Anyone who watched baseball in the 1990’s and 2000’s remembers Manny Ramirez as an incredibly colorful and entertaining Hall of Fame-caliber talent. A 12-time All-Star, Ramirez won two World Series rings with the Red Sox and clobbered 555 home runs over his 19 big league seasons. While his last MLB game came almost a decade ago in 2011, Manny Ramirez isn’t quite done with the game, as he recently signed on for a tour of duty this winter with the Australian Baseball League’s Sydney Blue Sox.
At 48 years of age no one is expecting the old Manny, but the star power that he brings to the underappreciated league is yet another stepping stone in the sport’s meteoric rise on the other side of the world.
Beginning in 2010, the newest iteration of the ABL started out as a fledgling league and has slowly grown to be trusted by MLB teams as a serious winter developmental territory. While places like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic have traditionally ruled baseball’s off season, teams have become a bit more wary in recent years. The political turmoil in Venezuela and high crime rates in the Dominican Republic pose a certain amount of risk for young prospects looking to get extra reps in over the winter. In turn, Australia is being viewed as a safer alternative for players to get the winter ball experience.
Stars in today’s game have suited up down under, including Kevin Kiermaier, Rhys Hoskins, Didi Gregorius and even Braves phenom Ronald Acuna. These players are incredibly important to the league, as they help to bolster a mostly Australia and New Zealand-based talent pool, as well as show a trust that big league organizations have in ABL teams to develop their high-profile prospects.
However, the ABL is not just a place for 18 and 19 year olds to get some extra reps in, as it is also a place where former major league regulars can thrive. Delmon Young, a former number one overall pick and ALCS MVP, saw his big league contract offers dry up at the age of 29, and instead of throwing in the towel, signed with the ABL’s Melbourne Aces in 2017. Young has laid waste to ABL competition, leading the league in home runs last season while anchoring an Aces lineup that won the league’s championship last year.
Seeing how well Young did, other successful big leaguers in the twilight of their playing careers have signed on for this coming season, including Eric Young Jr., Danny Valencia and 2016 World Series champion Justin Grimm. While these names don’t exactly light up a marquee, they do show that word is spreading around major league circles, and established veterans looking for one more kick at the can believe Australia is the place to go in order to climb back on top. With huge names like Manny Ramirez choosing to take their skills to the land of plenty, and high-quality talent rounding out ABL rosters, Australia’s baseball star is rising faster than anywhere else.