Manny Ramirez, if you're truly sorry about creating this whole mess, if you mean what you say about letting down your teammates and your fans, you'll get in touch with a disillusioned teenager named Jesse Quintero. Don't worry, Manny, I'll help.
Until Thursday, you see, Quintero was one of the local masses who loved your loopy dreadlocks and worshiped your every at-bat. He's 19, from Long Beach, and has your poster tacked to his bedroom wall. Every morning, every night, sometimes in the afternoon, he finds himself listening to the radio, ripping through the Internet, reading the papers, keeping track of everything you do.
But not anymore. Not after this.
I met Quintero, a barrel-chested former high school pitcher now putting himself through junior college, on Thursday in the stands at Dodger Stadium. He wore a black Jackie Robinson T-shirt and a deep, dark frown. "I'm mad," he said. "You want me to be honest, right? I'm really, really mad. This guy, everybody believed in him. Me, I don't believe anymore."
I'd spent a good hour trolling the stands. Several other fans had seemed far less certain, far more willing to let loyalty be trampled. Several looked down when they spoke about supporting Manny, as if ashamed. Quintero? He looked me in the eyes and played it straight: fastball, down the pipes.
"Far as I'm concerned, Manny shouldn't pick up his own option," said Quintero, referring to a contract provision allowing the left fielder to leave at season's end. Quintero sat with his 14-year-old brother in the left-field section the Dodgers recently christened "Mannywood." Last week, when I wrote what in hindsight was a foolish column that called for the Dodgers to sign Ramirez to a long-term deal, those stands buzzed with enough energy to light every lamp from here to Tijuana. Thursday night they were half full and had one-quarter the wattage but plenty of steam from one ticked-off guy. "He should walk away," Quintero quipped. "He should be embarrassed, because he made us and our whole city look bad."
He told me how, when he heard the news this morning, he felt as if he'd been punched. Quintero was raised a Dodgers fan. He has photos of himself at Chavez Ravine, age 5. He grew up hearing tales of glory but learned to love the team when it was down, through the sour years, through Shawn Green and Raul Mondesi and Adrian Beltre. He has been on road trips to see his team play in San Francisco, San Diego and Phoenix.
Yes, he loves this team. He said he'd long been pointing to last night's game, his first at Dodger Stadium all season. He'd saved nearly $200 for it. His plan was to sit in Mannywood, to bring his kid brother, to watch his favorite player from feet away.
Then he gets the news and his trust gets tossed. "You hear fans saying they'll just forgive this guy when he comes back after 50 games. . . . I say that's hypocritical," he said. "What were those fans yelling at Barry Bonds when he was here for another team? What would they say to A-Rod?" He mimicked the battle cry rained down on Bonds: "Staaiiirrroiiidsss! Staaiiirrroiiidsss!"
Now, Quintero wondered, why would some fans be so willing to forgive and forget? Why would they not hold Ramirez accountable for the message that's being sent? "So, it's OK to cheat as long as you're really good, as long as you serve your 50 games? No, right now, he doesn't make the Hall of Fame . . . you take away the homers. I'm sick of this."
I asked what it would take to calm his anger and ease the betrayal.
"He needs to really come clean," came the answer.
Let me add a bit more. Manny, in the next two days, needs to make himself vulnerable. Needs to publicly tell all, admit all, show the deepest remorse imaginable. No statements typed by God-knows-who. No A-Rodesque half-truths and fairy tales. No letting Scott Boras do the spinning. No allowing the team to hide, as it did in a news conference Thursday, behind calm, cool, Orwellian double-talk.
Manny, don't be blinded by those who say they'll love you no matter what. Listen to the ones who can step away from the stardust and give it to you straight. Apologize to them, with a heavy heart. Do it in a news conference. Do it with individual fans. You know how to reach me. I've got Jesse Quintero's phone number and e-mail. I'll put you two in touch. It'll be a start.