The Dodgers held another press conference behind home plate Thursday afternoon to discuss Ramirez, only this time the headliner did not show up to jump around. Neither did Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. General manager Ned Colletti spoke, but mainly just said he felt sick. Manager Joe Torre, who managed Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens with the Yankees, was the only one who really seemed prepared for the affair. "It's obviously a distraction and a void," Torre said.
Torre also seemed to be the only one who had actually spoken to Ramirez, elusive even on his best days. "The worst thing a person can be is a disappointment to somebody else and he feels like a disappointment," Torre said. "He's devastated." As Torre spoke into a microphone behind home plate, his players were quietly taking batting practice and fielding ground balls in front of him. They could hear just about every word.
Torre and Colletti praised Ramirez for candidly responding to the allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs, but they were being generous. Ramirez did not go to Dodger Stadium on Thursday, did not address his teammates and did not take part in the press conference, releasing only a statement claiming that a doctor had prescribed him banned medication. He blamed himself for not knowing more about the medication, but by and large, he made Alex Rodriguez look transparent.
Although Torre and Colletti said they felt disappointed more than betrayed, Ramirez has burned them as badly as he did the Red Sox. Not only did the Dodgers give him a two-year, $45 million contract when no other team appeared to be bidding on him, not only did they build an entire marketing campaign around him and nickname two sections of seats "Mannywood," they constructed a World Series caliber lineup with him as the centerpiece. On Wednesday night, the Dodgers became the first team to win 13 straight home games at the start of a season. Torre was given a bottle of champagne by clubhouse manager Mitch Poole to commemorate the occasion.
Then Torre drove home, dug into a late dinner, and got a call from McCourt telling him that his best hitter was being suspended for 50 games. When outfielder Andre Ethier woke up Thursday morning, he had so many phone calls and text messages he wondered "Did I get traded?" By the time Thursday afternoon rolled around, Colletti had practically forgotten the Dodgers had won 13 in a row. "Did we?" he asked. Dodger Stadium should have been the happiest place in the major leagues, especially considering that the Nationals were in town. Instead, in Ethier's words, "it was somber."
The Dodgers admit they will miss Ramirez for his power to the opposite field, his .492 on-base percentage, his carefree clubhouse presence -- "Too many things to name," Ethier said -- but they are mindful not to criticize his decision-making. After all, he is due to return July 4, and they will need him, just as the Red Sox used to need him, foibles and all. The Dodgers entered Thursday with a record of 21-8, best in the major leagues, six games up in the NL West. They may lose some ground over the next two months, but they still have the most potent lineup in the West, with young hitters such as Ethier, James Loney and Matt Kemp eager to demonstrate they do not need Ramirez's protection.
"This is a great opportunity to prove to the rest of baseball we're not a one-man show," said first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. As if on cue, the Dodgers scored six runs in the first inning against the Nats, four on a grand slam by Kemp.
Before the game, Kemp tried to keep the mood loose in the clubhouse, gyrating to some '90s rap that was playing on the stereo. But no one relaxes a room quite like Ramirez. Two days earlier, he was working on his putting in the clubhouse, even though he does not know how to play golf. Players walked around jokingly asking each other: "Are you going to help us win today?" Relief pitcher Will Ohman, surveying the scene, said: "The signs in here do not point to a letdown."
Much has changed in 48 hours and more will change over the next 50 games. As for "Mannywood," anybody who bought seats in those field-level sections down the third-base line will be offered refunds. The Dodgers, who still owe Ramirez $20 million for next year, are not so lucky. They are trapped in the middle of the True Mannywood Story.