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T.J. SIMERS

Bad in Boston, he has been no Dodger dog

September 28, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

SAN FRANCISCO -- For the last two months he has been the difference maker for the playoff-bound Dodgers as both hitter and clubhouse goof.

But the question still needs to be answered: Does Manny Ramirez deserve an acting award in an effort to get one more big contract, or is this baseball manna from above as he appears?

"Every day I thank God I came here and had the chance to show people who I really am," he says. "The guy you see here -- that's who I am."

Sat down with Ramirez on Saturday for a couple of hours at the Dodgers' hotel to talk about his future, dogging it in Boston, and his reputation as a flake.

Until now, he hasn't had much to say about Boston, what went wrong, and what lingering impact it might have in shaping opinions of him as a free agent.

"The first time I stepped foot in Boston, I said to myself, 'Whoa.' I told Pedro Martinez, 'Damn, man, I just want to get traded and get out of here; this place is not me.' I was unhappy for eight years in Boston but still put up great numbers."

He signed a contract with Boston for $160 million, a deal with options that could've swelled to $200 million. And he was unhappy -- so unhappy he walked away from $40 million over the next two years.

"Baseball in Boston is like a Sunday football game, but played every day," he says. "We lose in L.A., I go to breakfast and people say, 'Well, you'll get them tomorrow.' In Boston, it's 'Hey, what's going on, the Yankees are coming.'

"It's just a different atmosphere. The fans in Boston got your back no matter what, but I'm talking about the people who write all this bull because it means so much to them. If your happiness depends on Boston winning or losing, you have to get a life."

Many of the Red Sox writers grew up rooting for the team, and for that matter, most baseball writers are a serious lot who believe it's their assignment to protect the game.

For someone like Ramirez, who doesn't always appear to take the game seriously, he's going to pay the price in reputation.

"There's no doubt about that," says Manager Joe Torre, who after two months is now convinced Ramirez is just a fun-loving guy often misunderstood.

"I've been impressed by his work ethic, and one thing I've learned, I didn't know how much he cares for other players," Torre says. "And that's not something that can be put on."

He brought an energy in L.A. to the stadium and clubhouse not seen in some time, but in Boston he stopped talking to the media, graduating from funny guy to malcontent.

"I would bring my kids to the park and I want my kids to be kids, but there'd be people trying to interview them. That's so stupid," Ramirez says. "I'd go to the parking lot after the game and 20 people I didn't know would be offering food, CDs and things -- then wanting something in return.

"Here the game ends, I go to the elevator, my car and no one bothers me."

Things went so sour in Boston, the team insisted on medical tests when he said he could not play. He didn't always run hard, and there was suspicion he struck out on purpose.

"I love to hit, to compete and would never do that; that's just people looking for stuff," he says, while admitting he now runs everything out in L.A., "and I don't even have to think about it."

That suggests he wasn't running everything out in Boston, and while he tries to explain, he's interrupted. There's no explanation for such behavior after signing a contract and being paid $20 million a year to give his all.

"You're right," he says. "You're right."

He wants to leave Boston behind, but a few weeks back Curt Schilling felt it necessary to let everyone know Ramirez is no team player. Funny, some say the same about Schilling.

"I don't wish him anything bad, although it did make me madder and play harder to show everyone who I am," Ramirez says. "I don't disrespect or takes shots at anyone. I don't want someone going to one of my sons and saying your dad is a punk and talks bad about people behind their backs."

By every other account, Ramirez was the consummate team player in Boston until the end when he became desperate to leave.

"Just let me be happy someplace else," he says, the message intended for Boston. "I'm against the clock."

He's 36, four or five years remaining in a Hall of Fame career, "and I just want to play baseball and go home. That's all I have ever wanted to do.

"In many ways I'm like my mom, who doesn't curse, is always laughing and having fun. I strike out three times, and while I'm upset in my mind, I don't show it. I just tell myself I will come back the next day and go three for four."

The Dodgers were lifeless before he arrived, and "I don't think we win the division without him," Torre says.

And now every teammate is a pal, Ramirez making a point to pay respects to Jeff Kent. And every day someone loses a piece of clothing from his locker, Ramirez's crazy idea of fun, although Kent doesn't seem to be missing anything.

"People think I don't take this seriously, but then why am I up early every morning working with the strength coach? I'm just playing around to keep everyone loose. When I was in Cleveland I asked a sportswriter if I could borrow $50,000 to buy a motorcycle. He wrote it like I was serious.

"It's just great here; I don't feel like I'm in a cage. The fans in L.A. are unbelievable -- never in my 16 years have I received such a reception."

Still easy, of course, for those who know only Ramirez's reputation to shy away from endorsing his return, but as entertaining as he makes the game, if you believe what he has to say, how can you not bring him back?

And I believe.

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers

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