez is an absolute genius with perfect balance, power to all fields, a great eye, and so on and so forth.  Broadcasters sometimes say that he is the most relaxed hitter they have ever seen.  But Manny is in his own world and that’s not where people generally want their franchise-type $20 million-a-year stars to be.  Though he carries a ton of responsibility as the one that the Boston lineup is built around, he shows no signs of self-importance like a Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez.  It’s difficult for the hardcore, rabid sports fans of Boston who treat every game like the impending apocalypse, to embrace such a cool customer.  Inside the batter’s box, nothing bothers Ramirez, as he puts up dominating numbers and collects forgotten clutch hits like his three run home run off of Barry Zito in the game that sent his team to New York for the ALCS.  After failing to bring A-Rod to the Red Sox, the team decided they would be better off without Manny, partially because of his enormous salary and partially because of his awkward behavior.  They went so far as to put him on waivers, giving every team a chance to claim him as their own, but no one jumped.  How did this affect Manny’s play?  Well, right now he’s hitting .343 and has 20 homers and 59 RBIs through 71 games.  Remember, he’s a ditz.  Nothing bothers him.

It wasn’t so long ago that these two sluggers were in the same lineup on a daily basis, carrying a team with a suspect pitching staff to the playoffs year after year.  The Cleveland Indians of the mid-nineties were a monster, and it all started in 1995 with a 23 year old Ramirez and 24 year old Thome.  Think about what a devastating combo those two would be today.  As much attention as this year’s Yankees of A-Rod, Sheffield, and Giambi receive, they can’t touch the heart of the old Indians lineup of Manny, Thome, and Albert Belle at his most devastating with a 36 ounce Louisville Slugger.  Belle was the most explosive hitter in the game at the time, and Ramirez and Thome were young up-and -comers.  As they grew, and once Albert moved on to other teams, the Jim and Manny combo might have been the best in baseball.  Overlooked somehow?  Oh yeah!

1995 was the first year that both had impact seasons, and here are the numbers for the six years they played together.  For Thome, the numbers are 25 home runs and 73 RBI with a .314 average, 38 116 .311, 40 102 .286, 30 85 .293 (he missed about 40 games that year), 33 108 .277, and 37 106 .269.  For Manny the numbers are even better, except for an off year in 1997 when he still hit for a high average. They read 31 107 .308, 33 112 .309, 26 88 .328, 45 145 .294, 44 165 .333, and 38 122 .351.  That is a one-two punch as intimidating as Mays and McCovey, and even Ruth and Gehrig or Maris and Mantle if you pardon the blasphemy.  They were a lefty and a righty that not only have power strokes, but also come up with big hits in clutch situations.  One is a slugger that tries to launch every ball over the moon, and the other is a complete, balanced hitter.  Much like Willie Mays, Ramirez’s success as a major leaguer is no surprise to anyone.  He was a hitting prodigy from Washington Heights in New York City whose .300 average was only a matter of time.  Thome was expected to be no more than a role player, as a lefty power threat in an Indians lineup built around the dominance of Belle, the speed of young Kenny Lofton, and the expected emergence of Manny.  But now, they both sit on top of their respective leagues with more home runs than anyone else while both hitting over .300.

They developed their careers in the same place, in the middle of the heartland of America, and now have each set out on their own in two of the most consuming and storied east coast baseball cities with probably the most pessimistic fans in all of sports.  Still, in the face of overwhelming negativity from their fans, both are putting together dominant seasons.  What did the home run leaders of each league say to each other over the weekend when they shared the same field?  Did they reminisce about their trip to the World Series in 1997 or reflect on the magical season of the ’95 Indians?  It has been so hard to get to know these two superstars, that as far as we know, they might have not even said one word to each other.  Or they could be great friends that laugh together all day.  Who really knows?  What should mirror the Hollywood-esque story of two young farm boy types from Ohio, growing up together and then moving on to big cities to become even bigger stars, is instead nothing more than a baseball story, which is a shame.  They were two of the great young hitters of their generation, but because of their personalities have never been embraced as transcendent performers.

We might never learn any more than we already know about Ramirez or Thome.  Maybe there’s nothing else to find out.  Other players receive much more exposure, such as the likely National League starting outfield of Bonds, Griffey, and Sosa in the All-Star game, which is being celebrated as the maybe the best ever assembled.   It didn’t take an All-Star Game, or even a series of Steinbrenner blockbusters to get Thome and Ramirez in the same lineup, and now that they are broken up as the big boppers on their own squads.  We should recognize what they were and could have been; two superstars that flew under the celebrity radar but would have been a one-two punch for the ages.

4 replies on “Manny and Thome – Ohio Players”

Great story… I was watching the SOX/PHILS game on Saturday and thought to myself:

“Damn. The INDIANS had both of these dudes.”

Such is life…

Manny  Don’t you think it’s a little presumptious to call Manny a ditz? I agree with you 100% on it being hard for Boston fans to deal with his coolness. I am a Boston fan, and sometimes I feel like he doesn’t care and that’s frustrating, but I think he’s just able to control his emotions. I don’t think his approach to the game insinuates lack of intellegence, rather I think Manny realizes bottom line it’s just a game, and that lack of stress allows for his phenomenal performance.

ditzy That’s what I have read about Manny over the years.  It has nothing to do with him as a baseball player, except for the times he does things like throw a ball into the stands with 2 outs.  But he has done some hilarious things off the field, like leaving $30,000 in the glove compartment of his car and forgotten about it, gone though that whole funny episode where he skipped a game cause he was sick and showed up in a bar with Enrique Wilson, and other things that would make you laugh and shrug, and possibly frustrate fans.

He is one of my favorite players though, and his final career numbers are going to be insane.  

Sounds like a Phillie Bobby Abreu puts up numbers every year but he thinks he’s the coolest dude in the world and it appears like hes not trying sometimes.


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