By Jonathan Usher – @madduxman
When I was a young boy, Jim Rice was my hero, my idol, basically a God to me. I was four years old during his rookie season of 1975. My first memory of the Red Sox was in 1978 when Yaz popped up to end the 163rd game of the season against the Yankess. The start of 1979 brought renewed hope to every Red Sox fan, as it had for 61 years since their last World Series championship. The summer of 1979 was my introduction to baseball statistics and baseball cards. On the bubble gum scented cardboard, seeing what Jim Rice had done in 1978 became the benchmark for me in which all other Gods would be judged. Now eight years old, I couldn’t get enough of my new hero. I went to my first game that summer. I spent every penny I earned with my allowance to pedal down the street to the store a grab a fresh pack off the shelves and score that homerun of a pull in Rice, Yaz or Freddy Lynn.
Year after year, I rooted for my Sox, I loved my Sox. Boggs came, then Clemens. 1986 was a wonderful season, albeit heartbreaking. Now 16 years old, after the 1987 season I started to take a closer look at my idol’s stats. His batting average was down, but more troublesome were that most of his power numbers weren’t Jim Rice numbers. Homers decreased for the 5th year on a row. K/AB were up. Games played and AB had plummeted. And those double play balls. All those GIDP…
Hanley Ramirez is a hell of a ballplayer. He was a phenom, like Rice. He was a bit abrasive to the media, like Rice, and both came up young and had tremendous ceilings. I got to watch (or listen to, before cable) Rice launch homer after homer, stroke GWRBI’s, make diving catches in front of the monster and unload bullets to nail mere mortals at second base. Unfortunately, Hanley spent the bulk of his prime stealing all of his bases, hitting his homers, and wooing the fair weather fans in South Beach and La La Land. Since he was a former Sox phenom, we paid some attention, but just chalked it up to one that got away. It was painful to think about what could have been. But the 86 year curse that we snapped and winning a second World Series in ’07 led to most of us nearly forgetting about him except in the box scores or occasional highlight reel.
Watching THIS Hanley Ramirez, is exactly what I saw coming with Rice. I FELT the end was near before he did. Granted, I was young, but I was invested in those teams. I bled Red Sox blood. I had scrapbooks of newspaper articles. I sifted through box scores after bedtime with a flashlight under my covers. Right now, TO ME, Hanley Ramirez IS Jim Rice. It’s just 30 years later – the inability to play the field regularly, the missed games, the lingering injuries, the whispers from behind the scenes, the only occasional yet still brilliant flashes of power, the GIDP, and those strikeouts. ALL THOSE STRIKEOUTS. Fortunately, Hanley is only signed for one more year with a vesting option for 2019 at $22M. It’s frustrating to watch. We root for them, we love them. It hurts realizing that father time catches up to us all. Don’t be surprised if the door slams shut on his career as hard or as quickly as it did on Rice. But it’s okay because the Sox’ future is loaded with phenoms. My kids can pedal down the street to buy some fresh packs hoping to pull a homerun in Mookie, Devers, or Benintendi.