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Inside Baseball : Bill Shaikin / SUNDAY REPORT

Life without Manny in middle

August 31, 2008|Bill Shaikin

BOSTON -- Turns out Jeff Kent isn't the only guy who hits well when he bats ahead of Manny Ramirez.

Big Papi knows.

For the first time in six years, David Ortiz is not hitting ahead of Ramirez. How does Ortiz like it?

"I got, like, 17 walks on the last road trip," Ortiz said. "What do you think?"

That is less a dissent than an observation. It's been one month since Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.

Ramirez is out of sight and out of mind here. He is thousands of miles away, with the Dodgers, teetering on baseball oblivion. The Red Sox got rid of one of the best hitters in baseball history and got better, pending an October test.

The Red Sox might not be able to win a World Series without Ortiz and Ramirez crushing opposing pitchers, but they're more than happy to try.

Ramirez wanted out, as he had so many times before. This time, the Red Sox wanted him out.

"I think it is good both ways," Ortiz said. "Manny is happy. No more controversy between him and the team.

"When you don't want to be in a place, you just don't want to be in a place. He was here for eight years. He got tired of being here."

His teammates got tired of him, apparently. Since the trade, Ramirez said, he has traded text messages with Ortiz, spoken occasionally with infielder Alex Cora, and heard from no other Boston player -- except when second baseman Dustin Pedroia overheard Cora talking to Ramirez and tossed in a hello.

They had heard enough from him already.

"He was very public about what he wanted," Cora said.

"The Red Sox don't deserve a player like me," Ramirez told ESPN in the days preceding the trade.

They had heard enough questions about him. Cora likened those days to the ones before the New York Mets fired Willie Randolph as manager, when every question to every player every day revolved around what might happen to Randolph.

"Same thing here," Cora said. "We were getting our [butts] kicked by Anaheim and the Yankees, and everybody was pointing the finger at Manny."

It got so ridiculous, Cora said, that teammates had to answer when the Boston media determined Ramirez had run too slowly to first base on one particular double play.

"I saw Manny running 5.9 a lot of times," Cora said.

Boston General Manager Theo Epstein said he did not consult with players before deciding to trade Ramirez but did spend plenty of time around them.

"I tried to figure out what was really a distraction and what was imagined," Epstein said. "If we made a move just because of an illusion, it would be a disservice to our club.

"We had an environment that was getting in the way of winning."

Jason Varitek, the Boston catcher and captain, isn't so sure that situation might not have resolved itself.

"Either he was going to be traded or he wasn't," Varitek said. "We needed resolution, which was going to come one way or the other with the trade deadline."

Although Epstein would not discuss specific trade proposals, he said he would not have traded Ramirez if he could not have acquired an outfielder to replace him.

The Sox offered Ramirez to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp. The Dodgers said no. The Sox offered Ramirez for Andre Ethier and Andy LaRoche. The Dodgers said no.

The Sox finally traded Ramirez to the Dodgers for LaRoche and minor league pitcher Bryan Morris, then forwarded LaRoche and Morris with two of their own prospects to the Pittsburgh Pirates, for Jason Bay.

Think about that: Bay commanded four prospects and Ramirez two. Granted, Ramirez is seven years older and three times more expensive, but the Red Sox also had to pay Ramirez's salary so the Dodgers would take him and Bay's salary so the Pirates would give him up.

And so, one month later, Ramirez plays in L.A., hitting and smiling and hustling.

"He loves it," Cora said. "Manny is Showtime."

Did the Red Sox ever see him hit and smile and hustle?

"I can't say we didn't see that," Varitek said. "Manny will always help a team. He'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He can still get it done at a high level.

"But, if Manny wanted to be a lifelong Red Sox, he would be."

Ramirez hangs out in the Dodgers' clubhouse far more than most players, most often with Angel Berroa. He can't will the Dodgers to victory, so he might finish the season on a team with a losing record for the first time since 1993. This might not help the Dodgers retain him in free agency, should they decide they can and should afford him.

On the day after his debut with the Dodgers, he said he wanted to play in L.A. for the rest of his career. As the Dodgers lost every game on an East Coast swing through Philadelphia and Washington, we asked whether his sentiments had changed.

"This is a great place to play," Ramirez said. "I'll talk to my agent and we'll see what happens."

He said he does not follow his old team.

"When you're in L.A., you feel like you're disconnected," Ramirez said. "When we're playing, they're sleeping.

"I just wish everybody the best."

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