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BILL PLASCHKE

Manny Ramirez shows little gratitude to his fans

In his return to Dodger Stadium after a 50-game suspension, the outfielder barely acknowledges the people of Mannywood and shows little appreciation for the unconditional support.

July 17, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

The citizens showed up early in hopes that the mayor would come out early to greet them.

He didn't.

The citizens began cheering as he ran out for the start of the game in hopes that the mayor would acknowledge them.

He wouldn't.

The citizens chanted his name as he finished his first warm-up tosses in hopes that the mayor would at least throw them the ball.

He threw it in the left-field stands instead.

After blowing off honesty, accountability and one-third of the season, Manny Ramirez did something more egregious in his return to Dodger Stadium on Thursday.

He blew off Mannywood.

In the first inning of his first appearance in a left-field corner adorned with the "Mannywood 99" banner and filled with hundreds of loving fans who paid a premium for their proximity, Ramirez acted as if none of it existed.

As if his employers had not just compromised their integrity by continuing to name an entire section of seats in honor of a drug cheat.

As if his fans had not just gone against all reason to embrace him in his first home appearance after 50 games on a drug-policy suspension.

As if he didn't owe anybody anything.

"I was just mentioning that to my wife," said Mike Jaramillo, a postal worker from Torrance who was seated in the heart of Mannywood. "I came here to see how he would react, but he didn't look at us, didn't acknowledge us, seemed kind of arrogant."

Kind of? On a night when Ramirez could have finally returned some of the love that has been showered on him over the last two months, he gave little.

In a 3-0 loss to the Houston Astros, he failed to hustle after a line drive that bounced off the bullpen fence, struck out twice, flailing, and showed little respect for his most loyal fans.

Not that they minded, of course,

There were still standing ovations, shaggy wigs, screaming fans from corner to corner, cheers as big as Barry Bonds' neck, the same type of cheers that once fell upon that neck.

"Twenty-one years is a long time, we can only live off Kirk Gibson for so long," said Brent Aguilar, a Mannywood visitor. "We've got to sell our souls to get another one."

At least he was honest about it. So was postman Jaramillo, who was the only soul in Mannywood who actually, momentarily, jeered the slugger.

"Cheat-er, cheat-er," he chanted before his voice wilted in the face of hundreds of scowls.

"Actually, I like Manny," he said later. "But somebody has to say something."

Ramirez should have felt fortunate that Jaramillo was the only one in Mannywood who was publicly critical, yet the mayor didn't act like it.

If there is any sense that he is thankful for any of the blessings bestowed upon him by his forgiving fans, it is not obvious. If he even cares that the Dodgers have bowed to his every whim, it is not apparent.

"I was just trying to focus on the game," he said of Thursday night.

Fine, but wasn't it a night when at least a little public display of affection would have made sense?

As Thursday showed, the unconditional support has only made him feel more empowered.

Like, before the game, when Ramirez plopped down on the bench next to Manager Joe Torre in the middle of Torre's daily meeting with reporters and started taking questions.

The focus of dozens of reporters immediately turned to Ramirez, leaving Torre to sit patiently and wait for the slugger to finish his shtick.

In my 26 years of covering baseball, that is the first time I have seen a player upstage a manager that way. And for it to happen to one of the best managers in baseball history, well, the kindly Torre didn't seem to mind, but it rattled the senses.

"If you didn't know him, you would think he's a pain in the neck," Torre said. "But he's able to relieve all the tension with his attitude and personality."

As he has done all along, Torre also defended the fan's right to cheer him.

"Nobody says its OK to violate rules, but he took his punishment and fans came here to be entertained," Torre said. "They're just looking forward to him playing baseball."

And understandably looking forward to guys like me just leaving them alone.

"You think he has us brainwashed, right?" said Lynne Pool, a Mission Viejo student in Mannywood. "C'mon, you know how many people do drugs? He is still doing good without them. Everybody makes mistakes. We forgive him."

Added Sean Henry, another Mannywood fan: "Lay off him, will you? I think the whole league is on drugs. I don't care. This is just entertainment."

You know what was the most entertaining part of Thursday night? It occurred in the seventh inning, with the huge, surprise standing ovation given to pinch-hitter Juan Pierre.

It was louder than anything heard by Ramirez. It was as if fans wanted to thank him for his hard work in keeping the team in first place while Ramirez was missing. Good for those fans. Good for Pierre.

If only there was the same attitude of gratitude in that guy who replaced him.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillPlaschke

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