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BILL PLASCHKE

Ramirez brings bat and baggage to L.A.

August 01, 2008|BILL PLASCHKE

He will arrive at Dodger Stadium today lugging 510 career home runs inside 510 pounds of baggage.

He will take his place in the middle of the Dodger batting order tonight as one of baseball's biggest hitters and most baffling headaches.

In the biggest late-season acquisition in club history, the Dodgers acquired left fielder Manny Ramirez on Thursday from the Boston Red Sox and Mars.

They are counting on him to carry them into October and beyond.

Just as soon as they can find him.

Three hours after the trade, Ned Colletti, Dodger general manager, was asked whether he had spoken to Ramirez.

"I left him a message," said Colletti.

Four hours after the trade, Dodger Manager Joe Torre was asked whether he had spoken to Ramirez.

"I left him a message," said Torre.

Days after the Angels grabbed the national sports spotlight by trading for quiet slugger Mark Teixeira, the Dodgers have thrown a massive counterpunch by acquiring a guy who is part Hollywood and part Dagwood.

A guy who occasionally swings like Babe Ruth and is consistently as nutty as a Baby Ruth.

The only thing that flops around more than his trademark dreadlocks are his moods.

Nobody in baseball history has hit more postseason homers -- 24 -- yet when the 2007 world champion Red Sox visited the White House, Ramirez didn't show up.

"I guess his grandmother died again," President Bush said at the time. "Just kidding."

Perhaps nobody in baseball history has performed better in a more pressure-filled World Series, as he was the MVP of the 2004 Series that broke the Red Sox's 86-year title drought.

Yet a couple of weeks ago, during a sixth-inning pitching change at Fenway Park, he momentarily departed left field to make a cellphone call.

The Red Sox have long shrugged off such behavior as "Manny being Manny."

But recently, with Ramirez ripping club executives in preparation for his probable departure as a free agent this winter, the Red Sox finally decided Manny could be Manny somewhere else.

Officially, the Dodgers acquired Ramirez in a three-team trade that cost them third-base prospect Andy LaRoche and pitcher Bryan Morris, who worked in class-A.

Unofficially, it doesn't take a Laker fan to understand that they were given a gift the size of Pau Gasol.

Neither Dodger kid was considered a top prospect, and the Red Sox agreed to pay the remainder of Ramirez's $21-million annual salary, about $7 million.

"It's crazy," said Torre. "This is a huge 'get' for us."

It is actually two "gets" for the price of none.

They do not have to pay someone who immediately becomes their best hitter. And, because of his impending free agency, they are not obligated to tolerate his nutty behavior beyond this season.

He is probably here only for two months, but with a swing that is as unshakable as his smile, he is capable of carrying the Dodgers every day of those two months.

"Three months," corrected Dodger owner Frank McCourt, adding a month for the playoffs and World Series. "We're going to have a great three months of baseball."

It was Boston native McCourt who pushed for this deal Thursday morning, just hours before the trading deadline, when he realized that the Red Sox were truly serious about dealing their recurring headache.

In the weak National League West, one hitter could elevate his pitching-rich team to the top. And amid the inexperienced National League teams that will make the playoffs, one hitter could provide the postseason difference.

Ramirez, even at age 36, is still clearly that hitter, leading the Red Sox with 20 home runs and ranking second with 68 RBIs at the time of the trade.

"This team has hung in there all season with all these injuries. This is about giving them a chance to go for it," said McCourt. "This is about paying back our loyal fans and rewarding our hard-working team."

The fans will get it, and were already loudly cheering just the scoreboard announcement of the trade Thursday night.

The clubhouse may be a more difficult sell, particularly because Ramirez not only creates distractions, but a total of five potential starting outfielders.

"This is why we have a guy like Joe Torre as manager," said McCourt.

Indeed, other than the Red Sox's Terry Francona, probably the only other current major league manager who can handle Ramirez is Torre, who constantly dealt with wacky late-season acquisitions with the New York Yankees.

Torre, who was constantly haunted by Ramirez during the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, said, "It's funny, but I did everything I could not to have to see him again, and all of a sudden he's showing up in the uniform I'm wearing."

He smiled. "It's pretty special."

Pretty strange. Pretty, yeah, pretty special.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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