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Dan Shaughnessy

In return, Manny will be The Man

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / June 19, 2009
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LOS ANGELES - Here’s how you know you are not in Boston anymore: You drive up Elysian Park Avenue toward the entrance to Dodger Stadium on game night . . . and they wave you in. Free parking. For every fan.

No wonder Manny loves this place.

There was no charge to park at Dodger Stadium for three games against the Athletics this week. And there was no Manny Ramírez, either. At least not when the clubhouse doors swung open at 3:40 p.m.

With two weeks left in his 50-game suspension for joining Club PED, Manny has been working out early in the morning at Dodger Stadium. Veteran coach Manny Mota gets to the ballpark at 8 for the private Manny workouts. Same for batting practice pitcher Rob Flippo.

Ramírez missed a couple of days this week because he’s had a sore throat. It’s been in the news. “Manny has a cold.’’ Like “Sinatra has a cold’’ in the old days.

Even in absentia, Manny’s a presence here. There are still Manny billboards around LA and Dodger Stadium. Manny Bobblehead Night remains scheduled for July 22. And the Manny No. 99 jerseys are in the shops on the first and ninth floors of Dodger Stadium.

“We buried them inside the racks for a while, but now they’re back out front,’’ said a woman selling pricey garb near the dugout suites. “And I have not heard one person say one bad word about Manny.’’

Dodgers manager Joe Torre says Manny will play some rehab games at San Bernardino starting next weekend. “It’ll be a circus wherever he goes,’’ said the skipper.

Meanwhile, everything is on schedule for Manny to return to the Dodger lineup two weeks from tonight when LA opens a weekend set in San Diego. The second game of that series is a nationally televised Fox game.

Manny’s first home game back should be July 16. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that Manny’s reception in LA will be something akin to Neil Armstrong’s parade though the Canyon of Heroes after the 1969 moon landing.

The Dodgers have performed well in Manny’s absence. Since Ramírez was shamed and shelved May 7, LA owns the best record (23-15) in the National League. The Dodgers and Red Sox have the best records in baseball, and wouldn’t it be nifty to watch a Boston-LA World Series.

In the clubhouse, Manny’s locker (he gets two stalls, befitting a star of his magnitude) are stuffed with bats, uniform tops, fielding mitts, batting gloves, and shoes. I observed no pregnancy test kits, no female fertility drugs, no letters reminding that he’s late with his Mensa dues.

Former Red Sox second baseman Mark Loretta dresses in the stall next to Manny’s. I asked Loretta when he first heard about Manny’s suspension.

“The night before it was announced,’’ said Loretta, who played with Ramírez in Boston in ’06. “He came out of that game that night and I asked Rafael Furcal. It was a big shock for everybody, a disappointment for the whole team. The big thing was, ‘How are we going to react?’ But Joe has been great. Very calming.’’

When the Dodgers played in Florida against the Marlins, Manny addressed his teammates at the Trump International Hotel.

“It was really strange,’’ recalled Loretta. “They had us go into a conference room. There were a bunch of chairs in the room and our traveling secretary didn’t want Manny to walk in and see us all lined up, sitting in chairs, so they emptied the room of furniture and guys were sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall. Manny just came in and said, ‘Sorry you guys have to go through this.’

“We hit it off well when I played with him in Boston. But that was the year we had the massacre when the Yanks beat us [five straight] at Fenway. Manny was nowhere to be seen after that series. That was disappointing. It might have had something to do with a scoring decision on a ball he hit at [Derek] Jeter. He would have been 5 for 5, but it was scored an error.

“That was also when David [Ortiz] had the heart thing and for a while I was hitting third as our DH. I think what I learned from all that was that not many people can reach Manny. Not even David. He’d come up to me and say, ‘I really can’t get to him.’ ’’

As always, Torre has been a master of patience and communication. He says he talks to Manny every other day. He has no doubt Manny will be back in the lineup July 3.

The manager has kept his team on message and on top of the NL West. He knows Manny will be well-received when he returns to Chavez Ravine. But Joe Torre is a baseball lifer and he also knows what has happened to Manny’s reputation.

“These guys compete against each other,’’ said the manager. “You think, ‘If something would make me better, what would I do?’ These days I think people put up numbers. Back then it was more about, ‘How do I help us win?’ You’d sell your soul for a base hit.

“It’s a shame. Clemens. Bonds. Now Manny. They had Hall of Fame numbers, but now they are painted with the broad brush. To me, it’s really about the guys in the next echelon. It’s not Clemens, Bonds, and Manny. You drop down a group and look at the numbers they are accumulating. Fans are cynical, and with good reason. We did it to ourselves.’’

Manny did this to himself. And he’s still paying the price. But he is going to get the hero treatment when he returns. Guaranteed.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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