White Sox’ Alexei Ramirez merits recognition for superb defense

Written By BY TONI GINNETTI For Sun-Times Media Posted: 09/01/2014, 10:30pm

Jose Abreu is a clear favorite to add the American League Rookie of the Year Award to his All-Star selection when the season ends.

But the honor that would mean as much to the White Sox is the one that has eluded the team’s other Cuban All-Star, shortstop Alexei Ramirez.

The Gold Glove is within reach for the veteran Ramirez, who leads AL shortstops with a .983 fielding average, committing only 10 errors in 606 chances.

Some believe the Gold Glove is overdue, just as his first selection to the All-Star team was this year.

‘‘If you look at his history, he’s ranked one or two in every defensive and offensive category for shortstops for a long time,’’ third-base coach and infield mentor Joe McEwing said. ‘‘But there are a lot of big-name shortstops in the American League.

‘‘It’s a disappointment he wasn’t mentioned more as one of the best shortstops in baseball. But he’s getting that recognition now.’’

Perhaps that’s because the sparkle has returned to Ramirez’s game after a 2013 season in which a family tragedy took its toll on him emotionally.

Hardships were not foreign to the Cuban-born star who made his way to the United States in 2007. But the death in early 2013 of his father-in-law, killed by an unknown gunman in the Dominican Republic, affected him throughout last season.

‘‘With everything that happened to him last year, I think it played into his mind, and focusing on baseball was tough to do,’’ McEwing said.

Ramirez committed a career-worst 22 errors, many on what seemed to be routine plays.

‘‘One of the things I did at the end of last season was I evaluated my strengths and limitations and the things I wasn’t doing well,’’ he said. ‘‘I prepared a lot and worked a lot in Miami with [former major-league shortstop] Rey Ordonez, who helped me out a lot on my defensive work.

‘‘The coaches here with the Sox obviously helped, as well. It really helped me out, and I give credit to all of them.’’

McEwing knows Ramirez’s character has as much to do with his rebound season.

‘‘He’s an individual with so much pride, and with that comes the responsibility of working hard every day,’’ he said. ‘‘I played with Rey [Ordonez], and Rey had that, too. It helped [Ramirez] a lot, working with Rey.’’

McEwing also points to Abreu’s presence as having a positive effect on Ramirez.

‘‘A lot of it has to do with Jose,’’ McEwing said. ‘‘[Ramirez] has a countryman to bond with, and the way Jose goes about his work every day has helped.’’

Ramirez freely admits that has been true.

‘‘Definitely,’’ he said. ‘‘We have fun. It feels sometimes like we’re playing back in Cuba. We do have fun together, and that’s a key. We like each other. We respect each other, and when you have that, you have the chance to win some games, too.’’

Ramirez, 32, finds himself with a new double-play partner after years of playing beside Gordon Beckham.

‘‘I played with Beckham a long time and definitely will miss him,’’ Ramirez said. ‘‘But Carlos Sanchez has been quick to make adjustments. I expect to have a good relationship with him and be able to play solid defense with him.

‘‘You can’t control [player moves].’’

Nor can he control who’ll win the Gold Glove, he said.

‘‘But if I got it, it would be a great, great honor,’’ Ramirez said. ‘‘It would be awesome.’’

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