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They've signed off on Manny

August 04, 2010|BILL PLASCHKE

Once the boisterous life of the party, it's now the loneliest place in the yard.

The celebrated sign has been torn down. The bright swatch of seats is mostly bare. The mayor is in exile in Arizona.

"It's dead out here,'' says Joe Bruno, 50, a season-ticket holder sitting alone in a long quiet row. "Been dead all year.''

Mannywood is now Deadwood, the Dodgers ill-conceived tribute to Manny Ramirez serving as a metaphor for the man himself. The two previously rollicking sections in the left-field corner at Dodger Stadium now have the hollow look of a party gone bad.

''Manny had us going for a while,'' said Oscar Chavez, 28, celebrating his birthday there Tuesday night with eight easily obtained tickets for his family. ''But now he's done.''

And the Dodgers, it seems, are finally done with him, having torn down the Mannywood signs during the last trip, replacing them with billboards advertising an insurance company and the Dodgers' flagship radio station.

Dodgers officials say the space has been for sale all season, that the change of signs has nothing to do with the end of Mannywood, which is still being sold as a destination spot on its website.

The few hardy folks who still show up there aren't buying it.

"Nah, I heard that and I don't believe it,'' said Hernan Gutierrez, 21, who is dedicated enough to drive down several times a year from Bakersfield. ''Manny just hasn't been around very much, so we expected the sign to come down.''

Ramirez has been around for barely half the Dodgers' games this year, fighting off leg injuries that steroids apparently can no longer heal, finishing his brief Dodgers career in silence and pain. His latest bout with a calf injury has sent him to Arizona amid such uncertainty, when Torre was asked when he expected to see him again, the manager shrugged.

''I have no idea,'' Torre said.

Two summers ago, we all knew where Manny Ramirez was, because he was everywhere. Dumped on Chavez Ravine's doorstep by the weary Boston Red Sox, the troubled Ramirez arrived here in August 2008, his baggy pants and funky dreadlocks hiding a serious mission.

He wanted to change his image long enough to cash in on a new contract. He wanted our affection so we could give him our money.

Mission accomplished. He carried the team on the field, courted the media in the clubhouse, led the Dodgers to within three wins of a World Series appearance, and here came the rain.

A two-year, $45-million contract, and the creation of that outrageous little corner known as Mannywood.

The Dodgers had no choice in giving Ramirez the contract, but they were misguided schemers in creating his own section, furnishing him with an aura of power that separated him from his younger teammates, refurbishing the Boston-built monster for the sake of a few extra bucks.

Funny, but the Lakers never felt a need for a Kobe Town.

Less than two months into his new contract, when Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for violating baseball's drug policy, the Dodgers had already invested so much in his star power, they had to fraudulently support him, and it was the beginning of the end.

He was given special treatment, complete with body guards and chauffeurs, during his minor-league ''rehabilitation'' starts. He was then cheered on his return to the lineup by those sitting in a Mannywood section that never closed.

He was never forced to answer the hard questions, face the uneasy truths, or make the difficult changes necessary for former steroid users to maintain some semblance of their success. And so, with a few exceptions like his brilliant bobblehead night grand slam, he miserably failed.

''His personality changed, he lost his swagger,'' Torre said.

His downfall was typified by the ninth inning of the wrenching Game 4 National League Championship Series loss to the Philadelphia Phillies last season, when Ramirez admitted he missed the Phillies' comeback because he was in shower.

Of course, nobody in the organization ripped him for it. Nobody ever ripped him for anything. Remember, he was always just Manny being.... I'm so sick of this line, I can't write it anymore.

Not surprisingly, this summer has been one giant pulled muscle, Ramirez discovering that he has become just another 38-year-old hacker with a brittle step and warning-track power, so embarrassed that he has refused to speak to the media he once embraced. If he comes back from the disabled list with the Dodgers believing they still have a reasonable chance at a playoff spot, they will keep him for the final month of his career here. If the Dodgers think they are out of it, they will trade him.

''First of all, we really need him back,'' General Manager Ned Colletti said. ''Then we'll see how things play out.''

But haven't things already played out? Haven't lessons already been learned?

Mannywood is gone, and let's hope that in the future, no matter what size star shows up at Chavez Ravine, nobody there makes him bigger than the team. Let's hope that now the Dodgers will be content just being the Dodgers.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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