BOSTON — There might not be anyone in Red Sox history quite like Hanley Ramirez.
The Red Sox signed Ramirez out of the Dominican Republic in 2000 as a 16-year-old amateur free agent. He came up through Boston’s system as a shortstop, though he only had two plate appearances for the Red Sox after making his Major League Baseball debut on Sept. 20, 2006. So when he rejoined the Sox as a free agent before the 2015 season, there was a considerable amount of buzz in Boston.
And it couldn’t have gone any worse.
Ramirez, along with fellow free agent signing Pablo Sandoval, had a rough 2015 campaign, batting .249 with a .291 on-base percentage. He started off hot, hitting 10 home runs in April alone, but he quickly fell off and collected just nine more over the rest of the season. The career infielder also had been moved to left field, where he looked totally lost.
But Ramirez has made a complete 180 in just one season.
After combining with Sandoval for 100 RBIs last year — Ramirez had 53 — the now-first baseman reached 100 RBIs on Thursday after blasting a three-run walk-off homer to center field in the Red Sox’s 7-5 win over the New York Yankees. And he’s been a key part of Boston’s success in 2016.
“There?s not many teams where you can say three guys have 100 RBIs, his last three no bigger than any of the previous 97,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Thursday’s win. “Hanley?s gotten along and had a comeback year when you look at the two years spent here. He?s doing a solid job at first base. To have that kind of depth through the middle of the order and that kind of RBI and power, it?s a huge advantage for us.”
Ramirez joined David Ortiz and Mookie Betts in the 100-RBI club to make the Red Sox the only team with three players to knock in as many runs. He theoretically could join them with 30 home runs, too, as Thursday’s walk-off shot was his 25th.
It’s obvious Ramirez’s move to first base has helped him focus more on the offensive side of his game, as he’s been extremely capable at his new position. He has a .996 fielding percentage, and his four errors are some of the fewest among qualified first basemen, bested only by the San Diego Padres’ Wil Myers, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez and the Texas Rangers’ Mitch Moreland.
In short, Ramirez is a completely different player than he was a year ago.
But Ramirez isn’t focused on the player he was last season. He said Thursday that he won’t be satisfied about his 2016 campaign unless the Red Sox are playing in the World Series. And when asked about his 100 RBIs, he deferred the attention to the entire team.
“In September, we?ve been playing good baseball as a team,” Ramirez said. “That?s why we are who we are right now. Not just me, everybody. The pitching, bullpen, offense, defense. We just have to keep going.”
Ramirez was much maligned in Boston last year, but he won back the Fenway faithful more quickly than most. And if the Red Sox make a deep run into the postseason, then the fans might just see Ramirez tip his cap to the Boston crowd in the World Series, à la John Lackey in 2013.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images