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Bill Plaschke

Let the dread man walk

Ramirez has been a great two-month pickup, but at 36 and with his history, he'd be a bad investment for Dodgers, who should not sign him to a long-term deal

September 28, 2008|Bill Plaschke

His dreadlocks glistening in champagne, his ears ringing with love, Manny Ramirez grabbed a microphone in front of the Dodgers dugout.

After spending two months taking Dodgers fans to a place of excitement and wonder, on Thursday night he finally gave that place a name.

"Mannywood!" he shouted.

It is. It has been. Every inch of it.

Seemingly from the moment he arrived Aug. 1, Manny Ramirez has filled Dodger Stadium with energy and imagination and hope. He has stolen breaths and exhausted lungs and carried a team.

Mannywood is everything found in Hollywood.

Including the part about not being quite real.

Acquiring Ramirez for prospects is already one of the best trades in Dodgers history.

But if the Dodgers allow these two months to sucker them into signing him to the rich long-term deal he will demand, the trade will be one of their worst.

For the long-term future of the organization, Manny Ramirez is not Mr. Right, he is only Mr. Right Now.

He is a brilliant, Hall of Fame hitter. He is also a 36-year-old man with aching knees who will want the Dodgers to pay him until he is beyond 40.

He has feasted on National League pitching, loved National League ballparks. But because of his fielding problems, he will soon be needing the comfort of an American League designated-hitter role.

He has generated enough ticket and merchandise sales in two months to earn the Dodgers more than $10 million. But he is going to be asking for at least twice that much per season.

He has been the veteran leader both in the clubhouse and on the field, easing tensions, relaxing swings, turning up the music, making winning fun. But what he's done in 15 minutes can't change who he's been for 16 years.

Manny may be a solid baseball citizen while pursuing a new contract, but Manny is still Manny.

He punched a teammate. He knocked over a 64-year-old club employee. He feigned injury to miss two important series. And that was just this season.

The Boston Red Sox, home of baseball's premier front office, were so disgusted by him that they paid the $7 million remaining on his contract to help get rid of him.

They also potentially gave up two future top draft picks that would have been awarded if he had left them as a free agent this winter to get rid of him now.

And they were right. Just look at the standings. The Red Sox have actually played better since he departed, going 33-18.

His similar positive effect on the Dodgers has also been no surprise.

Has any great player ever changed teams in the middle of his career with so much at stake?

Convince baseball you can be a good team player, hit a $100-million jackpot. Fail, and make barely one-third of that.

Is it any wonder he has become not only baseball's hottest hitter, but its most changed man?

The majority of fans, who have understandably embraced this cartoon combination of braids, baggy pants and big hits, think he is worth it.

Some members of the Dodgers, however, aren't so sure.

They look at their record since acquiring Ramirez, 29-23, an average slate that proves one thing:

The guy is great, but the guy can't pitch.

They look at his history in Cleveland and Boston, they look at the growth of their younger players, and they have one fear:

The guy gets comfortable, the guys turns bad.

Remember the mantra when they acquired him? Remember how they admitted that their worries about his potential bad behavior were alleviated by the fact they would own him for only two months?

The ensuing hoopla may have blinded others, but not them.

"He has been great in every area," said General Manager Ned Colletti. "I can't think of any way that I've been disappointed."

But when asked if he would like to have Ramirez back, Colletti paused.

"Just as a player?" he said. "You know, there are a bunch of other dynamics to it. Depending on how those dynamics work out, yeah, that would be great."

The guess here is, those dynamics would be Ramirez's past combined with his future contract length.

If the Dodgers could get him for a two-year deal, fine. But if he wants more -- and he will want more, at least five years for at least $100 million -- then forget it.

Many will wrongly portray the Ramirez negotiations as a watershed moment for owner Frank McCourt.

This is not about money, it's about philosophy.

While Ramirez carried them the final lap to the division title, this is a team being built with young kids who can build new traditions, and it's working. Tying up all that money and all those years on a 36-year-old hitter who historically is trouble goes against that philosophy.

Scott Boras, Ramirez's agent, obviously doesn't agree.

"The measure of Manny Ramirez is not the isolated incident of not running out a ground ball, it is the totality of the numbers he produces," Boras said. "Is he continually going to be that extraordinary player? Because that's what a man is paid to do."

The Dodgers indeed need to pay big money to a man this winter -- and McCourt can't avoid that -- but that man needs to be an ace starting pitcher like CC Sabathia.

In two months here, Manny Ramirez has fulfilled every expectation. He has taught the young Dodgers to swing easy, to laugh freely, to win.

But even if these lessons lead to a World Series championship, the ending has to be the same.

In Mannywood, as in Hollywood, the hero needs to ride gracefully into the sunset.

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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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T.J. Simers: Even at $20 million a year, Manny says he was unhappy for eight years in Boston. D2

Ross Newhan: Dodgers and Angels need to pay what it takes to keep Ramirez and Teixeira. D5

Manny Factor: How much has Ramirez really been worth to McCourt and the Dodgers? D5

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