The Latin Link: Hitting woes have humbled Hanley

Hanley Ramirez' expression pretty much sums up his season. (AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Everyone wants to know what’s wrong with Hanley Ramirez these days. Well, maybe not everyone. But most certainly all who are Florida Marlins fans, his peers and the folks who pay his $11 million salary.

After all, I’m talking about a superstar here; a former National League Rookie of the Year and batting champion who hit .342 in 2009. Then again, I’m also talking about a guy who is notoriously moody, selfish and often misunderstood.

So, it was a bit surprising that when spring training began this season, Hanley seemed determined to orchestrate a public relations makeover. He established a Twitter account, created a glittery website and tried to polish up his relationship with the press. It seemed as though Ramirez was on a mission to portray himself as a hard-working team player and servant of the people. Was this a Cuban Communist plot? Was Hanley brainwashed by Elian Gonzalez?

“My challenge this year is to carry this team on my back to the next level,” Ramirez nobly stated. “I’m going to lead this team to the end.”

On his new manager, Edwin Rodriguez, the 27-year-old Dominican shortstop was full of praise.

“I respect Edwin because he treats everybody the same,” noted Hanley. “If you play hard, you’re going to be fine.”

Now for the bad news. The 2011 season, which seemed to be so full of promise and positive vibes, has been a horrible nightmare thus far for Ramirez. A career .307 hitter, Hanley’s average for the first 50 games has hovered just above the Mendoza line, and his numbers are rock bottom in every major category. In addition, he has made nine errors in the field, already more than half the miscues he made last year, and only one less than he committed the entire 2009 season.

Now, in the past, Hanley has never let controversy hurt his performance. He has a passion for the game and often makes mistakes in judgment during the heat of the moment, like the frequent clashes he had with ex-teammate Dan Uggla. His scathing rant against former Marlin skipper Fredi Gonzalez is ancient history, but it still bears the scars of checkered behavior.

So, when manager Rodriguez came aboard permanently, his top priority was to channel Hanley’s energy in a more favorable direction.

“I think he’s ready and capable of leading this club,” Edwin said of his star player. “We’ve been very patient with Hanley and I think he is maturing.

“He can be the best player in the National League.”

Rodriguez is right on that count. Ramirez was second in the MVP voting during his sensational 2009 campaign. But in demanding leadership skills and more overall accountability, Edwin put too much pressure on Hanley. Physical superiority is one thing, but mastering the mental part of the game is entirely different. And this has been a major distraction for Ramirez.

I believe Hanley is trying to be a leader and a take charge guy. During a game back on May 5, when the Marlins were battling the St. Louis Cardinals, opposing pitcher Chris Carpenter objected to a hard slide at home plate by Florida’s Emilio Bonificio. Reacting to the situation, Ramirez took a step toward the mound and engaged in a stare contest with Carpenter and won. Another potential problem occurred the other night when Ramirez, batting .204, was bumped from his traditional three hole spot in the lineup. But there was no pouting or objections.

“The way I’ve been hitting, I would have moved me, too,” Hanley admitted. “The most important thing is to help the team win.”

Saying all the right things and being politically correct is great, but I think it has taken a toll on Hanley. His spirit has been unintentionally broken by Rodriguez. And, obviously, this hasn’t helped the Marlins.

Hanley Ramirez gets payed to play baseball. Asking him to be a role model, a clubhouse leader and a field general is unacceptable. Why? Because Ramirez is still  child-like in many ways. You can tweak a hitters swing, but you can’t alter his personality.

Although he has already accomplished many things in his short career, Ramirez has never made it to the postseason. And that was one of his goals when camp broke in the spring.

“I want to see what it’s like to get to the playoffs,” he revealed. “I’m tired of watching it on TV.”

With the talent the Marlins possess, especially in the pitching department, they have a legitimate shot. But they can’t do it without Ramirez in the mix. I understand the need for a new manager to draft his own blueprint for success, and Rodriguez has done a fine job.

But it’s not a good idea to try and change a high profile player who beats to his own drum. The Marlins would be well advised to let Hanley just be Hanley.

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