DES MOINES, Iowa — Manny Ramirez has been called everything from a World Series MVP to a cheater.
The disgraced slugger is hoping to add “mentor” to his resume.
The 42-year-old Ramirez, a two-time champion with Boston and a two-time offender of Major League Baseball’s rules against performance-enhancing drugs, joined the Triple-A Iowa Cubs as a player/coach on Thursday after signing with Chicago in late May.
Ramirez is expected to play one or two times a week for the organization’s top affiliate in Des Moines. But Ramirez’s biggest responsibility will be to work with the Cubs’ most promising prospects — and he’s already got some simple advice for them.
“Do the right thing, bro. Follow the rules. That’s it,” Ramirez said Monday.
That was often a problem for Ramirez when he was starring in the big leagues.
Drama has always seemed to follow Ramirez, a happy-go-lucky but enigmatic slugger who clashed with managers, teammates and front office personnel during a 19-year major league career that included 555 home runs and 12 All-Star selections.
But Cubs president Theo Epstein, who spent years dealing with Ramirez as the general manager of the Red Sox, said Monday in an interview with Boston radio station WEEI that he believes Ramirez is a changed man.
“Manny gave me as many problems as he gave anyone, probably besides (former Red Sox manager Terry Francona) in his time in Boston. He’s responsible for most of the gray hairs on my head. So it’s not something that we entered into lightly,” Epstein said.
“But people do change. I talked a lot to Manny, and he seemed like a completely different guy… he’s grown for the better. He’s open and honest about all the mistakes he’s made in the past and he wants to fix that by being a positive influence on young players,” he said.
Ramirez spent the last month working on his swing in Arizona, even though Epstein said that the club had no plans to add him to the major league roster. But Epstein said that he’s received glowing reports about Ramirez’s attitude and work ethic from those in the organization who’ve worked with him so far.
“When you love the game and you want to help young players and give them your testimonial and the things that you went through so they don’t go through that, it’s easy,” Ramirez said.
“When you come here and you’re helping young players grow up and see them go to the next level, I think that’s such a joy for yourself, to come and help somebody else. It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s who you’re going to be,” he said.
Ramirez, whose trademark dreadlocks have been replaced by an outgrown Mohawk, was scheduled to hit sixth and serve as the designated hitter on Monday night for Iowa.
But what Chicago really wants is for Ramirez to share the wisdom that made him such a great hitter with his younger teammates.
Many of the cornerstones of the Cubs’ rebuilding effort are now under the guidance of Ramirez, and perhaps shortstop Javier Baez will benefit most from Ramirez’s tutelage.
Baez, a 21-year-old Spanish-speaking native of Puerto Rico, is considered one of the game’s brightest young prospects. But he’s struggled some at Iowa, currently hitting .239 with 11 home runs through 71 games.
Arismendy Alcantara, a 22-year-old second baseman from the Dominican with an .893 OPS, and third baseman Kris Bryant are among the other high-profile prospects the Cubs are hoping Ramirez can reach.
“There’s no one better to teach hitting,” Epstein said. “He could always burn me on it, and we’d release a minor league coach, a minor league player. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think if he helps one of our many talented young hitters in the organization. … it will be worth it. And help one kid avoid a mistake off the field by using himself as an example, it will be worth it. He’s doing a great job so far.”