When Hanley Ramirez ropes a hit, something he has been doing often in his second season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he brings his fingers to his eyes and forms mock glasses. "I See You" is the name of the routine.
“This is the first time I’ve had a chance to play in front of 30,000 40,000, 50,000 fans every night,” the eighth-year shortstop, who spent his first six-and-a-half seasons with the Marlins, told ThePostGame. “It’s unbelievable.”
Ramirez has enjoyed being seen himself, even if the opportunities are fleeting. He was injured for the third time this season Aug. 4, when he crash-landed in the stands at Wrigley Field while chasing a foul ball and jammed his right shoulder. Ramirez avoided the disabled list this time, and he returned to the lineup Wednesday.
After missing most of April with a torn ligament in his thumb, he quickly landed back on the disabled list in May with a hamstring injury.
Ramirez returned June 4, and advanced statistics suggest that he has been the Dodgers' most valuable everyday player despite playing in only 56 of their 120 games through Wednesday. Among all MLB hitters and fielders, he ranked 31st on FanGraphs.com’s Wins Above Replacement leaderboard at 3.6. Every other top 50 player besides teammate Yasiel Puig, who was worth 3.0 WAR in 63 games, had played in at least 32 more games. Most metrics have rated Ramirez a consistently below-average defender in the past, but his glovework at shortstop has saved the Dodgers three runs this year, according to FanGraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating.
"He is the definition of a five-tool player -- MVP caliber tools and Hall of Fame-caliber tools when applied," said an American League talent evaluator with experience watching Ramirez.
Puigmania remains central to the Dodger Blue consciousness, whether the phenomenon’s namesake is sliding into home plate after a walk-off home-run, gunning down an overzealous baserunner or juggling with soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. Puig’s No. 66 can already be seen on the backs of fans at every Dodger Stadium concession stand, likely multiple times.
A more attentive search is required to find Ramirez’s No. 13 jersey, although many fans still don Manny Ramirez’s No. 99. One fan at a game earlier this season wore a shirt with No. 99, but crossed it out and scribbled No. 13 on pieces of tape. Three-time All-Star Hanley certainly has been 2008 Manny-like with his 1.049 OPS in 2013.
Zach LaFleur is one of those comparably few Dodger fans owning a Hanley Ramirez jersey, which he sported at a sold-out home game against the New York Yankees in late July.
“It was between him and Puig,” he said. “Everybody has [Matt] Kemp, everybody has [Andre] Ethier. I wanted something new – I wanted something different, so I got Ramirez.”
For the Blue Crew faithful, it’s felt like two seasons in the span of four months. After a 30-42 start, the team has won 40 of its last 48 games and jumped to a nearly double-digit lead in the National League West. Many factors have been at play in the improvement, including the stabilization of a once-combustible bullpen, Ethier’s turnaround, the return to health of Zack Greinke and the sustained dominance of Clayton Kershaw.
Not coincidentally, that happier second season also commenced after Puig's call-up from Double-A on June 3 and Ramirez’s activation from the disabled list the following day.
Like many baseball players, Ramirez is a man of strong superstition – the most noticeable being the "I See You" routine and the dirt caked on his batting helmet.
"I'm a really superstitious guy -- I'm not gonna lie," he said. "But if you want to know more superstitions about me, just watch me. Going from the dugout to the field every day, coming to the dugout from the field."
Sure enough, before and after every inning, Ramirez pauses at third base, hops on it with both feet and proceeds to either his shortstop position or the dugout.
For a creature of habit like Ramirez, the flurry of injuries has been particularly jolting. He battled elbow pain in 2010 with the Marlins, seeing his production taper off from the 2008 and 2009 seasons, when he won consecutive Silver Slugger awards. He slumped worse in 2011, posting a career-low OPS of .712. He played in only 92 games due to a lingering left shoulder injury that eventually required surgery (not the same shoulder that he hurt recently).
"He had incredible bat speed and extension in his swing that allowed him to generate power ... and when he had that shoulder injury in 2011, that’s something that can definitely affect your leverage, your extension, your bat speed," the AL talent evaluator said.
Ramirez’s OPS continued to lag in the .700s the next year while he adjusted to a new position at third base. Baseball historian Bill James, also known as the father of sabermetrics, has theorized that baseball players’ primes last from age 25 to 29. At 28, it appeared that Ramirez’s regression in productivity might have become the new normal.
The Dodgers capitalized on that fear and the Marlins’ fire sale inclinations, acquiring Ramirez and reliever Randy Choate for pitching prospects Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough in late July. Los Angeles assumed the remaining two-and-a-half years on Ramirez’s six-year, $70 million deal. It eventually looked like a bargain bin purchase compared to the $262 million in combined salaries of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett that Los Angeles took on from the Boston Red Sox.
“I don’t like to talk about the past, but I can tell you that playing for the Dodgers is unbelievable,” Ramirez said. “This ballclub has a lot of history … the fans show me a lot of support. They don’t give up on me. [The Dodgers] made a trade, even when I was not in my best moment in baseball.”
The Dodgers need Ramirez's bat for a playoff run, although he recently admitted the soreness in his right shoulder may linger throughout the season. It didn't seem to bother him too much Wednesday, when he picked up two hits.
Ramirez has never experienced postseason baseball, but he's played with some of the game’s great modern hitters. He learned from Manny Ramirez as a prospect in the Red Sox minor league system and as a teammate of Miguel Cabrera on the Marlins.
"I remember in the minors, I always watched Manny's mechanics -- the way he hit," Ramirez said. "And then I got traded to Miami, and I used to go to the hitting cages with Cabrera – sit down and watch him hit."
Ramirez and his Dodgers teammates try to pass on that knowledge to baseball’s newest young gun, the headline-grabbing Puig. The Cuban outfielder has made some customary rookie blunders during his rapid rise to superstardom, but Ramirez insists that Puig is receptive to criticism.
"We just come to him professionally, and he's like 'Yeah, that's right,'" Ramirez said.
Puig has made a habit of running into walls and playing with a flair that irks some opponents, but Ramirez loves that enthusiasm.
"That's the way we play the game in the Caribbean," said Ramirez, a native of the Dominican Republic. "We hustle. We like to play the game hard and have fun and laugh and joke. We pretty much play the game loose, and we give 100 percent every day on the field."
The Dodgers will soon welcome another outsized personality (and beard) to their clubhouse, former San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson. Ramirez faced the eccentric reliever several times with the Marlins.
"We've just got to go with what we have right now,” Ramirez said. "But definitely in the future, he's going to help us out."
Dodger fans may be seeing Wilson soon, and they are still getting their fill of Puig. A healthy Hanley makes the show even more entertaining.
-- Follow Alex Leichenger on Twitter @AlexLeich.
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