FROM PHOENIX — I'm b-a-a-a-ck.
Was he ever.
And the media were ready. So were the fans.
More than a dozen television cameras were lined on the second-floor balcony where the Dodgers staged their Thursday morning news conference to re-introduce Manny Ramirez. The crowd behind Field 1 at Camelback Ranch grew to double its normal size when Ramirez took batting practice. Four security guards had to escort him as he made his way from another practice field to the batting cages, as he was engulfed by a mob of autograph seekers who kicked up a storm of dust on the dirt path.
Ramirez didn't play in the Dodgers' 5-4 exhibition victory over the Chicago White Sox but was introduced to fans at the top of the second inning. He was standing on the same balcony where he met reporters earlier, which was part of the Dodgers' administrative building adjacent to the ballpark. He waved. The crowd cheered.
"Wow," first baseman James Loney said. "Crazy."
That kind of public response was one of the reasons Ramirez cited when explaining that he wasn't down about not receiving the kind of four- or five-year deal he was asking for at the start of the off-season.
He settled for a heavily deferred two-year, $45-million contract that included an opt-out clause that he could exercise at the end of the first year.
"Sometimes it's better off to have a two-year deal in a place that you're going to be happy than an eight-year deal in a that place you're going to suffer," he said.
Ramirez's last contract was an eight-year, $160-million deal that he signed with the Red Sox, whom he forced into trading him at the July nonwaiver trade deadline last year.
"I was looking for this place for eight years," he said. "Now, I'm here."
And he said he wants to stay.
Ramirez immediately started campaigning for his next contract and put Dodgers owner Frank McCourt on the spot, something that went largely unnoticed because Ramirez was speaking in Spanish when he did so.
Asked whether he would like to retire a Dodger, Ramirez replied, "Yes, I'd like that. But this is a business. Frank is the one who signs the checks. The decision is his to make. I'm only an employee here. I'm going to try to do my job here. If he wants me to finish my career here, everything is in his hands."
Relayed Ramirez's comments, McCourt said, "Well, good. I hope he does. I think that'd be great. But we can't get carried away here, either. We have to focus on the task at hand and the task at hand is to go out there and perform this year."
Finalizing this deal was hard enough.
Last week, McCourt had offered Ramirez what was almost identical to the one he ended up signing. Instead of accepting it, Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, made a counterproposal.
Upset that the opening of Camelback Ranch was overshadowed by talk of the negotiation, McCourt said Sunday the latest round of negotiations was dead and future talks would restart from "scratch."
McCourt said he reconsidered his position after taking a phone call from Boras on Monday night.
Boras, according to McCourt, "said he wanted to get this done and he wanted to get back at it. I asked him what that meant and he said, 'Basically, we'd like to do the deal you offered last Wednesday.' . . . It was very clear to me that the business part of the transaction could be settled at that point in time."
McCourt admitted to being calmer on that day than he was Sunday.
"Sometimes in a negotiation, rather than inflame emotions, what you want do is give people time to reflect," he said. "That's for both sides."
Boras disputed the notion that he went back to McCourt in such a submissive manner, saying he demanded the inclusion of a no-trade provision. The clause was added.
But McCourt wasn't done, either. The owner said he wanted Ramirez to donate money to the Dodgers Dream Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the club that has started building youth fields in the Los Angeles area. Ramirez agreed to donate $1 million, part of which will go toward constructing a field in his native Dominican Republic.
McCourt said he would include a "Ramirez provision" in every future contract issued by the club that would essentially force players to donate money to the charity.
McCourt explains: "Every contract will have a Ramirez provision with a blank line and it will be up to the player to fill in how much he's going to give to the community in which he plays. But he will have to fill in a number."
Excluding Ramirez, four free agents signed by the Dodgers to major-league deals this off-season made donations to the foundation: Casey Blake ($25,000 a year over three years), Rafael Furcal ($100,000 a year over three years), Orlando Hudson ($25,000) and Randy Wolf ($20,000).
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
Where Manny Ramirez ranks among the all-time leaders:
1. Barry Bonds
2. Hank Aaron
3. Babe Ruth
4. Willie Mays
5. Ken Griffey Jr.
17. Manny Ramirez
1. Pete Rose
2. Ty Cobb
3. Hank Aaron
4. Stan Musial
5. Tris Speaker
110. Manny Ramirez
1. Hank Aaron
2. Babe Ruth
3. Cap Anson
4. Barry Bonds
5. Lou Gehrig
20. Manny Ramirez
1. Babe Ruth
2. Ted Williams
3. Lou Gehrig
4. Albert Pujols
5. Jimmie Foxx
8. Manny Ramirez