Manny not consumed with quest for 500
Sox slugger proud of newfound clarity, focused on the future
BOSTON -- Manny Ramirez had vowed he would hit his 500th career home run before the calendar flipped from April to May. And when he hit No. 496 -- his sixth of the season -- on April 19, that goal seemed more than feasible for one of the game's most prolific hitters, who has averaged a home run in slightly more than every 14 at-bats over his career.
But on May Day, Ramirez's home run totals have not changed since that round-tripper on April 19 against the Rangers, a stretch of 34 at-bats.
That matters little to him.
"I don't want to talk about 500," Ramirez said. "I want to talk about 600. I'm going to have more than 500. I'm already there. I'm going to 600."
Either of those numbers would virtually secure his future in Cooperstown when he retires.
"I'm already [at 500]," he said. "So if it's not in my future, I could stop playing today. I'm already there. But, you know something? My Hall of Fame is not baseball. It's my kids. Like I always say, I want to see them go to college, go to a bar with them and drink a beer. That's what I want to do. That's my goal.
"Baseball? Baseball is just a game. I could care less about the game. I like to play. I like to compete. But it's just a game to me that I come to work and play in. But my main goal is that I want to do that for my kids. I try to stay home but, you know, when I don't have [baseball], I could be the same guy. I'm not trying to get a big head or just hit home runs -- blah, blah, blah. Because I'm going to leave, and the game [is] always going to stay there.
"It's like Cal Ripken, when he was with the Orioles. Everybody [said], 'Oh, Cal Ripken, Cal Ripken, blah, blah, blah.' He retired, then Miguel Tejada came. They forgot about [Ripken] and it was, 'Tejada, Tejada.' You know? That's part of the game. You got to understand that. Enjoy it while you can."
Ramirez, a career .313 hitter with a .593 slugging percentage and a .410 on-base percentage, had gotten off to slow starts in each of the last two seasons. In 2007, he entered May batting .202 with three home runs, 13 RBIs, a .314 on-base percentage and a .315 slugging percentage. In 2006, he entered the month hitting .276 with four home runs, 13 RBIs, a .417 on-base percentage and a .448 slugging percentage.
This year, however, he entered May among the American League leaders in most offensive categories, including batting average (.343), home runs (six), RBIs (21), on-base percentage (.410), slugging percentage (.619), doubles (nine) and hits (36).
So, what's his secret?
"I don't know," he said. "I wish I could tell you. I just go up there relaxed [and] trust myself. [I] got a strong mind. I don't let nobody get into my mind, my head.
|"I just take it day-by-day, you know. Sometimes they get you, sometimes you get them. That's part of the game. You can come here for a week and get 20 hits, and maybe you come this week and just get one or two. But everything's going to even out. It's going to be even."|
|-- Manny Ramirez|
"I don't know how. I just take it day-by-day, you know. Sometimes they get you, sometimes you get them. That's part of the game. You can come here for a week and get 20 hits, and maybe you come this week and just get one or two. But everything's going to even out. It's going to be even."
To many observers outside the Sox clubhouse, Ramirez's overall demeanor has seemed different so far this season -- more relaxed, more outgoing. To him, though, nothing is different.
"I'm happy every year," he said. "Hey, life is too short. Why not?"
Ramirez, who turns 36 on May 30, is in the eighth year of his eight-year contract with the Red Sox. He has a .314 average with the Sox, with 260 home runs and 820 RBIs. The team holds options for each of the next two seasons.
"My main goal is staying here," Ramirez said. "I want to stay here and finish as a Red Sox. But that's not in my control. I can't be telling you, you know. I got control of myself, but they're the businessmen up there. But I'm in a good situation here. If they said, 'OK, we're not going to take the option,' good. Somebody will come and give me four more years, five more years. But I like being here. But it's up to them. It's not up to me.
"But like I said, if they say no, another team's going to come and give me four or five years."
Which would make him 40 or 41 in the final year of such a deal.
"Why not? I feel like a kid," Ramirez said. "I feel good. Why stop playing?"
As much as for his offense, Ramirez is known for his quirks, occasionally checking out -- physically and mentally -- on his teammates, or committing fielding lapses.
"As long as I know I can play, I don't care what people say," he said. "I just come, enjoy my time."
He has also been talking with the media more this year, something he went out of his way to avoid in past seasons. It is a change brought on, he said, because of his newfound awareness.
"Yeah, I love it," he said. "But sometimes, you know, your mind plays tricks with you. You got to control your mind, so, you know, it's good. I'll come and give you guys 10, 15 minutes when I can. Instead of -- you know. Because I understand I'm a big part of this organization, people want to hear what I'm doing, you know, blah, blah, blah. And, it's never too late to change."
With that, Ramirez told his interviewer to take care and walked away. Then he turned back.
"But I'm still mad, though," he said.
"I said I was going to hit 500 home runs last month, and I didn't do it," Ramirez said. "But, I know, I know. I got five more months to do it."
It likely won't take that long.
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.