I remember exactly where I was for the greatest moment of Aramis Ramirez’s career, one of the most memorable games in the past decade of the Chicago Cubs.
The promise of the 2006-07 offseason remained unfulfilled on June 29, 2007, as the Cubs scuffled midseason, a game below the .500 mark and 7.5 out of the division lead. On that midsummer Friday afternoon, the club’s fortune changed as Ramirez parked a Francisco Cordero slider in the left-field bleachers, into the throngs of elated Cubs fans. Ramirez “Sammy hopped” a few times, rounded the bases with zeal, and crossed the plate in style, leading to one of the most indelible photos in Cubs history.
I was asleep when Ramirez won that game for the Cubs. In my basement room at my parents’ house, I indulged in an afternoon nap, having already resigned myself to a Cubs’ loss that day, a perfect model of teenage Cub fan fickleness. I woke to exclamations of “Cubs win!” coming from my parents upstairs.
Of course, that wasn’t the only great moment in Ramirez’s 17-year MLB career, and it was certainly not the only highlight-reel home run of his nine years in Chicago.
At times castigated by local media for being “lazy” and impersonal (incorrect characterizations that fit racialized tropes of Latino players), Ramirez was the key piece in the Cubs’ lineup for nearly a decade, a catalyst for three playoff teams—the only position player who can claim that since the 1930s, really. Acquired by Jim Hendry at the 2003 trade deadline from the Pirates, whom the Cubs then perennially fleeced in swaps, Ramirez would put up an .805 OPS down the stretch for the Cubs, including 15 home runs. In the NLCS versus the Marlins, he added another three home runs, including a two-homer game in Miami that featured a mammoth grand slam, just inside the left-field foul pole, off of then-phenom Dontrelle Willis.
Ramirez was the only member of the 2003 playoff club to remain a key piece of the 2007 and 2008 NL Central champions. Only 25 at the time of the trade, he blossomed in Chicago after struggling to fulfill his potential in Pittsburgh, where he managed relatively poor rate stats in all but one season. In his nine Cubs seasons, he hit an excellent .294/.356/.531 with 239 home runs and 256 doubles while playing solid third-base defense. Four times he garnered MVP votes, and twice he made the NL All-Star team. While he didn’t outwardly possess the outsized smile of Alfonso Soriano or the understated leadership of Derrek Lee, Ramirez’s bat was the engine driving the Cubs’ playoff teams, and a sole glimmer of excitement in the Dark Year 2006.
And for a Cubs fan coming of age in the 2000s, he was a great player on which to latch and for whom to root. He possessed an unwavering hitting ability, hit mammoth homers, and displayed unnatural consistency. Just last season, his third year in Milwaukee after the Cubs decided not to re-sign him, he made the NL All-Star team again at age 36. While he never did win an NL pennant—something he has in common with all too many Cubs greats—he was a very good player for a very long time, and he’s dear to this young fan. I suspect that I’m not alone in that sentiment.
Lead photo courtesy of Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports