CLEVELAND (AP) — Manny Ramírez pulled off his dark designer sunglasses, tugged at his Dolce & Gabbana tie and smiled widely.
Back in his element.
Manny being Manny.
“It’s an honor to come back to the house that I built, the Jake” Ramírez said during a news conference at Progressive Field, known as Jacobs Field when the slugger played in Cleveland. “I know they changed the name, but I’m happy to be back. I’m happy to be back in the city and the place that I grew up.”
One of best hitters in baseball history, and one of the game’s biggest characters, Ramírez, who broke in with those powerhouse Indians teams in the 1990s, returned on Saturday to be inducted into the Guardians’ Hall of Fame.
The 51-year-old was relaxed and wildly entertaining during a 16-minute session with reporters in which he touched on his playing career in Cleveland and Boston, his ambivalence toward being voted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame and his future.
“I’m going to play in Prague next year,” he claimed. “They saw me hitting BP (batting practice) and they said can you take some at-bats with us? In Czechoslovakia, yes.”
With Ramírez, anything’s possible.
Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York, he broke in with Cleveland in 1993 and it didn’t take long for Ramírez to blossom into a perennial All-Star.
Blessed with quick hands, a keen batter’s eye and ample power to all fields, Ramírez destroyed pitches and pitching staffs on the way to finishing with a career .312 average and 555 home runs — 15th all-time.
“He’s one of the most gifted hitters I’ve ever seen,” said Guardians manager Terry Francona, who won two World Series titles with Ramírez in Boston. “It felt different when he got in that batter’s box. It was different when he left the batter’s box, too.
“But when he was in the batter box, man, it was pretty special. He had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do.”
But despite his many impressive on-field achievements, Ramírez’s two suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs have stained his resume and kept him from being voted by baseball writers for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
He’s hardly alone as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa are among the many superstars who have not been forgiven for missteps during baseball’s steroid era.
Ramírez insists the omission doesn’t bother him.
“Life is not how you start, it’s how you finish,” he said. “I want to be there, but my priority is something else. But it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen with time. But I’m not in a rush.”
After receiving a warm ovation in pregame ceremonies, Ramírez thanked Cleveland’s fans for their unwavering support.
“With all my mistakes, you guys have stayed with me,” he said.
During his playing career, Ramirez was also known for being a little goofy and unpredictable.
There were memorable and comical moments on and off the field, with some of his antics becoming so routine they were summed up as “Manny being Manny.”
Ramirez said the phrase has always puzzled him.
“What does that mean?” he asked.
Ramirez attributed many of his actions to being young and carefree, such as the time he asked a beat reporter before a game in Kansas City if he could borrow $10,000 so he could buy a motorcycle.
“We were just joking as kids,” he said. “Life is all about having fun. And then when you gotta work, you go get it. Because you don’t know when you’re gonna die. It’s a blessing to come here and put on that uniform. That’s life.
“Remember, you’re not gonna please everybody. But you can please yourself.”
Even in retirement, Ramirez, who took some swings in the ballpark’s indoor batting cages earlier in the day with his three sons, looks like he could get a couple hits.
He’s certain of it.
“Just put me in the lineup,” he said. “Like last night, I saw these guys hitting and I wanted to activate myself. I should be hitting third.”
On his way out of the interview room, Ramirez paused at the doorway.