How does the old saying go? Once a thief, always a thief? Once a cheater, always a cheater? Once a Tim Tebow adherent, always a Tebow adherent? Or, to some Brewers fans, is it once a Cub, always a Cub?
If the latter statement holds even minute amounts of truth–lets assume, for the sake of this article, that it does–Brewers fans are faced with a dilemma. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Aramis Ramirez Conundrum.
Now before an outraged Brewer Nation impugns my fanhood, allow me to go back to a dark, dark time in Brewers history, courtesy of Mr. Ramirez himself.
The day was June 29, 2007. The hour, approximately 4:22 CST. Location, Wrigley Field. The Brewers opened up a 5-0 lead in the top of the first, highlighted by a Kevin Mench (KEVIN MENCH!) three-run blast blown out to right field by the infamous Wrigley winds. The Cubs would scratch three runs, but still trailed 5-3 entering the bottom of the ninth. Then-Milwaukee closer Francisco Cordero surrendered one run, yet the Brewers were still in position to win, up 5-4. Enter Aramis Ramirez, stage right. Exit, baseball, stage left-center bleacher. Final score: Cubs 6-Brewers 5.
The residual effect of that single game remains. At the time, Milwaukee was 46-32 and 7 1/2 games up on the Chicago in the division. The Brewers went 37-46 after that date, finishing second in the division behind, ultimately, the Cubs. The heartbreak of the moment still exists; the ecstatic call of Len Kasper on WGN would be much tougher to listen to if the Brewers had not made the playoffs in 2008 and again last season. Deftly put, that one hit by Ramirez summarizes Brewers fans’ feelings toward him during his tenure as a Northsider.
The signing of Ramirez to a three year, $36 million deal to replace the cleanup bat of Prince Fielder in the lineup was a positive acquisition for the Brewers. It’s not as if the two-time All Star and 2011 Silver Slugger winner will be hearing any boos from the accepting Miller Park crowd on Opening Day. Replacing Fielder may be a daunting task and may not ultimately be achieved, but attempting to do so with a career .284/.342/.500 hitter who can hit 25 homers and drive in 90 runs would be, at the very least, a valiant way to go down swinging (pun intended). Ramirez is even coming off one of his best seasons, hitting .306 with 26 homers and 93 RBI. He also did so with a BABIP (thanks to my baseball coach for enamoring me with the beauty that is BABIP) of .308–merely two points higher than his average.
It’s not that he won’t be welcomed by the Brewer faithful, but rather that it may be difficult at first to accustom ourselves with the No. 16 jersey in navy blue and metallic gold instead of Cubbie blue and red. After spending nine seasons cheering against Ramirez as a Cub–fourteen years if you include five seasons with Pittsburgh–it may take him a few clutch base hits and Miller Park roof-scrapers to win over the fan base. Making up for his 34 career home runs against the Brewers, his second-highest total against any team, would be a good start for the 33-year-old third baseman.
If anything, Ramirez can look to Nyjer Morgan for an example of how to win the adoration of the city of Milwaukee. It’s nearly impossible to duplicate the Plush Mania that Morgan involuntarily created, though the Oakley-rocking Ramirez can win himself over with a few early season spectacular defensive plays and big hits. Just follow the steps of Nyjer, because ya’ gotta be startin’ something; there’s no room for somnolent play.
Even if Ramirez can continue his success with Milwaukee, it may still be difficult to fully be seen as a Brewer in the eyes of some fans. The situation is somewhat of a much less severe version of the Brett Favre saga of 2009. Once a Packer, always a Packer. Or is it once a traitor, always a traitor? Chew on that.
A hit-less first week with the Brewers doesn’t help Ramirez’s case, either. He doesn’t have nearly a Ryan Braun-like reputation with the fans, where he can struggle all Spring and hear no outcries from fans. An 0-9 week at the plate may be but a peccadillo in the grand scheme of things, but that peccadillo may turn into a messy imbroglio of feelings towards Ramirez’s play entering the season.
It may take a while to get used to cheering on Aramis Ramirez, but once the Brewers’ new third baseman gets heated up, maybe the lingering notion of his past affiliations will be forgotten.