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Ramirez still being Manny

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 19, 2010

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Manny Ramirez is usually like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.

Yet last night he was predictable.

In his first appearance in Boston since his horrible train wreck of an ending here, he didn’t speak to the media, in keeping with his mantra this season, until he uttered, “We’re gonna have a meeting at 4:30. Media out!’’ After going 1 for 5 with two strikeouts, including a called strike to end the game with runners at the corners, he politely said, “No thank you’’ to interview requests.

After he arrived at the clubhouse at 4:10 p.m. he walked right past people he’s known for years. He barely acknowledged fans trying to get his attention. He laughed it up with David Ortiz, and other Sox players who knew him gave him a nudge or a tap with their bats as he made his way near the batting cage. There were a few stray signs trumpeting Ramirez’s return and even Sox owner John Henry waited for him in the dugout just to say hello.

Unfortunately, he did not play left field so we weren’t able to enjoy his fielding antics or a visit inside the Wall. So we settled for his at-bats as the designated hitter.

When he sauntered to the on-deck circle in the first inning, Ramirez was booed pretty loudly. When the second inning rolled around and he made his way to the plate as the leadoff hitter, there was a mixed ovation.

There were those who obviously wanted to forgive and forget and remember the great hitter he was and the two world championships in which he played a part. That seemed to be the Ramirez Henry remembered. The other half simply decided to boo. How can you cheer a player who quit on his team, who punched a 65-year-old traveling secretary who had done everything he possibly could for him? How could you cheer someone who marched to his own drummer and often showed such disrespect?

Earlier this week, Boston.com ran a poll asking whether fans would boo Ramirez. More than 9,000 people answered, with 56 percent indicating they would boo. That poll was pretty accurate. If there weren’t an inordinate number of Dodger fans in the house, the ovation might have been even more negative.

“I think it was mixed,’’ assessed Dodgers manager Joe Torre. “I was satisfied with it. I know what he did to me [when he was with the Yankees] and if it wasn’t for Manny, they wouldn’t have two championships.’’

In time we’ll all get over his tricks. After all, it’s only a baseball game. This isn’t a world leader (thank goodness!) to pass judgment on. He’s one of the most unique players ever because of his savant-like hitting methods, which have produced some of the greatest statistics in baseball history, and the complete oblivion he seems to live in.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Ramirez missed his Hall of Fame induction, if he’s fortunate enough to get in. For as bad as the steroid era was, it’s worse when a player like Ramirez is not only outed in the 2003 testing that didn’t count, but tests positive and serves a 50-game suspension after the testing and penalties are in place. Who does that? Manny.

The New York Times recently reported that Ramirez asked MLB for a medical exception so he could take testosterone. The Dodgers have denied any knowledge of this and Ramirez simply won’t say.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was asked how the communication has been with Ramirez. “He’s been fine,’’ he said. “I don’t know what happened here. I know what I read or what I’ve heard, but again I’d rather judge somebody by what I read firsthand. He’s been above-average most days and fine the other days.’’

At the 2008 trading deadline, Colletti had to make a quick decision. There wasn’t a lot of time to research Ramirez.

“I trust people who know things really firsthand,’’ Colletti said. “And while Billy Mueller wasn’t here in the ’08 season, Billy Mueller was a teammate of his, and Billy Mueller and I had a conversation at the Fall League in maybe ’07, talking about players who could really help our club. And he brought Manny up, and he said, ‘You know what, this guy’s one of the best hitters in the game and I found him to be a great teammate when I was there.’ So, that deal came about really that day. That deal hadn’t been talked about the 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st of July. That came about that morning. So, we didn’t have a whole of time really, but I remember what people tell me. And Billy had told me that about a year and a half earlier.’’

The Dodgers and Torre have been able to live with Ramirez’s quirks.

“No, everybody has idiosyncrasies,’’ said Colletti. “I have idiosyncrasies, you know. He has to put up with my idiosyncrasies. But that’s part of life, that’s part of dealing with people. But he’s been good. He’s been good. That may be disappointing to you but he’s been good.’’

The Dodgers don’t like paying him, though. They paid him $25 million last year and Ramirez exercised an option for $20 million this season.

Ramirez entered last night hitting .295 with seven homers and 33 RBIs in 48 games. He doesn’t quite have the power he used to. But he drives the ball into the gaps.

“He had some good at-bats. He hit some balls hard,’’ said Torre.

Ramirez hit some home runs during BP and received huge ovations every time the ball went out of the park. Teammates were kidding with him about coming back to Boston, but Ramirez kept his focus on hitting, which is the one refuge he seems to have. Ramirez always had a rhythm to his BP. He’d take a few swings and hit the ball right up the middle a few times and then he’d start driving balls to the gaps.

Jim Rice used to say that Ramirez used to practice hitting just breaking balls. And then he’d practice fastballs and sliders and changeups. It’s no secret why Ramirez was a great hitter — he truly worked at it. He’s a guy who will always be able to hit, maybe not for power, but we’ll likely not see the likes of this talent again.

In his first three-at bats last night he flew to center, lined to right, and singled to center off rookie lefthander Felix Doubront.

When Ramirez spoke in spring training, he said this could be his last season with the Dodgers and if he didn’t retire, he’d likely think about going back to the AL as a DH. There’s no chance any team would pay Ramirez $20 million. Half that or less likely wouldn’t appeal to Manny.

“We’ll see,’’ Colletti said. “He’s made the comment that he thinks he might want to go to the American League, and I can understand that. It’s tough for him to play every day in left field. We’ll worry about that when we get there.’’

After we watch Manny at Fenway this weekend, will this be the last time?

Who knows? And he won’t tell. Because to the bitter end, Manny will be Manny.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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