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Letter of recommendation: Dodge Manny

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  March 4, 2009 11:06 AM

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(Update, 1:04 p.m.: Shortly after this column was published, several outlets reported that Manny Ramirez agreed in principle on a two-year, $45 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Apparently, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt didn't get his mail in time this morning.)

* * *

An open letter to Frank McCourt:

Dear Frank,

Snow covered the ground when we awoke amid relative serenity this morning, and then we saw it: Manny Ramirez appears to be close to returning to your Dodgers. My understanding is that you are planning to meet with Manny soon to finalize what could be a two-year, $45 million contract, and so we thought now was the time to reach out.

Don't do it, Frank. Don't get sucked in. Manny can still hit like a raging Jake LaMotta, and those few months he spent with the Dodgers last fall were proof. The problem is that Manny only hits when Manny wants to -- or, rather, when he needs to -- and you should remember just what you're getting into here.

Manny's a child, Frank. He's as unpredictable as a 13-year-old. He's got a lot of Eddie Haskell in him. Manny can turn on the charm and make you laugh and smile, and he can make you believe he's actually growing up. And then, when you really need him, he'll do exactly what an irresponsible, immature 13-year-old would do:

He'll go into a shell and put on his headphones, blocking out the world. He'll put his head under his pillow. He'll disappear on you the way he did on the Red Sox in August 2006, when the team was reeling and needed Manny to provide some measure of stability to a deteriorating situation.

Instead, he did to the Red Sox what John Henry did to your house.

The words? They mean nothing from him, Frank. He's incapable of living up to them or fulfilling an obligation. You may have been encouraged by Manny's comments to T.J. Simers in today's Los Angeles Times, but we urge you to ignore them. Manny's a good liar, Frank. He's as good a liar as he is a hitter. Anything he says carries no value because his actions frequently belie his words.

Here's what he told Simers:

  • "Two years is fine with me."
  • "The economy is making me adjust. That's just the way it is."
  • "You're not listening to me. I've looked at the big picture from every different angle and life is too short to be mad. I've made a ton of money and now it's just about negotiating a deal. It's what happens in sports."
  • "As long as I'm alive, I'm happy. I'm sitting here in my house by the water, drinking a margarita, dark glasses on and I'm in a good place. I'm in pretty good shape, too, playing with my three kids all the time."

Really, Frank, do you honestly believe any of it? Do you? The only truth there is that Manny is adjusting to the economy, and even that is only half right. If he were adjusting to the economy, you'd offer him a one-year, $15 million deal and he'd take it. The truth is that you're being way too nice to him, way too generous, and that Manny has nowhere else to get the kind of money you're offering.

Of course, we understand your dilemma. In the National League West, especially, we know what Manny means. Your team was extraordinarily mediocre for two-thirds of last season, and then it all changed when Manny came to town. He single-handedly decided the division, and then he almost carried you to the World Series. You may think you know the real reasons behind that -- namely, that Manny loves LA -- but the truth is that he had dollar signs in his eyes from the moment he got to "Mannywood."

He was playing for the money, Frank. That's all this was ever about. Manny thought he could play for two months and land a four-year, $100 million contract, and he believed that right up until a day or two ago. He's now going to get less than half of that -- good for you -- though we have serious questions about whether he will actually earn it.

Think about it, Frank. There are only two reasons Manny is "happy" now. The first is that he has nowhere else to turn. The second is that he wasn't going to show up at spring training until early March anyway. He's getting dangerously close to that line where he will become the next Barry Bonds, a unique talent whose ability is outweighed by his self-centeredness.

Look, Frank, we understand that baseball is competition and that you have a business to run. We just think you should be aware of your alternatives. If you stay away from Manny now, you'll have room to add players later. Come midseason, you might be able to add Matt Holliday in a trade with the Oakland A's, who might be conducting their annual talent sale by July. Holliday is younger and cheaper, and he will be a free agent in the fall. Passing on Manny now means you could spend on Holliday later, and it would give you the hitter you need for the long-term as well as the short.

At the end of the day, when you get right down to it, here's the problem with Manny, Frank: He'll generally coast now until he sees the next dollar signs, which will probably be some time around Aug. 1, 2010. If you give him this contract, that's what you are giving him license to do. You get a fully focused Manny some of the time and half-focused Manny most of the time, and you'll be kicking yourself when he exercises that $20 million option to remain with your team in 2010.

Of course, we know what you're thinking: We have a negative opinion of Manny because of how things ended here in Boston, and you're half right. In some ways, we still think the Red Sox should have kept him. Manny had zero RBIs in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees -- bet you didn't know that? -- but we've never disputed the fact that his mere presence makes an enormous difference in any manager's lineup. Unfortunately, late last season, we found that his absence makes a big difference in the manager's life, too.

Joe Torre can probably handle Manny, at least for a time, but don't kid yourself. You don't want a relationship and neither does he. Manny has never been more than the perfect late-summer fling. You both consented to what amounted to a one-night stand last year, and you both had a heck of time. You got the Dodgers back into the spotlight and he got to prove that he can still hit, two sides benefiting from using the other.

Now, we're urging you to walk away, Frank.

But we know you won't.


Your Guardian Angel

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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