Ramírez lobbied to stay

(Reuters) Manny Ramirez started in left field Friday for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / August 2, 2008
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Of all the Manny moments in Boston, the last ranks as one of the most confounding. Within an hour after Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein informed Manny Ramírez he had been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers Thursday, Ramírez's agent, Scott Boras, called the Sox back, according to a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations. If the Sox dropped the option years on his contract - which they had agreed to do if they traded him - Boras said Ramírez would not be a problem the rest of the season.

For the Sox, the source said, Ramírez's pledge of good behavior only served as a tacit admission that his disruptive conduct of the last couple of weeks had been calculated, and they had had good cause to suspect more was in the offing if they did not trade him. The Sox told him thanks but no thanks, what was done was done, and pack plenty of sunscreen.

The debate over the merits of trading Ramírez was not going to end last night with a satisfying debut from the new Sox left fielder, which is what Jason Bay delivered in a 2-1, 12-inning win over Oakland. It was not going to end with Ramírez charming the LA glitterati, which he delivered, too, showing up in shades, a smile, and a No. 99 Dodger jersey. It promises to continue through the summer, over the hot stove of winter, and quite possibly through the day Ramírez is inducted into Cooperstown and beyond.

But for Jason Varitek, the pros and cons of that discussion are not terribly important. This was:

"Either way, you had to get to this point and have some closure," said the Red Sox' captain, not long after manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein had trooped upstairs to answer questions about Bay's arrival and Ramírez's departure, not necessar ily in that order.

"Either Manny's here or he's not," Varitek said. "It became more of an issue of whether or not he was going to be here. And he was pretty adamant he didn't want to be here.

"It came down to his happiness. If they had come to Manny and he said he wanted to stay here, he'd probably still be here. It's kind of out of our hands. I'm glad there's a resolution. There was going to be whether he was here or not."

Truth is, if John W. Henry had cast the deciding vote, Ramírez might not have been frolicking in Chavez Ravine last night. Henry, whose life has been defined by his mastery of numbers, was unconvinced the Sox would be better off without those generated by Ramírez's bat. But in the end, Henry elected to give his support to Epstein and his baseball operations staff.

His people believed they had no choice but to trade a player who was bent not on forcing the Sox to pick up his $20 million option for 2009, as many thought, but, in their view, was willing to do anything - including laying down on the job - to achieve the opposite outcome: becoming a free agent with no strings attached.

In that sense, Ramírez won. To get him to agree to a trade, the Sox had to waive the two option years on his deal. But even after letting it be known they were willing to pick up the remaining $7 million of his salary this season, the Sox were not overwhelmed with offers for the 36-year-old slugger. In that respect, it was reminiscent of 2003, when the Sox placed Ramírez on irrevocable waivers and any team could have had him for a song - and they all passed.

But while one member of the hierarchy expressed regret that the Sox helped Ramírez to achieve his goal, Epstein and Francona were clearly pleased - and relieved - that in the final minutes before the trading deadline, they were able to engineer a three-way deal with the Pirates and Dodgers.

"We were in a bit of a difficult circumstance and we made something good of it," said Epstein, who was in Anaheim two weeks ago when Ramírez balked at boarding the bus taking the team to the airport and a flight to Seattle.

"I heard about that," Varitek said. "I didn't see it."

The acts, and words, of defiance seemed to multiply quickly thereafter.

Ramírez refused to play a game in Seattle, citing a sore knee about which he'd said nothing to the trainers. When he elected to sit out the first game back at Fenway Park, against the Yankees, ownership insisted on MRIs on both knees, and when those tests came back clean, it threatened disciplinary action if he sat out the next night.

That's when Ramírez stepped up the rhetoric - the "they're tired of me, I'm tired of them" diatribe, and the "they don't deserve me" zinger - and his teammates could no longer block out the white noise of discontent. That led to what Mike Lowell described as a "weird atmosphere."

"He's not a press guy," Lowell said. "And when you see his quotes every day, that's something different. I don't think it's surprising, but it was weird.

"If Dustin Pedroia said the same comments, we think he's a Martian. If Manny says it, people like it. It's front[-page] news."

Losing two of three to the Yankees, then being swept by the Angels, the series finale an ill-focused embarrassment, only added to the sense that something needed to be done. The Sox had lived through 2006, when Ramírez claimed patellar tendinitis left him unable to perform for basically the last six weeks of the season.

They judged a similar risk was at hand.

"It's very hard to tangibly evaluate how hurt someone is," Lowell said. "I'd like to, and still do, take his word for it, until someone comes up to me and says, 'I faked the injury.' It's kind of like Barry Bonds. Everyone has crucified him, but I still have to believe he's innocent until someone proves him guilty."

Was Ramírez hurt? "You don't know," Varitek said, "but it was clear he was unhappy here. And we needed a productive Manny Ramírez."

The Sox in the past had always backed off from trading Ramírez. This time they decided there was too much risk in keeping him. Epstein came away elated that the Sox were able to emerge from the process with a quality left fielder, the kind they expected would be in short supply this winter.

"[Ramírez] had a remarkable run here," Epstein said after asserting he would not engage in finger-pointing at one player. "His whole career was remarkable. He is one of the best righthanded hitters in history, and no one can ever take that away from him."

The loss of that player, for David Ortiz, was hardly the cause for celebration. His answers were short, flat, and delivered without the trace of a smile.

"We got to fight through it," Ortiz said. "We'll see. Hopefully, everything will start going good, everybody moves on, and we go where we are supposed to be."

The words seemed to lack conviction.

There was no mistaking the belief in Francona's words, however, that better days lie ahead.

"We want an atmosphere," he said, "where good players want to do the right thing.

"I was very pleased. What we care about, all of us together, is our team, and I think we sit here feeling pretty good about our team."

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