It’s July of a year ending with the number 8. The Los Angeles Dodgers, after a languid start to their season, are locked in a tight NL West race and desperately need a big bat to round out the offense for the stretch run. In a move that shocks the baseball world, they get it in the form of a supremely talented slugger from an AL East team.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Dodgers’ recent trade for Manny Machado grabbed headlines for many reasons, most eminently the fact that L.A. surrendered relatively little for perhaps the greatest player ever made available in a July trade. It was also celebrated as a surprise big-name splash by a front office often characterized as recalcitrant at the trade deadline. (A charge I consider to be inaccurate, but that’s a topic for another piece.) Yet just as salient is how much it resembles the franchise’s other premiere trade exactly a decade ago.
Ten Years Ago
It was the summer of 2008. The Los Angeles Dodgers were nearing the end of another underwhelming decade that so far saw them win a total of win postseason game. The first half of the season was a similarly mediocre affair, with the club hovering around .500, and it was time to make a galvanic move. On July 28, just before the deadline, they took one big step by acquiring third baseman Casey Blake from the Cleveland Indians. In August, Hall of Famer Greg Maddux returned for his second stint in L.A., ultimately the last stretch of his storied career. But the biggest trade of the year – and arguably in franchise history – came at the July 31 deadline.
In a dizzying transaction few saw coming, word broke that incendiary Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez was coming to Chavez Ravine in a three-team deal with Boston and the Pittsburgh Pirates. In addition to sending Ramirez to the Dodgers and eating the $7 million remaining of his salary, Boston also sent rising talents Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss to Pittsburgh. Outfielder Jason Bay, before his infamous tenure as a free agent bust for the Mets, was sent from the Pirates to make up for Ramirez’s offense. To complete things, the Dodgers sent Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris to Pittsburgh. (Impressive as the recent 5-for-1 swap for Machado was, they surrendered even less for Ramirez.)
For Ramirez, it was a much-needed fresh start. Despite offensive heroics that led the team to curse-busting World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, as well as hitting his 500th career home run in 2008, his time in Boston had become acrimonious. He had physical altercations with teammate Kevin Youkilis and traveling secretary Jack McCormick, exaggerated knee injuries, and failed to hustle out ground balls. “The Red Sox don’t deserve a player like me,” he said to ESPNdeportes. Ramirez accused the team of mistreating him like other marquee players of recent years, while many fans and sportswriters unequivocally demanded he be traded. That he was shipped not only to a different league but 2,983 miles all the way to the opposite coast, was no accident.
The Ramirez part of this elaborate transaction was all the more remarkable as it was a blockbuster swap between two contenders, albeit ones of substantially disparate quality. The Red Sox were the defending World Series champions and were in the midst of another great season that had them hoping to repeat. The Dodgers were just one game behind first-place Arizona in the NL West, albeit in a year where the division was collectively subpar. To boot, they hadn’t won a single postseason series since the 1988 World Series. They had only made the playoffs a handful of times (1995, 1996, 2004, 2006), each one a swift first-round exit.
The Start of Something Huge?
It was the beginning of “Mannywood,” with the Dominican slugger now slotted into a lineup that also boasted Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, James Loney, Casey Blake, and Jeff Kent. Ramirez wasn’t the least bit affected by the sudden change to the National League, earning NL Player of the Month honors for August with a staggering .415 average, nine homers and 25 RBIs. His regular season tally for the Dodgers was .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs, enough to finish fourth in N.L. MVP voting despite only playing half the season in the league. The Dodgers’ final record of 84-78 was less staggering, but it was still good enough to win the division.
With their first NL West title in four years secured, the Dodgers had the daunting task of facing the Chicago Cubs, the winningest team in the National League that season, in the NLDS. Fortunately, Ramirez’s explosive postseason bat came all the way with him from Boston, launching home runs in the first two games at Wrigley Field to set up a cathartic sweep at Dodger Stadium, their first postseason series victory in 20 years.
The End Result
Of course, the Dodgers wouldn’t win the World Series in 2008, falling victim to Shane Victorino, Matt Stairs and the Phillies in an agonizing NLCS. Ramirez returned for a full season in 2009,
which ended in mirror image fashion against Philadelphia in the NLCS, before being traded to the White Sox in August 2010 just over two years after being acquired. While his offensive prowess and star power brought a level of excitement to Dodger Stadium not seen in a generation, the World Series trophy still proved elusive during his tenure. Here’s hoping L.A.’s 2018 sequel to Mannywood has a far, far more satisfying ending.
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