A big hit, at box office
Escorted by six security guards and Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda, Manny Ramirez made his way to a podium set up behind home plate at Dodger Stadium on Friday, the dozen or so cameramen around him impeding his movement.
Lasorda was bumped by a camera and shouted, “Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute!”
The circus had come to Dodger Stadium.
For the Dodgers, who acquired Ramirez from the Boston Red Sox in a three-way deal that cost them only two minor leaguers and the 12-time All-Star outfielder’s $1-million relocation bonus, the returns on their stunning trade deadline move were immediate.
In the 30 hours that followed the announcement that the Dodgers had traded for Ramirez, the team sold more than 30,000 single-game tickets as well as almost 300 season-ticket packages for the remaining home games, according to chief operating officer Dennis Mannion. They sold out their game Friday night against the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks, more than 12,000 of the tickets purchased after the temperamental slugger became a Dodger.
Ramirez, who wore No. 99 and started in left field, had his first at-bat of a two-for-four night to lead off the bottom of the second inning, which was preceded by a video montage that showed several of the 510 home runs he has hit over his 16-year career. Before long, the crowd was on its feet chanting, “Ma-nny! Ma-nny! Ma-nny!”
Ramirez grounded out to Stephen Drew at short on the first pitch delivered to him by Randy Johnson, but the fans continued applauding, many of them wearing the $29 Ramirez T-shirts and $280 jerseys that the Dodgers started selling in their team stores.
The Dodgers’ clubhouse was noticeably energized.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” said first baseman James Loney, who had Ramirez autograph a bat for him in spring training.
“We were waiting with anticipation.”
Ramirez flew from Boston to Los Angeles in the morning and was taken around Dodger Stadium by owner Frank McCourt and General Manager Ned Colletti. He entered the Dodgers’ clubhouse at 3:38 p.m., met several of his new teammates and went into Joe Torre’s office to speak to his new manager.
“He basically said to me that he wants to be treated like everyone else,” Torre said, meaning Ramirez will be cutting the dreadlocks the same way left-hander Joe Beimel had to cut his long hair in spring training.
“I’m going to be looking like a baby,” Ramirez said at a news conference. “Don’t worry, it’s going to grow back.”
At one point, a Spanish-speaking reporter asked Ramirez to shake his hand.
“I’ll give you a hug,” said Ramirez, who proceeded to do so.
Another Spanish-speaking journalist asked Ramirez if he wanted a tour of Los Angeles.
“No,” he said. “I bought a navigation system.”
He was later asked in English if he would explore opportunities to act. He initially said, “No,” only to switch to Spanish and reconsider.
“Maybe in a soap opera,” he said.
The few words Ramirez devoted to the sport itself were visceral or light-hearted, or, in some cases, both, with Ramirez saying he had to learn the tendencies of National League pitchers and joking that he might become a base stealer.
Other than to tell the fans of Boston that he loved them, Ramirez declined to discuss his tenure with the Red Sox, which ended as a result of his trade demand.
“Boston is in the past,” Ramirez said. “Every time people ask me about Boston, I put my brain on pause.”
At a news conference preceding the Red Sox game on Friday, Boston General Manager Theo Epstein said, “We had a meeting with 25 guys who feel like a team. We haven’t felt like that for a week.”
Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras, strongly denied the suggestion that he orchestrated the trade that led Ramirez out of Boston and into free agency this winter. In exchange for allowing a trade to the Dodgers, Ramirez had the club options in his contract for the 2009 and 2010 seasons voided.
“Manny did not hire me to get him traded,” said Boras, who did not negotiate Ramirez’s contract and, as a result, will get a share of his earnings only if he signs a new deal.
A day into what could be only a two-month stay with the Dodgers, Ramirez already exhibited the kind of the behavioral quirks that became part of his legend in Boston.
In the fifth inning, he took his time getting to a ball hit to left-center by Chris Burke, as a likely double became a triple.
Settling on a uniform number also took some time, as the No. 24 that Ramirez wore in Boston was retired in honor of former manager Walter Alston.
Clubhouse manager Mitch Poole said he spoke to Mota on Thursday night and that they agreed that No. 28 would be appropriate. But Poole received a call from one of Boras’ associates, who said Ramirez wanted to know what other numbers were available. Several of Ramirez’s requests were denied, including No. 34, which Fernando Valenzuela wore. Though the number isn’t officially retired, “in our hearts it is,” Poole said.
Ramirez said he would wear No. 66 and Poole prepared the uniform, only to later learn he changed his mind.
Ramirez later told teammates that No. 99 was pushed onto him by his representatives, something Boras’ associates denied while chuckling.
Manny being Manny?
“Yes he is,” Poole said.
Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.
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Breaking down Manny Ramirez’s debut with the Dodgers in a 2-1 loss to Arizona:
Second inning: In his first at-bat as a Dodger, Ramirez faced Randy Johnson, against whom he had five home runs and 17 RBIs in 45 at-bats. Ramirez hit Johnson’s first pitch for a hard grounder to short and was thrown out hustling down the line, which he didn’t always do in Boston.
Fourth inning: With two out, none on and no score, Ramirez hit a liner past shortstop Stephen Drew into left field for his first hit as a Dodger. Jeff Kent followed with a groundout.
Sixth inning: With two out, a runner on second and the Dodgers ahead, 1-0, Ramirez hit a check-swing roller wide of first and beat it out for his second hit. On the play, Matt Kemp was tagged out in a rundown between third and home to end the inning.
Ninth inning: Brandon Lyon took the mound for the Diamondbacks, who were leading, 2-1. After Russell Martin singled sharply up the middle, Ramirez worked the count to 2-2, but Lyon got him to ground into a 6-4-3 double play. Kent popped out to second to end the game.
Agent Boras denies he orchestrated deal that makes Ramirez a free agent this winter.