Last night, Manny Ramirez hit his first home run as a member of the Cubs—not the Chicago Cubs, but the Iowa Cubs. Manny, one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time, finds himself in Des Moines, playing for the Cubs' top minor league team. He's in Iowa because he has no where else to go.
For years, Manny delighted Boston Red Sox fans (and before that, Cleveland Indians fans) with not just his feats on the field, but also the sheer exuberance he brought to the game - captured best in 2007, where he ended a playoff game with a towering home run over Fenway Park's left field wall, the "Green Monster." The home run was a marvel, but the moment is remembered best for Manny's reaction, captured in a photo: standing still at the plate, hands aloft, amid a sea of Red Sox fans leaping out of their seats.
But it was also the beginning of the end. His mercurial antics—known on the good days as "Manny Being Manny"—had already caused no shortage of problems for the team, and within a year he would be gone: first to the Los Angeles Dodgers, then to the Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, then to the minors, then to Japan, and then out of baseball altogether. He was cast out of baseball not for his lack of ability, so much as for repeatedly failing tests for performance-enhancing drugs.
Three years after he last played in the majors, he finds himself in Des Moines. The Cubs, led by much of the same management team that led the Red Sox in Manny's glory years, signed him last month to a minor league contract. They signed him not in the hopes of bringing him back to the majors—that simply won't happen, the team stressed—but rather to help coach and play alongside a crop of young stars that the team hopes will deliver the Cubs' first World Series championship since 1908. Friends say that exile has chastened Manny, teaching him the importance of family and faith.
In light of all of this, there is no better place for Manny to be, right now, than in Iowa. His life always has been worthy of a movie -- not just for his glory years in Boston, but for his rise from boyhood roots in Washington Heights. But this new chapter may be the most cinematic of all: a baseball legend, exiled from the game for having broken the game's inviolable rules, finds himself among cornfields, playing baseball to redeem himself and inspire others. We've seen this movie before, haven't we?
Adam J. White is a Washington lawyer from Dubuque, Iowa.