Manny Did Taiwan: the highlights

Manny Ramirez’s 49-game cameo playing baseball for the EDA Rhinos in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, has been one of the most surprising and entertaining sports stories of the year in Asia. Every move – and I mean every – has been documented in great detail by Canadian Brandon DuBreuil, a long-time Taiwan resident with a passion for baseball, in his blog Manny Does Taiwan. Sadly for Brandon, us and especially the people of Taiwan, Manny has decided to take his talents elsewhere, though as of publication, he has yet to find another team. Here’s an interview with Brandon, detailing the three months spent covering Manny’s time in Taiwan.

Manny the Rhino
The Li-Ning Tower: Why did you decide to start the blog in the first place?
Brandon DuBreuil: Mostly because there is a serious lack of English communication from the CPBL [Chinese Professional Baseball League, Taiwan’s four-team baseball league] to the public. I remember when Manny was first signed, I immediately bought tickets to his first game. Then there were rumors that he couldn’t play and that the Rhinos wanted to debut him at home. I tried to find an English answer and couldn’t – it was frustrating. So I decided to do something about it.

TLT: When did you first sense you were getting some traction/readership?

BD: After Manny debuted I tweeted Buster Olney at ESPN. He retweeted me with a link to my blog and I had a few thousand hits within the next couple of hours. That’s when I realized people definitely still cared about Manny and that I could be on to something with this blog.

Manny airportTLT: Were you surprised by how well Manny did, as well as how quickly the fans took to him?

BD: I thought Manny would hit more around .300/.310 and be in the top five in home runs. When he left, he was hitting .352 and was second in home runs. The RBI stat was the one that shocked me the most: he was third in the league with 43 RBIs in 49 games when he left and the two hitters ahead of him had about 20 more PAs each. I was not at all surprised about how the Taiwanese crowds took to him. They LOVE their baseball here and I knew it would be a circus.

TLT: Was Manny actually the best player in the league or just the most famous?

BD: He was definitely the biggest name to ever play in the league and the one with the most prior success. But for this season alone, statistically, the best player was Lin Yi Chuan, the Rhinos first baseman, who was hitting after Manny in the lineup (Manny 4th, Lin 5th). Lin is having a Miguel Cabrera-type season where he’s leading the league in average (.391), home runs (14, next closest is Manny’s 8) and is second in RBI (52, three behind the leader).

TLT: Attendance was up by around 3x after Manny joined the league Now that he’s gone, will the league revert back to how it was three months ago, or do you think the league will still continue its revival?

DB: Very tough question. Taiwan’s moderate success in the World Baseball Classic [qualifying top of Pool A in the first round] also played a part in the attendance spike, but Manny was the main draw. The Rhinos have averaged 6,172 fans in the six games since Manny has been gone, but I’m sure most of those tickets were sold in advance when fans thought they’d be seeing him. The real numbers will be in the second half of the season. I do think numbers will be up compared to last year but not where they were when Manny was around. I’ll predict an average of 4,500 a game (compared to 2,300 last year).

TLT: Is Manny’s success the reason for his departure? i.e. he’s done so well, now the bigger leagues want him?

BD: I think that’s what Manny thinks. He wouldn’t admit it when he came here, but his leaving proves that he came here to show he still had some gas in the tank. He has gone on record saying he wants a MLB job and is now back in New York working out. He also said he’d consider Japan if MLB doesn’t come calling. I think if he had failed here he would’ve just walked away from the game entirely.

Manny small
TLT: The New York Daily News recently called for the Yankees to sign Manny in this half-serious piece. Do you see him ever getting back to MLB?

DB: There’s little doubt in my mind that he’s better than what most teams have coming off the bench as a right-handed bat right now eg Vernon Wells, New York Yankees [2013 stats: 255 AB, 10 HR, 30 RBI, AVG .224]. But signing Manny is bringing a circus to town. It seems [Yankees GM] Brian Cashman has enough on his hands right now with A-Rod. If you’re in contention, do you really want Manny messing with your clubhouse? Maybe the Miami Marlins could use him to fill some seats? I did think it would be a busier weekend with reports of Manny going here or there, but it’s been very quiet. Maybe no one wants to bother.

TLT: There were a lot of highlights – the dreads, the home run calls on TV, the ludicrously early slide, the superhero costume etc. What was your favourite moment from Manny’s time in Taiwan? Any personal interactions with him?

BD: The highlight was most definitely the weekend where he put on the Hulk uniform, then the slide came that night, and in that same game there was another incident where he took an opposing player’s broken bat and started smelling it. Once I wrote about that and got it out on Twitter, I was getting about 20,000 hits a day for a few consecutive days. SB Nation did a really nice write up on my blog, too.

Manny-Ramirez-the-Incredible-Hulk

Unfortunately there were no personal interactions. It was strange – I had clearance from the league to attend games with media credentials, but the Rhinos refused to make any of their players available to me after any games. Manny himself had already said he wouldn’t be talking to any international media, but I was hoping to talk to teammates, a coach maybe, but the Rhinos would not allow it. Luckily, I got in touch with their closer and hitting coach on Facebook and they agreed to talk and help me with the freelance article I put together for Sports on Earth.

TLT: What does the future hold for you and the blog?

BD: A lot of people are asking what I am going to do with the blog now, and for now I am kind of waiting for Manny to make a move. If he ends up in Japan, I will likely continue the website (renamed of course). But if he does end up in the MLB, well let’s just say the market for English journalists there is a little saturated.

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