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T.J. SIMERS

Manny Ramirez has some things to say

Free-agent outfielder says he isn't worried about the delayed negotiations, that a two-year deal is fine with him, and thanks the fans in L.A. for their support.

March 04, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

FROM PHOENIX — The phone rings, and the voice sounds familiar, the giggle unmistakable.

"It's me," Manny Ramirez says, "your girlfriend."

What perfect timing, Manny flying to L.A. on Tuesday night as The Times learns that discussions have resumed and progressed to the point where owner Frank McCourt wants to meet with Ramirez.

McCourt had a lengthy meeting with Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, and they are working toward consummating a two-year, $45-million contract, which still includes a player option to remain with the team the second year.

You remember just what made him so endearing a year ago in making the Dodgers relevant in L.A. once again, the last time we spoke yet another joke closing out his stay in town: "Gas is up and so am I."

Reminded now, he laughs. "No, gas isn't up any more, but the price of milk is the same."

Take a few minutes, and while at first it doesn't always make sense what the goof has to say, usually there's a message very close to the truth in there.

Due to earn $40 million over the final two years of his contract with Boston, he knows now it's not going to be much different if he signs with the Dodgers.

"Two years is fine with me," he says, and whoever thought they would hear that from Manny Ramirez?

He will turn 37 this season and had hoped for four or five years to take him to the end of his career, but now he says, "the economy is making me adjust. That's just the way it is."

But some folks, and they don't all live in Boston, believe he won't be happy with such a contract given his earlier expectations, and therefore won't put out.

"I cannot control what people might think," Manny says. "The economy is making everyone adjust. I will be happy to play for L.A., win and win a couple Gold Gloves just like Andruw Jones." At least he didn't say, "hit like Andruw Jones."

Manny's goofiness doesn't always play well in baseball, a game filled with so many serious folks, including many who make their living writing about the sport.

But in his time with the Dodgers, it became clear to those who hardly knew him previously, he's dedicated to working hard in order to hit the baseball hard with regularity.

The debate continues whether he is more into himself than his team, but inside the Dodgers' locker room it's unanimous -- unless someone is keeping quiet -- how much he meant to everyone on the team last season.

The Dodgers look solid and deeper in the infield this year, have an outstanding catcher and two key contributors in the outfield, but might need time, a miracle or a whole bunch of key hits again from Manny to compensate for a shaky starting rotation and bullpen.

But then how happy will Manny be after forcing his exit from Boston and playing at a level never seen before in L.A. only to fall so short in contract demands?

"You're not listening to me," he says. "I've looked at the big picture from every different angle and life is too short to be mad. I've already made a ton of money and now it's just about negotiating a deal. It's what happens in sports.

"As long as I'm alive, I'm happy. I'm sitting here in my house by the water, drinking a margarita, dark glasses on and I'm in a good place. I'm in pretty good shape too, playing with my three kids all the time."

He says he knows some people -- given the present state of the economy -- might consider him greedy, "but it's always been a part of negotiations in sports," he says.

"I'm happy in L.A. I like my teammates and had a great time. The fans were so good to me; they treated me the best anywhere in my career. And now I think we're close [to a deal]."

Negotiations had broken down recently, but they started up again Tuesday. A few hours after Manny called, ESPN Deportes was even reporting a done deal, but both sides quickly indicated the report was not true.

The Dodgers deserve credit for playing the negotiating game perfectly with Manny. But ultimately it's only a success if he winds up in a Dodgers uniform.

McCourt insists he wants Manny on the payroll, but he hasn't sounded thrilled with Boras.

There was thought that McCourt needed time to calm down and be reminded that it wasn't Boras he wanted playing for the Dodgers, but the news that both sides are meeting is a very positive sign that things are back on track.

The fear internally was that McCourt might toughen his stance, empowered by the economic times and public opinion that Manny and Boras were greedy. Lowering the Dodgers' offer might have opened the door to another suitor, but the resumption of talks has to be considered a positive sign for Dodgers fans interested in watching Manny play this season.

"He's [McCourt] negotiating as owners do, and I know he wants to win," ' Manny says. "I'm not bothered by what's happened. That's what negotiations are, but I just want to make one thing clear, I have faith in Scott. I know everything that's going on and we're communicating."

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