This time last year, we were all applauding Hanley Ramirez for his offense while we covered our eyes when he played defense.
Surprisingly, things are much different this year.
Prior to the 2016 regular season campaign, you could have quite easily made the case for this to be a title in our April Fool’s Day articles we here at Baseball Essential published on April 1.
Anyone who watched last year, or any other year of Ramirez’s career for that matter, could have deciphered that his hustle was not particularly Grade-A.
Grade-F sounds more like it.
Most of the time, he didn’t run his ground balls out. He played 86 games in 2013, 128 in 2014, and 105 in 2015. His injuries were mysterious and questionable. Last year in particular, we fans would be asking ourselves if Ramirez was really injured, or just being the dog he always had been.
He made no effort to learn left field last year, or at least it looked that way as he put his “talents” to work manning one of the smaller left fields in baseball and only gathering up a .969 fielding percentage and a -2.5 defensive WAR.
He was like a white, mystery-flavored Airhead candy: you never knew which flavor you were going to get. Except instead of being mostly a good flavor as he had been earlier in his career, he was slowly becoming a consistently bad one.
— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) July 22, 2015
When it was announced that Ramirez would be transitioning to first base, fans shuddered. It was as if a revolt swept across Red Sox Nation. They were putting a guy at first who, not a year earlier, had said to reporters that he liked left field because he “didn’t have to bend over.”
But through 12 games for the Red Sox, Ramirez has played in all of them.
He’s batting .306 with a home run, six RBIs, and four extra-base hits.
At first base he’s thriving, as he has not made any errors and has been making plays, routine and impressive, that we never thought we’d see out of Ramirez.
Last Friday night, he struck out but the ball got past the catcher and a miracle happened: Ramirez high-tailed it to first base and beat the throw from Josh Thole.
He even took the time to watch where the bat went and then embarked on his high-speed pursuit to first base.
Red Sox manager John Farrell has also taken notice of his hustle and work ethic.
“I think he’s playing with some freedom, and it’s shown up in his personality,” Farrell said to reporters. “We see it in the way he interacts with fans. He’s always in the fun and the noise and the joking around in the clubhouse, which is a good thing. He’s in a good place.”
Farrell hit the nail on the head with this one: Ramirez is having fun, and it’s showing in his results on the field.
Hanley has seen what has happened to veterans who don’t hustle or put in the work (cough cough, Pablo Sandoval) and has created a whole new, lovable version of himself.
He’s still the white, mystery-flavored Airhead he has always been. But this time, it seems as if he’s more likely to be a good flavor than a bad one.
He’s a changed man.