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Manny just looking out for No. 1

BOSTON -- It's time MannyRamirez deserved some credit.

He's more shrewd than naïve. He's more aloof than unaware.

His eccentricities and generally unpredictable behavior -- including his public apology to Boston on Friday -- are all about doing what's best for the brand of Manny.

Right now, with the market for free-agent-to-be Manny uncertain, the best thing he can do is help his team win. So far it's working. After the Dodgers awarded Ramirez to the White Sox on waivers on Monday, Chicago has won four straight games, including two wins Saturday in a doubleheader sweep of the Red Sox.

It was the sequel to Ramirez's June homecoming when he returned to Fenway Park with the Dodgers. On Saturday, he scattered three hits over two games and is now 4-of-11 since joining Chicago. He received another mixed greeting from Red Sox fans, though unlike the crowd in June that leaned slightly toward cheers, this time the boos -- perhaps two-thirds -- prevailed.

On this visit, however, Ramirez anticipated the groundswell of boos awaiting him -- likely expecting the tide to have turned given his second unceremonious exit from a team and a Red Sox fan base frustrated by its season going nowhere -- and offered a blanket apology. Had he not, the reaction Saturday might have been worse.

Soon after it was announced at 2:30 p.m. on Friday that the game evening had been called in expectation of Hurricane Earl's landfall, Ramirez held court with a handful of media in the underbelly of Fenway Park and assumed blame for the end of his tenure with the Red Sox in 2008, when the club with whom he won two World Series unceremoniously dumped him in a trade despite being in playoff contention.

"Everything was my fault, but you have to be a real man to realize when you do wrong," Ramirez told reporters. "It was my fault, right? I already passed that stage. I'm happy. I'm on a new team. . . . It takes a real man to go and tell a person it was my fault and that's what I did."

That sounds nice, but two questions: Why didn't he say any of this -- or anything at all -- when he visited Fenway in June as a member of the Dodgers? Also, couldn't he have let his words and actions speak for themselves rather than actually telling everyone he's being "a real man" for having made such an apology? Ramirez even included the preposterous suggestion that he'd welcome a return to play for the Red Sox.

Why speak now? The answer is obvious. Ramirez always has an eye on what's next and what's best for him -- in other words, he's looking for his next contract. In 2008, the final year of his eight-year contract with the Red Sox, he acted as cantankerous and tempestuous as he needed to in order to get the change of scenery he wanted. After his trade to the Dodgers, Ramirez hit 97 points higher and homered twice as frequently, earning himself a two-year, $45-million deal.

This summer, he grew unhappy and unhealthy in Los Angeles and, likely realizing his best bet to stay on the field and audition for a new contract was to move to the American League where he could prove he could still hit as a designated hitter. After learning that the White Sox had claimed him off waivers, Ramirez got himself ejected arguing a called first strike while pinch-hitting with the bases loaded in a game the Dodgers needed to win to preserve their longshot playoff hopes. The Dodgers gave him up on waivers the next day.

Because of his talent -- surefire first-ballot Hall-of-Fame numbers (.312 career average, 554 home runs, 12 All-Star appearances), if not for his suspension for failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs -- and because of his promise to replicate the dominant 53 games he had for the Dodgers in 2008 when he batted .396 with 17 home runs, he'll always be welcomed in a new place.

The White Sox certainly need him. They trail the Twins by 3½ games in the AL Central, and their designated hitters have batted just .242 with a .317 on-base percentage and 16 home runs this year. Twice in three games has a White Sox player delivered a key home run with Ramirez standing in the on-deck circle, leading one to suspect he played at least a small role in his teammates getting the right pitch to hit.

"When he gets in the box, everybody knows it," Chicago second baseman GordonBeckham said. "It's not just a DH. It's Manny Ramirez."

Indeed, Ramirez seems to have a set of enablers everywhere he goes.

Regarding his ejection in his final at bat, Beckham defended his new teammate, saying, "If you saw the pitch, it was a pretty bad call. It was in the other batter's box. I don't blame him for that. I think the umpire had a pretty quick trigger right there."

On Tuesday, Ramirez's first with the White Sox, he said he felt like energized a 25-year-old, only he didn't start that game because he had taken a redeye flight and felt too tired. Apparently earning $3.83 million for the final 31 games doesn't supersede a little fatigue. Either that or he's just the most lethargic, got-that-2:30-feeling 25-year old around.

Of course, Ramirez did not say anything in English. He used bench coach JoeyCora to translate his Spanish to English at a press conference. Nevermind that Ramirez went to high school in the United States and never required a translator earlier in his career, but suddenly he needed help with the language barrier, a stunt that inspired a hearty laugh from members of both the Red Sox and White Sox.

"He asked me to do that," Cora said Saturday. "Maybe he wanted to make a point, maybe he didn't. He's blessed in the fact that he can speak Spanish and English. Maybe that day he wanted to talk Spanish. That's the way it goes. Nobody else blame anybody else to speak English when they go to the Dominican or anywhere else. I don't see it as the big deal that everybody else has."

It's a big deal because Ramirez's comments are so infrequent. With the Dodgers, Ramirez only managed to play 66 of his team's 131 games and spent most of that time in public silence.

"Sometimes I think he can be misunderstood because he's a guy that prepares a lot before the game," Cora said. "Sometimes the media wants their time of his time, but he's one of the better prepared guys in the game. He takes a long time to get prepared. Sometimes he gets misunderstood when he says 'I'm not going to talk to you because I've got to prepare' because it is true. People don't believe him."

Approached exactly three hours before the start of Saturday's game and asked if he would talk, Ramirez said, "No, I've got to get ready for the game." Fair. Will you talk after the game? "No," he said. And, sure enough, he did not make himself available in the visitors' clubhouse.

Though White Sox ownership has a team rule barring long hair, Ramirez flouted the rule for his first two days with the club, then had his personal barber snip 99 millimeters -- about four inches, proportionally an insignificant amount -- off the ends of his dreads. Get it, 99? It's all about self-promotion. This is the barber, after all, who is also a close friend of the player and the man credited for suggesting he wear No. 99 with the Dodgers and now White Sox.

"The last thing I'm worried about right now is Manny's hair," Gullien said. "He doesn't want to be bothered. He just wants to play the game. As long as he runs out the balls for me and goes out and performs, I'm fine. I just worry about what he does for the White Sox. I don't know what happened with Manny with the Dodgers or with Boston."

Still, though, Guillen and his outsized personality may be the best match for Ramirez. Guillen has smartly gone out of his way to temper early expectations, insisting that the White Sox still belong to PaulKonerko, who is having an MVP caliber season, and refusing to say that Chicago needs Ramirez.

"Manny did not come here to save this ball club," Guillen said. "Manny has come here to make us better."

In the Red Sox's clubhouse, Ramirez's apology was generally well-received, especially by his friend, DavidOrtiz.

"That made me really, really happy because Manny is a good person and isn't a bad guy," Ortiz said. "He's just a person who had a lot of things going on in his mind and he wouldn't focus on one of them. Now he's focusing on things better. He's trying to slow things down. I hear that he's getting closer to God and doing things like that, and that's the best thing that could ever happen to him."

Others were a bit more conservative in their appreciation of Ramirez's comments. His one personal apology was to Boston first baseman KevinYoukilis, with whom he engaged in a dugout shouting match in 2008. Youkilis acknowledged that Ramirez had indeed apologized to him on his last trip to Fenway in June, but otherwise Youkilis was restrained in discussing the final year of Ramirez's Red Sox tenure.

"To say that I was angry at Manny? No. I was disappointed that he wanted to leave," Youkilis said. "We wanted to win another World Series. But on the other end, it was a great thing, too, because JasonBay came here and had a great year, so you can't be too mad.

"Back four, five years ago, I probably would have gotten more angry about stuff like that. I think guys were frustrated because they didn't understand why he wanted to leave."

But leave Ramirez did, twice now on unhappy circumstances within just the last three seasons. He has only been with the White Sox a few days, so his new teammates don't know him all that well. Beckham says he's only exchanged pleasantries with the new designated hitter, nothing more than this:

"I'm told him we're happy to have him," Beckham said. "He said, 'Yeah, I'm happy to be here.' Then I told him, 'Now go get a hit.'"

Ah, there's that word "hit" again. And that's the extent of the relationship Ramirez is likely to form with the rest of the White Sox. He will hit. And they will enjoy him for as long as he does.

So the charade begins anew, because excuses always get made for blinding talent.

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