The smile is back — and just in time for the Dodgers.
When Hanley Ramirez was playing well, getting respect and enjoying being a Florida Marlin, it was a smile that could light up an entire ballpark — even one as dreary as Sun Life Stadium in Miami. He won the National League batting title in 2009, hitting .342 with 106 RBI and 101 runs scored. He was the N.L. Rookie of the Year in 2006, and joined the 30 HR-30 SB club in 2008. He’s been a three-time All Star and twice a Silver Slugger Award winner. He was considered one of the best players in the game, and seemed to be one of the happiest.
But when things went sour for him and the Marlins, the smile disappeared and the bright light dimmed. Actually, it almost went completely dark.
In 2010 his season was halted after only 92 games by an elbow injury, but he still hit .300 with 21 HR and 76 RBI and 32 steals. In 2011 he was inhibited by a bad shoulder and had by far the worst season of his career, hitting .243 with 10 HR and 45 RBI. Off-season surgery corrected the damage but didn’t resurrect his game — or his joy of playing.
When the Marlins signed free agent shortstop Jose Reyes, they didn’t ask Hanley if he’d move to third base to accommodate Reyes’ addition. He was TOLD by management he’d be moving to the hot corner. In a world where athletes are touchy about being disrespected — even if it’s only in their heads — Ramirez was furious.
At first he said he wouldn’t do it; then he asked for a trade. Finally, realizing he really had no choice but to play where the team told him or sit out the season, he relented and set up shop to Reyes’ right side. However, it wasn’t hard to notice that Hanley was playing without the enthusiasm that had been a huge part of his successful years. Marlins management felt it was futile to wait for Ramirez to return to form, so they sent him and lefty reliever Randy Choate to the Dodgers for pitchers Nate Eovaldi and Ethan Martin.
Ramirez joined the team in St. Louis, and in his initial at-bat lashed a triple off the wall. He came around to score his first Dodger run, and celebrated with his new teammates.
Hanley was back — his smile and lethal bat making a joint return.
In the 27 games he’s played in since the July 25 trade, Ramirez is hitting .308 with 5 homers, 29 RBI, 17 runs scored and 13 extra-base hits. He’s also earned the admiration of his fellow Dodgers.
“He’s meant a lot to the team and especially to me,” said Dodger centerfielder Matt Kemp. “When I’ve been going through some tough time and not hitting the ball well, he picked us up. He got some big hits for us against the Giants, and he’s done a great job since he got here.
“He’s driving in runs and it’s great to have him on the team. He’s the Hanley I remember and he makes my job — and everybody’s jobs — a lot easier.” Ramirez says coming to the Dodgers gave him a chance to start over.
“I was able turn everything around,” said the 28-year-old native of Samana, Dominican Republic as he prepared to take on his former team in from Miami. “At the plate, I’ve been swinging at strikes and driving in runs. (Off the field) my teammates have given me motivation to play better and I’m happy to be here and be part of this tradition.
“It was hard leaving Miami; a lot of those guys are my friends. But I’m not bitter and I’m definitely happy to be here. It’s all about winning and when you have a chance to make the playoffs, that’s even better. We’ve got a lot of great players here and we’re all trying to stay on the same page and go out every day and win the game. And have fun.”
And fun is something the Dodger shortstop is having once again.
When Kemp was approached to talk about Ramirez, he jokingly replied “You’re writing on Hanley? Terrible player.” What kind of guy is he? “Terrible guy, too,” Kemp said, unable to hold in the laughter. Hanley looked at Kemp and said, “That’s my guy.” As they both stood up and started walking toward the dugout and field for batting practice, Ramirez turned around and said, “I love it here.”