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BILL PLASCHKE

Manny Ramirez's lesson in leverage

Dodgers manage to humble and sign Manny. Everybody wins.

March 05, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

Hurray for Mannywood.

Concluding a four-month run that was part slapstick, part soap opera, and completely surreal, the drama between the Dodgers and Manny Ramirez is finally over.

The guy with the dreadlocks, pajama pants and 450-foot home runs is back.

So, too, is the buzz that turned Dodger Stadium into a Manny splendored thing.

The Dodgers won a huge victory Wednesday, signing their best hitter and most popular player to a deal that is long on money and short on leash, a two-year, $45-million contract.

Ramirez also won, with a no-trade clause and an option that gives him the right to void the contract after one season if he thinks he can make more money elsewhere.

Dodgers fans won as well, gaining more face time with a slugger who, in two jaw-dropping months last season, led their ordinary team to within three wins of their first World Series appearance in 20 years.

The only thing that lost was common sense.

Ramirez didn't sign on a dotted line, but a crooked one, as he and agent Scott Boras led these negotiations through four months, four offers and huge pouts, most of it unnecessary and all of it ending in some sobering realities.

This deal was worth virtually no more money for two years than the deal that the Dodgers first offered him back in November.

This deal was almost identical to the one the Dodgers offered last week.

And, oh yeah, this deal came within days of Dodgers owner Frank McCourt's angry promise to take all deals off the table.

By then, worried about his attitude and their wallets, every other major league team essentially passed on Ramirez. Teams issued statements saying they didn't want him. Even the Washington Nationals turned him down.

He had no leverage, yet was playing it like he had all the leverage, and only when McCourt threatened to take his checkbook and walk away was the stalemate broken.

Finally, when Boras phoned McCourt on Monday night and essentially agreed to the earlier offer, the owner relented.

The rivals then met at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Tuesday to finalize the details.

"What matters is how the process is finalized," McCourt said in a phone interview Wednesday night. "This was finalized on a high note. We're happy, and Manny seems happy, and now we can focus on winning a World Series."

Their path to October, however, is not guaranteed, not even with a future Hall of Famer coming off two of the best months of his career.

Last season, after joining the Dodgers in August from the Boston Red Sox, Ramirez crushed the ball at a full-season pace of 51 homers and 162 runs batted in.

Yet during that time, their record was only 30-24.

Last October, in eight playoff games, Ramirez was virtually unstoppable, hitting .520 with four homers and 10 RBIs.

Yet they finished three wins short of the World Series.

Though Ramirez can bring them to the precipice of a title, it's going to take pitching to carry them there, and both the Dodgers rotation and bullpen are suspect enough that they probably will have to make at least one more big move there during the season.

But, with giant hits and giant smiles and that funky skullcap back in town, they have become exponentially more fun.

"Manny has shown that he has an ability to significantly alter our lineup," General Manager Ned Colletti said in a statement, later adding, "Manny showed great leadership in the clubhouse and on the field last season, and to say we're very pleased that he's back with the Dodgers is an understatement."

To say that Ramirez was expecting more money and more years when this process began is also an understatement.

Ramirez left the Dodger Stadium clubhouse at the end of last season with the infamous quote, "Gas is up, and so am I."

But, like gas, that price was very inflated.

Economic woes were part of the problem, but much of it was his tarnished reputation.

There are players who signed huge deals this winter, with the New York Yankees giving Mark Teixeira $180 million and CC Sabathia $161 million.

But neither of them have ever been accused of tanking it.

Remember, the only reason that Ramirez became a Dodger was because he literally walked out on the Red Sox after growing angry with management there.

He was accused of faking an injury and failing to hustle and, in the end, the Red Sox felt they had no choice but to banish him.

He was on his best behavior for two months in Los Angeles, and there was some thought that, even at age 36, he had changed his ways.

I wrote in September that the Dodgers should sign Ramirez to nothing longer than a two-year deal, but at the time I thought that was impossible, and bid him goodbye.

Hello, tough love.

It turns out, baseball trusted his quitting more than his hitting.

The only thing more amazing than baseball taking a moral high ground was the Dodgers' savvy in mining it.

After giving awful contracts to the likes of Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones, they stood smartly here.

Ramirez wanted four years -- he agreed to half of that.

He wanted as much as $100 million -- he agreed to less than half of that.

The Dodgers wanted a hungry Ramirez -- here's guessing that they have received exactly that, and just in time.

Nearly a month before the start of the regular season, fans can stop fretting over Manny being Manny, and finally start celebrating Manny being a Dodger.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Follow Plaschke on Twitter at

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