Did you see the news the other day that Manny Ramirez is attempting a comeback?
An independent club in Japan – the Kochi Fighting Dogs of the Shikoku Island League Plus – announced that it had reached an agreement with the former big league outfielder. It’s on the Fighting Dogs official website if you want to read it (http://www.fighting-dogs.jp/en/news/2997).
I do believe in giving second chances – and I know he did a nice job working with hitters in the Cubs’ organization the last couple of years – but I have a tough time when I hear the name Manny Ramirez. If it wasn’t for Manny Ramirez, the success of 2016 might have taken place in 2008.
It might have … it could have … it didn’t.
If you recall, Ramirez – playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers – destroyed the Cubs during the 2008 Division Series. He went 5-for-10 in the Dodgers’ three-game sweep and hit a pair of monster homers. After the Dodgers had acquired him in a midseason trade with Boston, he had batted .396 with 17 homers and 14 doubles in only 187 at-bats.
Early the following year, he was hit with a 50-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug.
I’m not going to point fingers or say that the Cubs would have won the series if Ramirez wasn’t there, but it sure would have been an easier challenge.
Let’s face it, during my time with the Cubs, the best chance the team had to be a World Series club was in 2008. Yes, it almost happened in 2003 – but there wasn’t the feeling of “We’re No. 1” from the first day of camp. The ’02 Cubs had gone 67-95 and finished 30.0 games out of first place. That offseason, Dusty Baker was hired to manage the Cubs, and with him came a lot of optimism. But it’s not like he was hired with 100-win expectations right off the bat. The ’03 season turned into a wild ride, culminating in the Cubs’ winning the division the final Saturday of the regular season. But it did take until Game 161 to win the division, so there wasn’t the start-to-finish feeling of “this is our year.”
And then .. there was 2008. Please allow me to drop “we” and “our” into the conversation.
There was so much optimism when the team reported to spring training that season. The team was pretty much set from a division-winning campaign from the year before, and the “must-have” coveted player we wanted – Kosuke Fukudome – had indeed come our way.
And when Fukudome blasted a game-tying 9th-inning 3-run homer on Opening Day, it just screamed out that this would be our year. Of course, the fact that the Cubs then lost the season-opener in extra innings should have been some sort of warning sign.
Anyway, after a rough start to the regular season – the Cubs did lose three of their first four games – everything started to take shape as planned. A 4-2 first road trip. A 7-1 second homestand. By mid-May, sole possession of first place in the National League Central Division – a perch the team sat upon for the rest of the season.
Jim Hendry made a nice early season acquisition when Jim Edmonds was signed to fortify the outfield – a move coming just six weeks after he brought in Reed Johnson at the end of spring training. Then in July, the big in-season move was made – getting Rich Harden from Oakland – and everything was looking golden.
That 2008 team had a great chemistry. A strong offense was led by the veteran group of Fukudome, Edmonds, Johnson, Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Mark DeRosa. The young trio of Geovany Soto, Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot were growing into everyday big leaguers right before our eyes.
The starting rotation of Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Harden and Jason Marquis was one of the best in the league. Kerry Wood had taken over as the closer and recorded 34 saves, while Carlos Marmol was one of the league’s most dominant set-up men.
The Cubs went a league-best 97-64 – their highest victory total since 1945 – and everything was looking really, really good.
And then came the Dodgers and Manny Ramirez – followed quickly by an early winter.
You can only go with the knowns, so you’re stuck with knowing that Manny Ramirez helped end what could have been a magical season. But it sure would have been nice to face L.A. without him.