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Drama, intrigue in Ramirez's show

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- People in other parts of the country probably think we're nuts. There is a Triple Crown candidate playing left field for the Red Sox, and no one in New England can discuss him without some type of preface or mini-essay.

It doesn't matter if you defend Manny Ramirez or critique him. The simple thumbs-up/thumbs-down approval test doesn't quite capture his story. Neither do his radiant numbers.

Let's just say he's complicated.

Ramirez is the only Sox player who benefits and suffers from a double standard. He benefits because his employers and peers are willing to accept some quirks from him that they wouldn't accept from anyone else. He suffers because while his teammates have a clean slate this spring, his slate still has a bunch of notations and footnotes at the bottom.

He arrived at the Sox facility yesterday, wearing a blue Jeremy Shockey jersey. One of the first things he did was go into a meeting that included John W. Henry, Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner, and Gene Mato, one of Ramirez's representatives.

Because this is Ramirez we're talking about, the meeting cannot be neatly summarized. Any meeting with Manny always has declarations of love and loathing. Ownership didn't have to kiss up to him the way it did to Nomar Garciaparra (or the way Kevin Millar did to Nomar). He was told that his smart approach to hitting might help Boston win the World Series. He was also told there were tangible reasons for the Sox' actions in the fall.

First they tried to place his contract on the curb, hoping some sucker of a team would snatch it up like a discarded Ottoman. Then they tried to deal him to Texas. After that fell through -- and I'm not even joking -- they alternated between crossing their fingers and praying.

Ramirez, a lifetime .317 hitter, excites ownership and management. He also makes them extremely nervous. They understand that this year is going to be different than any other in Ramirez's major league career. This is the year they are going to make him a little more accountable than he's ever had to be.

They are not going to acquire a Carlos Baerga or Rey Sanchez to be official players and unofficial chaperones. They are not going to be imprisoned by his talent (if something drastic happens, they'll DH Ellis Burks and put someone such as Gabe Kapler in left). They are not going to look away if there are any residuals from last season in Philadelphia.

After Ramirez refused to pinch hit at Veterans Stadium, 10 of his teammates went to Grady Little and told the former manager to bench Ramirez. If you don't do something, they told Little, you are going to lose this team. Little benched him, the team was saved, and Ramirez responded with a sizzling September.

No one knows what he's going to do now, and that's what makes him equally compelling and complicated.

Those who support him unconditionally would ask that he be left alone so he can do his thing. But it's not that simple because sometimes "his thing" is not what's best for the team.

Those who want to pelt him with verbal arrows often find that he is a mobile and blurry target. Just by looking at the numbers, who knew he was so unhappy last year? A lot of players are miserable and let it seep into their work. Manny was miserable and hit .325, had a .427 on-base percentage, and slugged at a .587 percentage. Those may not be $20 million numbers, but they are quite impressive when you consider they came from a Red Sox player who once claimed to have the Yankees in his heart.

He's attached to the Sox now, and this represents another first. This is the first time that he knows that Boston is his home. Cleveland is not coming back to save him and neither is New York. He is not going to be traded to the Texas Rangers (although he could have showed his sense of humor by wearing a Rangers jersey instead of his Shockey model).

Ramirez should get used to his white home jersey with the red "24" on the back. He will be wearing it for a while. Three months shy of his 32d birthday, Ramirez is going to have to enjoy the next few years in New England if he's going to have any enjoyment at all.

We don't know if he was hurt by the proposed deal to Texas, thrilled with it, or indifferent to it. We don't know if all the other teams inspired him by passing on his contract. Maybe he's determined to show them what they missed by getting back to the days when he drove in runs as easily as he hit fungos.

All anyone knows is that he looked happy yesterday. He always does. And he appeared to be in great shape.

He took his physical just like everyone else (although he rode in a car while most of his teammates took a bus). He had his meeting with ownership. He took his swings in the batting cage on a rainy day. He did not speak with the media.

Ramirez's bosses are not asking him to become a new man. A slight revision will be fine. He can still be the guy who often puts on his headphones and blocks out the world. Everything will be all right as long as he shows up, hits for power and average, and doesn't become distracted by the lights of another team.

Anyway, at 31, it's about time Manny Ramirez wants to do those things for himself.

Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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