Two free agent names which came up this week in Baltimore were Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. Both are potential hall of fame players (Ramirez’s steroids issue withstanding) based upon statistics, both have tormented the Orioles for years, and more importantly both are well past their prime. In doing my due diligence for this column and making my rounds around the blogosphere and message boards, I felt that there was an extremely adverse reaction to Ramirez coming to the Orioles. I myself am against it to be honest, as is evidenced in my January 8th column. However in looking around there appears to be at the very least a lukewarm mentality to the possibility of Damon coming to the O’s, shown in this piece by Amber Theoharis of MASN. Ultimately, what’s the difference one way or the other between Damon and Ramirez?
First off let’s look at this statistically. Damon is a career .286 hitter who hit .261 last season. Ramirez is a career .312 hitter who only hit .059 in 2011, albeit in five games since he was suspended and later “retired.” However Ramirez hit .298 in 2010 with two different teams. If you want to base it on those numbers, Ramirez appears to be the better buy. (This is all assuming that both players would in theory be signed to cheap one-year deal.) This is where I might include the asterisk with regard to steroids. Who really knows if those would have been Ramirez’s true numbers in 2010, or even previously?
As I said, both are aging (or aged) stars, so it probably wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect similar results out of each. However keep in mind that the Orioles might be looking for a lead-off hitter with the uncertainty surrounding Brian Roberts. Johnny Damon would fill that hole; Ramirez would not. Ramirez would also come with a 50-game suspension right off the bat. So he wouldn’t impact the team until mid-May or so. I think that Damon is also more of a versatille player in that he’s a great hit-for-average guy that can cause confusion for the opposition on the base paths. The Orioles haven’t had that in awhile.
However I submit that it goes a lot deeper than baseball reasons when it comes to the fan base. Offering myself as an example, I don’t think that people want anything to do with the likes of Manny Ramirez. And I think it goes a lot further than his arrogantly slow HR trot or playing to the emotions of his “fans” at Camden Yards (Red Sox fans that is). That’s a big part of it, no doubt. However when Ramirez tested positive for steroids he further cemented himself as a bum in the minds of Oriole fans and baseball fans league-wide. When it happened the second time and he had the audacity to retire rather than face the music, he showed what a gutless coward and a poor teammate he truly is. You’ve heard the term don’t tug on Superman’s cape? Well in that spirit you don’t spit in the face of the greatest game that was ever played, along with it’s competitors and fans.
I honestly think this makes a big different in people’s perceptions (including mine). Damon might have tormented the Orioles and their fans over a long period of time, however he’s always been thought of as a good clubhouse guy that knows how to win. In other words, the act in itself of him wearing the orange and black wouldn’t embarrass people. I’m the first one to admitt that Manny Ramirez was a hall of fame caliber player in his hey-day. He was a gifted hitter, and odds are he still possesses some of that power even without the steroids. However again…Manny Ramirez wearing an Oriole uniform would probably make a lot of people vomitt.
For the record, I think you can probably make a good case for signing Johnny Damon. I’m kind of in the middle on that because while I think he might make a decent impact on the team (especially in Roberts’ absence), the Orioles are a team that’s trying to build a young core of players. An aging star in his late 30′s probably doesn’t fit into that plan, even given the fact that he has good experience under his belt. What happens remains to be seen, however needless to say I think people could accept former Oriole-killer Johnny Damon coming to Baltimore. But Manny Ramirez?…that might insult some folks.
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