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Dodgers pull plug on Mannywood -- for now

Fans who purchased the $99 packages would be given a refund upon request.

May 08, 2009|Bill Shaikin

There is no joy in Mannywood. For that matter, there is no Mannywood.

The most talented and most popular player among all the Dodgers essentially vanished Thursday, banned from baseball for 50 games after flunking a drug test. Manny Ramirez, whose effervescent attitude and lethal bat had made him the face of this storied franchise, had been labeled a cheater before a largely adoring fan base at Dodger Stadium.

"They embraced Manny here," Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said. "I'd like to believe it could happen again. But there's got to be a period of healing."

The Dodgers initiated the process by swiftly revamping a marketing strategy that had revolved around Ramirez. They pulled the plug on the "Mannywood" seats in left field, yanked the trademark dreadlock wigs from the shelves of the team store and removed Ramirez T-shirts for sale at kiosks on the field level.

And on their first day of life without Ramirez, the Dodgers blew a six-run lead and lost to the worst team in the major leagues. The 11-9 loss to the Washington Nationals snapped the Dodgers' 13-game home winning streak to start the season, which set a record.

His disappearance from Dodger Stadium -- in person and otherwise -- comes less than a year after he arrived with the reputation as one of the greatest hitters and problem children in baseball.

The Boston Red Sox last July divorced Ramirez, dumping him on the Dodgers for free and bringing to an end a stormy eight-year relationship. Ramirez then led the Dodgers to their first National League championship series in 20 years, with not even a hint of misbehavior.

Fans adored him, and vice versa.

So on billboards around town, and in ads on radio, television and the Internet, the Dodgers' spring marketing campaign featured Ramirez and the words, "I'm back."

"For a short period of time, we were definitely hitching our wagon to Manny," Dodgers President Dennis Mannion said.

Said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute: "You can't put all your eggs in one basket and let a guy like Ramirez hold the basket."

But on the day "I'm back" turned into "I'm gone," Mannion said he was not concerned about selling the Dodgers without Ramirez, pointing out that the team already was rolling out a new campaign, "This Is Our Town," featuring various celebrities and players.

"We're not going to crop Manny out," he said.

Ramirez T-shirts and replica jerseys remain available in the team stores, he said, and not at a discount from the price of $30 for the T-shirt and $280 for the replica jersey.

The Ramirez bobblehead giveaway scheduled for July 22 will go on, he said, but the Dodgers have yet to determine whether the special Mannywood section will return in July, when Ramirez does.

"He's got his own cheering section," catcher Russell Martin said. "People love Manny. Now they'll be missing him."

For $99, the Dodgers sold a package that included two tickets adjacent to Ramirez's position in left field and two Mannywood T-shirts. The package will remain available, Mannion said, but now with fans having the option of a Mannywood T-shirt or a Dodgers T-shirt.

The Dodgers will offer refunds to fans who purchased those tickets in anticipation of watching Ramirez play, Mannion said.

But Bryan Plummer of Mission Viejo wanted no part of a refund. He bought his tickets for Thursday's game a month ago to celebrate his birthday with Ramirez at Dodger Stadium, and he proudly wore his Mannywood T-shirt.

"We're coming regardless," he said. "We still love him. Everybody makes mistakes. He's not the first and he won't be the last."

In the Mannywood section, and elsewhere around Dodger Stadium, there was no shortage of fans dressed in Ramirez jerseys and T-shirts, including one who modified his T-shirt to read, "Free Ramirez."

Carolann Shapiro of Los Angeles said she respected that Ramirez accepted responsibility in his statement.

"I think we as fans are very forgiving," Shapiro said. "My husband said, 'You should throw your dreadlocks on the field.' They got me for $55 for those dreadlocks, so I'm not going to throw them on the field."

(Stadium stores regularly sell dreadlock wigs for $25.)

Ramirez could win forgiveness, Carter said, by hitting so well when he returns that he powers the Dodgers toward their first World Series appearance since 1988.

"If Ramirez can come back in 50 games and deliver the Dodgers into the playoffs again, and be seen as part of a second-half renaissance, people will be quick to forgive," Carter said. "They'll remember, but they'll forgive."

Roy Watson of Alhambra, also seated in the Mannywood section, noted that Alex Rodriguez is scheduled to rejoin the New York Yankees tonight after recovering from hip surgery.

Rodriguez and Ramirez, the two highest-paid players, each have been revealed to have failed a drug test.

"If, in Manny's first game back, he goes 2 for 3 and hits a home run, no one is going to care," Watson said. "If the Dodgers win the West, that's all that matters.

"A-Rod is back. No one cares about that stuff any more."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Times staff writer Mike Hiserman contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

50

The number of games Manny Ramirez is suspended for using a banned substance.

31%

The proportion of pay Ramirez will lose: $7.7 million of his $25-million salary.

21-8

The Dodgers' record going into Ramirez's suspension -- the best in baseball.

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