Longtime major league third baseman Aramis Ramirez officially announced his retirement today following an impressive 18-year career.
Ramirez made his major league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 26, 1998 at just 19 years old. He spent the first five and a half seasons of his career with the Pirates and experienced his breakthrough season in 2001 when he hit 34 homers and posted a triple slash of .300/.350/.536 while collecting an impressive 323 total bases. Still, he was known as an unpolished hitter who, between 1998 and 2002, struck out four times for every walk he took and failed to bring his on-base percentage above .300, save for his superb 2001 campaign.
In 2003, Ramirez was able to cut down his strikeout frequency and hit 12 home runs while logging a .330 on-base percentage in 96 games with the Pirates, before being involved in a blockbuster trade that sent him and Kenny Lofton to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Hernandez, Bobby Hill and a minor-leaguer named Matt Bruback. It was a lopsided deal that turned Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry into a hero, and it made the difference in the Cubs clinching the Central Division that year.
Ramirez finally blossomed once he put on a Cubs jersey, and made an immediate impression with 15 home runs, 39 RBI and a .491 slugging percentage serving as the big middle-order bat the Cubs were hoping they traded for. In 2004, he enjoyed the best year of his career, hitting .318/.373/.578 with 36 homers and a startling decrease in strikeouts (62 in 547 at bats), and suddenly the long streak of mediocre (Steve Buechele) to just plain bad (Willie Greene) third basemen since Ron Santo left the team three decades prior seemed to be over.
And it was. Ramirez spent the next seven years with the Cubs, encompassing half of his big-league career, and left his mark on Cubs history. While fans swooned over Derrek Lee’s MVP-caliber 2005 season or berated Alfonso Soriano for what they believed was a lackadaisical effort, Ramirez quietly went about his business and was almost always efficient as the team’s clean-up hitter.
What really endeared him to Cubs fans was his unbelievable knack for hitting in the clutch. On June 29, 2007, as the revamped and once-disappointing Cubs were finally surging to catch the Milwaukee Brewers atop the NL Central, Ramirez launched a walk-off homer in a game the Cubs had trailed 5-0 in the first inning. That home run was a symbol of the club’s newfound resilience, and was often considered the turning point to that Cubs team’s eventual division title.
Aside from consistently impressive numbers, Ramirez would “wow” the Bleacher Bums at Wrigley Field with clutch or walk-off home runs. He hit an eleventh-inning walk-off in a nationally-televised back-and-forth game against the Cardinals on April 16, 2009. In the Cubs’ largely forgettable 2011 season (and his last with the team), he tied a June 30 game against the Giants in the bottom of the ninth that Geovany Soto won with a walk-off grand slam.
When the game was on the line and Ramirez had an at-bat in the eighth, ninth or extra innings, an endlessly pessimistic Cubs fanbase was given a sliver of hope knowing more often than not, their talented third baseman had something up his sleeve. Or at least in his bat.
This tendency to thrive in the clutch does, however, fail to explain his dreadful postseason history (which, it should be disclosed, doesn’t consist of many games to begin with). In 2007 and 2008, as one of the Cubs’ top offensive producers, the team went 0-6 in two NLDS appearances, and he only culled two hits in 23 plate appearances along with seven strikeouts to go with them.
Still, to Ramirez’s benefit, he wasn’t the only member of the prodigious Cub offense to go quiet in the 2007 and 2008 playoffs, so he was saved from scrutiny that otherwise could have been aggressive. Cubs fans don’t remember his October absences; they remember his regular season triumphs.
This is why his departure from the Cubs after the 2011 season was disappointing, even though fans and analysts knew the Cubs needed to get younger and move on from the Jim Hendry era after Theo Epstein took the reins that October. Plus, he was entering his age-34 season, and making any sort of commitment that could have lasted until he turned 37 or 38 was risky as the Cubs had become notorious for overblown contracts at the hands of Hendry.
He moved on to become the everyday third baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers, and continued to produce at remarkably efficient levels. Between 2012 and 2014, Ramirez averaged 125 games a season despite his increasing age, while averaging production totals of 18 homers, 73 RBI and a slash of .291/.352/.482 during those three years.
The continued production Ramirez gave lineups is what made his retirement announcement before the 2015 season a sad one, albeit a noble one; he said he wanted to commit more time to his daughter who he promised he wouldn’t leave again, which should make the heart of anyone with a pulse melt.
And he got one more chance at a playoff run when the Brewers traded him back to Pittsburgh near the trade deadline, bringing his 18-year career full-circle. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t get to enjoy going deep into the postseason, as his Pirates were eliminated by his former mates in Chicago in the Wild Card playoff. In his final career at bat, he grounded into a double play against the seemingly unbeatable Jake Arrieta.
Thus, Ramirez’s career came to an unceremonious close, but that’s no reason to devalue the rest of his career which, as an everyday third baseman for most of his nearly two decades in baseball, remains largely impressive.
In almost 2,200 career games, Aramis Ramirez hit 386 home runs and collected 2,303 hits with a lifetime triple slash of .283/.341/.492. While the RBI stat is largely due to lineup placement and can be overrated at times, he retired with 1,417 in his career, which is proof that he almost always lived up to his expectations as a run-producer. His 495 career doubles should not go unmentioned either. Of his 2,303 career hits, more than a third of them were extra base hits. That’s a supreme display of power throughout a single career.
And yet, regardless of what kind of numbers he posted, Aramis Ramirez always seemed to get the short end of mainstream attention during his career. As a third baseman, he never received the acclaim of Chipper Jones, David Wright or Scott Rolen, but his numbers suggest that he very well should have. Credit has to be given to what ended up being a truly accomplished career.
With the announcement of Ramirez’s retirement today, he can now fulfill the promise he made to his daughter in late February while reflecting on a terrific 18 years. He’s the very epitome of a “Hall of Very Gooder” and never managed to win a championship, and that’s okay. Years and decades down the line, he can reflect on all the big moments and great memories he provided fans, and hopefully do so with great pride.