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Inside the mess with the Marlins

Marlins star shortstop Hanley Ramirez loafed after a ball, earning an embarrassing removal from Monday's game for lack of hustle. But Ramirez managed to make things much worse with his words by turning on his manager and teammates. One day after that passive play, Ramirez turned aggressive, mocking his gutsy manager Fredi Gonzalez, his manager's words and even his own teammates. In the process, Ramirez may have exposed himself as perhaps the prime example of the selfish, spoiled, egotistical ballplayer.

We can only guess as to how many times Gonzalez has covered for his petulant star before, but Marlins people say it has happened quite frequently. "It seems to be an annual thing with him," said one Marlins-connected person.

Ramirez's maturity level is said by people around the team to be nowhere near even his 25 years, and he's earned their disrespect through previous misdeeds, many of which were cagily obscured by Gonzalez. Team sources say he has on occasion made a spectacle of himself on team flights. Only snippets of clubhouse discord have come out before, including the time late last year when teammate Dan Uggla called out Ramirez for removing himself from a game when Braves pitcher Tim Hudson was dominating. Ramirez cited a hamstring issue, but Uggla and other teammates suspected the batting race Ramirez eventually won might have played a role in his opting out of that game.

Ramirez's agent, Andy Mota, didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Gonzalez is all about his integrity, and he couldn't live with himself if he let this latest incident pass. This time, after Ramirez failed to hustle after a ball he accidentally kicked into the left-field corner as two runners scored in a 5-1 Diamondbacks victory and then failed to apologize, Gonzalez made no excuses for Ramirez.

A day later, after the apology Gonzalez requested still wasn't forthcoming from Ramirez, the star shortstop chose an opposite approach instead. He took a couple public potshots at his manager and one at his less talented teammates, who also are said in the past to have resisted revealing their negative feelings regarding the team's best player. According to other Marlins people, Gonzalez was especially incensed about Ramirez's attacks on the teammates, characterizing the situation to other people as Ramirez "throwing his teammates under the bus.''

Ramirez bolted out of the clubhouse on Monday. But the next day, in response to whether he intended to apologize for failing to hustle, Ramirez said to Marlins writers, "For what? We've got a lot of people dogging it after ground balls, and they don't apologize.''

Things worsened from there, believe it or not, as he issued what seemed to be a sarcastic challenge to the rest of the team. An apology now may require a lot more time, as Ramirez appeared to suggest that his teammates are not in his league. True or not, that's not something a good teammate should say aloud.

Playing off Gonzalez's remark from a day earlier about the Marlins having "24 (other) guys busting their butt,'' Ramirez told Marlins writers, "We've got 24 more guys out there. Hopefully, they can do the same things I do.''

The Marlins may find out whether they can do it without him because Gonzalez has signaled that Ramirez may continue to be benched until he apologizes to the team. Gonzalez, who sat Ramirez for Brian Barden on Tuesday, seemed not to be as concerned with Ramirez's rude remarks about him, according to other Marlins people.

Those comments weren't very sporting, either. Ramirez said he wouldn't expect Gonzalez to understand the situation because "he never played in the big leagues.'' He also said he lost "a little bit'' of respect for Gonzalez for benching him.

While his teammates respect Ramirez's vast talent, a large number of them are said by sources close to the Marlins to have little use for him personally. A vast majority of episodes and conflicts involving Ramirez have been obscured from public sight, but Ramirez seemed to acknowledge there's a rift when he said, "I respect everybody but I don't know if I get the same respect back.''

This time, it was Gonzalez, who clearly is fed up with the superstar's shenanigans. After meeting with Ramirez after Monday's game and apparently not hearing the contrition he was hoping for, Gonzalez met with club higherups Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill, David Samson and team owner Jeffery Loria. After reporting the contents of his conversation with Ramirez, Gonzalez apparently won his bosses' approval to continue disciplining the player who comprises about 25 percent of the cost-conscious team's payroll.

Gonzalez is a guy who says he is nothing without his integrity, and he wouldn't be able to face his other 24 players or himself if he didn't do the right thing, which is to bench Ramirez indefinitely. Ramirez needs to address the team as well as apologize to them as well as Gonzalez.

While Gonzalez was golden after the 8-0 win at home on Tuesday over Arizona in which Barden contributed a two-run single, there are no guarantees for Gonzalez if the cold war continues, Ramirez remains on the bench and the team loses one or more games.

Gonzalez full well understands that Ramirez is the one with the $70-million, six-year contract. The manager also knows that while Ramirez was awarded an expensive, even gaudy diamond ".342" necklace by Loria to commemorate his average that won last year's NL batting title, Gonzalez's reward for leading the $36-million 2009 Marlins to a startling 87 victories was to hear later how Loria spent much of the summer in contact with established veteran manager Bobby Valentine. While both Loria and Valentine denied Loria discussed Gonzalez's job, Loria's intent obviously wasn't calling overseas (Valentine was managing the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan at the time) to trade recipes. At one point Loria is said by a high-ranking major-league source to have suggested they meet in Paris, a frequent travel spot for the noted art dealer Loria. That meeting never took place, perhaps in part because the Marlins rallied late to get to the 87 wins.

Loria told SI.com the first week of this season that he loved his players and what was done in the winter, though nothing beyond keeping their arbitration-eligible stars was accomplished and no new players were brought in. However, he sounded much less enthusiastic about his manager. But if Loria's smart -- and if there's any justice at all -- he gives Gonzalez an extension to match Ramirez's, at least in terms of length.

Mets manager Jerry Manuel is under the gun, whether it's deserved or not. Manuel's bosses had a close eye on things even before flying to Atlanta Monday to discuss the team's latest issues. Club owner Jeff Wilpon said he didn't go to Atlanta to fire anybody, but it's clear at the very least that Manuel is under evaluation.

If Manuel goes, the Mets will almost assuredly hire Bob Melvin, the ex-Diamondbacks manager who's been serving as a Mets' scout, to replace him. And it's probably not a good sign for Manuel that everyone seems to know this.

The Mets' 19-21 record isn't awful considering they've been without Carlos Beltran. But there are concerns that go beyond that mark. Their attendance is down 17 percent, which is the third biggest drop in baseball (behind only Toronto and Cleveland), and it's to the point where they are handing over Subway Series tickets to the Yankees to fill the stands for games that are normally sold out immediately.

Through it all, Manuel's retained his perspective and humor. "I'm still here,'' he told reporters after emerging from the impromptu meeting.

For how long remains a question.

Meanwhile, there's no real evidence yet that Mets GM Omar Minaya is under the same sort of scrutiny from above, and there are three good reasons for that: 1) Fred Wilpon is a longtime admirer of Minaya's, 2) Minaya's contract runs through 2012 while the Mets have an option on Manuel after the year, 3) firing Minaya would be a much bigger undertaking considering much of the front office was hired by him. Conversely, Manuel didn't have as much control over who comprised his coaching staff.

At least one of Manuel's coaching suggestions was rejected by higherups this winter, as he is said by a Mets person to have tried to bring back former hitting coach Rick Down to serve some role. Former Mets star Howard Johnson is entrenched as hitting coach. But Manuel understood that the Mets go as Jose Reyes goes, and Reyes absolutely thrived in Down's tenure with the team.

Jayson Werth has become such a Philly fan favorite that it may be difficult for them to let him leave via free agency, never mind that he seems to hit a three-run homer every other day. Estimates of Werth's value fall anywhere between Jason Bay's $66-million deal and Matt Holliday's $120-million contract. Overall, he's hitting .336 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs. One executive said that while Werth has an all-around game, he won't get near Holliday's contract because he doesn't have the same track record. But he is still expected to seek a nine-figure deal.

Jose Contreras is doing a nice job closing for the Phillies in the absence of Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson. Chad Durbin has done a nice job, J.C. Romero is building up arm strength, Madson will be back eventually and Lidge said his cortisone shot helped his ailing elbow. But the Phillies may eventually still need to add a reliever.

• The Brewers have lost eight straight. Manager Ken Macha said he and his coaching staff are working hard to try to rectify things, but with his contract up after the year, logically his job is in at least some peril now. Ex-Mets manager and current Brewers bench coach Willie Randolph would appear to be the logical replacement.

Trevor Hoffman's brilliant career finally appears to be nearing the end. The Brewers' closer is 1-3 with a 13.15 ERA and has blown five saves in 10 save opportunities, which is even worse than Lidge started last year.

• The Royals fired Trey Hillman as manager shortly after giving him something of a vote of confidence, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that Ned Yost, a coach with the Braves when Royals GM Dayton Moore was in Atlanta, got the job. Perhaps Yost learned some things from his late-year implosions as manager of the Brewers.

• According to an AOL Fanhouse report, there are some negative financial surprises coming for the Dodgers' to affect Dodgers ownership. And that is really no surprise.

• In the meantime, GM Ned Colletti may have spurred the team onto better things by mentioning on his radio show that star Matt Kemp needed to play to his potential as a defender and baserunner. Sometimes, stirring things up pays dividends. They've won nine in a row now.

Victor Martinez and Daisuke Matsuzaka weren't on the same page in Boston's defeat Monday to the Yankees, with Matsuzaka continually shaking of Martinez and Matsuzaka later saying too many fastballs were called. And they weren't on the same page later, either. Martinez took offense to Dice-K's suggestion that V-Mart called too many fastballs and pointed out that the pitcher has the ultimate say. Regardless, no star's free agent prospects have taken a greater hit than Martinez's, though he could be viable as a first baseman if he's nothing more than a part-time catcher.

• Umpire Joe West's words -- in April he called the Yankees and Red Sox' slow pace of play "pathetic and embarrassing" -- didn't appear to have had any effect on those two teams this week. The series opener on Monday was 3:47 and Tuesday's game was 4:09. Josh Beckett pitched so slow Friday night he almost appeared to be mocking West from afar.

• On the plus side, Red Sox DH David Ortiz is making progress and should avoid a release, at least in the near term. In April, he had a .143 average and .524 OPS; in May, the figures are .367 and 1.163.

• Mets pitcher Oliver Perez (0-3, 5.94) might be wise to consider a minor-league assignment because he needs to work his way back to the starting rotation.

• The Cubs announced Monday that Carlos Zambrano will be moved back to the starting rotation. Zambrano deserves kudos for accepting his assignment as a set-up man even if it didn't work. Now he's in the role of long man in the pen while he works his way back to the rotation and has said he might be willing to accept a minor-league stint to aid the process. While a friend of his called the original transfer to the pen "asinine,'' good for Zambrano for going along with it. Z actually was slightly better in relief. He had a 7.45 ERA as a starter and 6.23 ERA as a reliever.

• Smart move by Braves manager Bobby Cox to put Martin Prado in the leadoff role and to move up phenom Jayson Heyward to the No. 2 spot. The change has helped improve the Braves to .500. But the bet here is that Heyward will wind up batting third or fourth before the year's out.

• Last year's trade that sent Nate McLouth from the Pirates to the Braves for Charlie Morton (and two others) has been an even one so far: McLouth is hitting .198 for the Braves after a poor half year for them last year while Morton is 1-7 with a 9.68 ERA for the Pirates.

• Planning for the 2011 All-Star Game is said to be very far along, meaning a switch of sites from Arizona is very unlikely. Another reason MLB is unlikely to change venues is that it doesn't want to set a precedent of being beholden to local laws, no matter how bad those laws may be.

• MLB got what appears to be good news when only an ex-NFL player (and no MLB players) was named as a recipient of HGH when the indictment of Toronto doctor Anthony Galea was handed down Tuesday. There was no mention of Alex Rodriguez, who had been scheduled to be interviewed by the feds. It isn't known yet whether they have conducted that interview.

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