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Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Manny moment arrives at last

By Jerry Crasnick
ESPN.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Some people look in Manny Ramirez's eyes and see a blank slate. The Dodgers bunkered down with Ramirez for 90 minutes Wednesday morning and saw a baseball player who's had his fill of working out, playing video games and receiving daily deferred compensation updates from agent Scott Boras.

After four months of sporadic communication, public relations spin, false alarms and testy e-mail exchanges, all it took was Ramirez boarding a plane to California and turning on the charm. The Dodgers' contingent met with Team Manny at owner Frank McCourt's Malibu home, and everyone apparently had a "Eureka!" moment and realized it was time for this nonsense to end and Ramirez to don the Dodger Blue.

"We're close to getting Manny on the field, and I think he's basically chomping at the bit to get the uniform on,'' manager Joe Torre said. "I couldn't have been more pleased with how excited he was -- just the prospect of getting back on the field again.''

The feeling is mutual. Then again, Ramirez hit .396 with a 1.232 OPS in two months as a Dodger last season. Even in the midst of a recession, numbers like that can buy a hitter a lot of love.

The news that Ramirez had reached agreement on a two-year, $45 million deal brought another strange twist to a memorable week at Camelback Ranch. On Sunday, McCourt was visibly agitated that the Ramirez saga was taking the luster off the opening of the team's new $100 million spring training facility in Glendale. And the Dodgers and Boras were both fighting for the pole position on sanctimony.

On Wednesday, general manager Ned Colletti and Torre, fresh off a flight from L.A., hustled up to the balcony outside the team's offices and held a quickie, seven-minute news conference to announce that Manny's deal was close.

Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez didn't get the monster, four-year, $100 million deal he hoped for. But, on Wednesday, he did finally get a deal done with the Dodgers.

Ultimately it was the face-to-face dialogue -- which stripped away the posturing and acrimony so common in big-ticket negotiations -- that helped bring closure to the proceedings. Colletti said that during the entire hour-and-a-half meeting Wednesday there was "not one uncomfortable moment.''

"We're really trying to build a team here that sticks together and fights together,'' Colletti said, "and Manny is obviously an important part of that.''

Hey, where Ramirez is concerned, you never know what's going on beneath those dreadlocks. Would he feel "disrespected'' that the Dodgers didn't come close to the four years and $100 million that he had his heart set on in November? Is the structure of this deal sufficient to keep him engaged and motivated to run out ground balls, as he clearly forgot to do in those final, contentious days in Boston?

In recent weeks, it had become apparent that it was either the Dodgers or purgatory for Ramirez. San Francisco had been mentioned in speculation as a potential suitor. But Giants chief operating officer Larry Baer, in Glendale to watch Wednesday's Cactus League game between the NL West rivals, indicated that a Manny-by-the-Bay scenario was a long shot all along.

"We had interest, but it had to be in a way that was going to be responsible for us, given all the needs we've filled and all the other needs we will have,'' Baer said. "It wasn't just moneywise. There were a lot of different pieces that made it a challenge.''

In the Dodgers' clubhouse, Ramirez's arrival will mean different things to different people. Juan Pierre, whose playing time has now officially taken a major hit, walked out the door after Wednesday's game and said he'll address the media en masse Thursday. If you're going to confront unpleasant questions, there's no point doing it in installments.

As for the suggestion that Ramirez might engender resentment among his fellow Dodgers by dragging out his negotiations for so long, that's pure fantasy. It's part of the ballplayer code of conduct to wish teammates the best as they fight for all the dollars they can get.

"Everybody in here understands how these things work,'' outfielder Andre Ethier said.

Joe Torre
It took awhile for a deal to get done, but now Joe Torre knows he has Manny Ramirez back in the middle of his lineup.

Contrary to what Jeff Kent might think, Ramirez makes everybody in the Los Angeles lineup better with his presence. Ethier hit .318 with nine homers and 31 RBIs in August and September after Ramirez's arrival from Boston, so he should know.

The Dodgers also signed second baseman Orlando Hudson for $3.4 million guaranteed after camp began, so it's been a productive 10 days for Colletti.

"I think that's the one thing people aren't talking about -- how much of a difference Orlando Hudson will make here,'' said Ethier. "And now Manny. What does it say when guys like me and Matt Kemp might be hitting seventh or eighth in the order? We definitely have one of the best lineups in baseball now.''

Torre expects it to be about a week until Ramirez is playing in Cactus League games. Dodgers infielder Mark Loretta, who played with Ramirez in Boston, doesn't expect it to take long for Ramirez to round into form.

"Heck, this is earlier than Manny usually shows up for spring training, isn't it?'' Loretta said.

Better late than never, as they say. All that's left now is the news conference, the hugs and Manny referring to himself in the third person. Then it'll be time for him to grab a bat and commence raking.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.