Ramirez, Dodgers are all chuckles

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. – He was good Manny for two months.

All smiles. All access. All hard contact. All show-up-and-play.

He made Mannywood the place to be.

Yes, a wonderful two months.

What about two years?

On a cool morning on Camelback Ranch, Ramirez arrived in the second of three SUVs. He wore a white button-down shirt and expensive blue jeans. His trademark locks were pulled back. On his chin, a two-inch tuft of fur. That'll have to go, of course.

Surrounded by flacks and agents and others of the like, he strode into the clubhouse to cheers from the few teammates not already in the batting cages, the ones who'd beaten him here by more than two weeks.

He changed into No. 99, gathered his blue glove.

Under a gray sky and against a steady wind that wrapped his uniform around his legs, he leaned into a microphone on the second-floor patio. Steve Perry, Journey's lead singer, held a digital camera to his eye. Steve Garvey crossed his arms. Uncle Rico watched from the front row. Frank McCourt grinned from a folding chair.

“I'm b-a-a-a-a-ck,” Manny crooned.

And so he was.

It took him more than four months and it cost the Dodgers as much as $45 million. He has full no-trade rights in both seasons, assuming he stays both seasons. It's not $100 million over four years, which is what his agent had anticipated. But, it's a lot. It's plenty. He did fine, they did fine.

He is back.

And you might wonder why.

Certainly he is one of the best hitters to ever wear a Dodgers uniform. In what looked like another lost season for the Dodgers, he towed them into the National League championship series. He was the fun, marketable, hug-able guy. Better, he was the great ballplayer.

And, yet, no one ever forgot what put him there. He was petulant. He was immature. He was embarrassing. Remember that guy?

His free agency wore both Mannys, in fact. The Dodgers liked him, maybe even loved him, but couldn't quite clear their heads of Boston Manny. The rest of baseball would kill for his bat, but could not live with the other Manny, and this week Ramirez signed with the only club that engaged him seriously. Scott Boras claimed he'd created that climate by informing clubs of Ramirez's undying love for L.A. You can believe that if you'd like.

In a 20-minute press conference, Ramirez fist-bumped Boras. He flung his arm around McCourt. He laughed it up with Joe Torre.

He would not apologize for how he'd gotten here, or how he'd gotten free of Boston.

“Actually, I won,” he said. “I won getting out of there, because I'm in a great place. I'm in a place I want to play. I'm in a place that I'm going to be happy. My teammates, they love me. The fans, they love me, the way I play. Hey, sometimes you're better off to have a two-year deal in a place that you're going to be happy than to have an eight-year deal in a place you're going to suffer.”

On a generally happy day out on that veranda, everyone took a moment to consider how Manny had endured those two world championships, countless standing ovations and a club that not only covered for him, but paid him $150 million. He earned it, of course. All of it.

So now he has his way. He has his two seasons in L.A., if he wants them. He has his adoring public (but not too adoring), and his left field, and his attentive manager, and his fawning teammates and his new, respectful contract.

Yeah, on a spring day in the Arizona desert, it was fall in L.A. all over again.

Torre went on about Manny's fearless at-bats, his touch with the youngsters in the clubhouse, his work ethic, and then added, “Course, the hair is another situation.”

“What?” Manny cried.

And everybody laughed.

Manny complimented McCourt on “this good investment,” and he revealed it might take him some time to “get my Gold Glove,” not to mention, “my cannon,” ready for the season.

And everybody laughed.

He said he had not yet considered his opt out – “No, not yet,” he insisted. “I'm going to play my first year.”

And everybody laughed.

So arrives the hard part. The Dodgers will not be the vacation spot, they will be home. Their losses will be his losses. When he does not run hard to first, they will notice. When a fly ball drops, they will notice.

“I was looking for this place for eight years,” Manny said. “Now I'm here.”

And now all he has to do is act like he means it, and play like he means it, and produce like he means it.

Not for two months.

For two years.

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