GLENDALE, Ariz. -- At precisely 9:50 a.m. Thursday morning,
Some of his teammates, which were seated at a table in the middle of the room for a meeting, even began applauding the arrival, at long last, of their superstar leftfielder. All of them were smiling.
For the moment, at least, any concerns about what type of impact Ramirez's long and sometimes strange contract negotiations, his late arrival in camp or his occasionally distracting but always dominant personality would have on the Dodgers clubhouse and their season were put to rest. Ramirez and his lethal bat are back and that is more than enough to brighten the mood around the team.
But when Ramirez opened his press conference by declaring "I'm ba-aack!" he said more than he knew. The Dodgers are back, too -- back to being the team to beat in the National League West. The circus that has accompanied Ramirez for much of his career is back. Seeing the larger-than-usual crowd of fans and media that had gathered outside the team complex this morning, first baseman
"Manny's one of the handful of players that can do this," said Dodgers manager
And the questions about how long Ramirez stays on his best behavior are back, as well. Controversy has been as much apart of Ramirez in recent seasons as a stellar batting line, but in 2008, the controversy threatened to derail an entire team, precipitating his deadline trade from Boston to Los Angeles. First, for getting into a dugout shoving match with teammate
But after a deadline trade from Boston to Los Angeles, all that friction and the bitterness it produced vanished. The only Ramirez anyone saw was the dedicated superstar with the otherworldly talent. He strapped the Dodgers to his back and dragged them to the NL West title on the strength of an absurd .396/.489/.793 stat line that included 17 home runs and 53 RBIs in just 53 games.
It was that performance, and the exemplary work ethic that produced it, that Ramirez's teammates have been focused on since learning of his return on television yesterday. Any concerns over the baggage that accompanies their star has been overlooked and, in some eyes, overblown.
"He gets a bum rap. Just because he's really good at what he does, he's overexposed," said
Ramirez is unlikely to be playing much at all for the next week or so, according to Torre, but there is little doubt that he'll be ready by Opening Day. In the meantime, he spent the majority of his first day showing off, as Boras put it, his "gregarious, comedic, wit," rather than the skills that have made him one of the most productive -- and, once again, richest -- players in the game. In fact, when Boras referred to his client as a "stand-up left fielder," he didn't mean with his bat, his glove or his comportment, but rather his personality.
Here was Manny telling Dodgers owner
Ramirez is, as McCourt noted, "sophisticated and bright, but he has a lot of boy in him." That echoes the famous quote of Hall of Fame Dodgers catcher
The times where Ramirez has caused the most headaches for others in his career have been when he's shown too much immaturity, too much Manny Being Manny, too much little boy and not enough of the man who, according to McCourt, is "much more serious than people think he is. He's very inquisitive. People confuse fun-loving as lack of commitment, and that's a mistake. I understand Manny better now because I understand his thinking better."
There was speculation that Ramirez's behavior with the Red Sox may have limited the interest he received on the free-agent market this winter. Both Boras and McCourt tap-danced around the issue. When McCourt was asked whether he had spoken to Ramirez about what happened in Boston, he said, "I'm very satisfied he was coming here for the right reasons. Other than that, those are private conversations."
"We're not trying to ignore the Boston thing, but that's ancient history as far as I'm concerned," said Torre.
Only Ramirez addressed the matter head-on. "I was looking for this place for eight years and now I'm here. What happened in Boston didn't hurt me. I won now. I won getting out of there. [Here] the fans love me, my teammates love me. I'm happy."
That goes for all those who bleed Dodger blue, from the fans who chanted his name when he took his first cuts in the batting cage, to the teammates who embraced him upon his arrival, to the management team that made his return a reality with a significant financial investment. Everyone is happy. Whether they stay that way remains to be seen.