Ramirez says he is fine, but he is only fooling himself

We disagree.

Manny Ramirez says nothing gets to him.

I say he's human, obviously winning that point the way he's hitting these days -- claiming the public humiliation just has to be taking a toll -- pointing to the statistics that suggest he's pressing since his suspension.

He changes the subject. "Where were you last night? I almost hit a home run."

One more foot, I'm told, and it clears the glove of Cubs center fielder Sam Fuld.

"Maybe you should have chewed another piece of that potassium gum," I suggest, Ramirez joking recently it was the gum that landed him on the list of those who tested positive in 2003.

He laughs, nothing new to have someone throwing high and inside to him.

"Hey, I'm going to be here next year," he shouts to everyone in the clubhouse.

"Where else could you go?" I say, and he laughs again, obviously no danger of 'roid rage at this point, but also knowing from experience that Manny Ramirez can take it as well as he gives it.

And he never stops giving it.

A few minutes later I'm trying to interview Randy Wolf, because you know how much I like writing about players doing well, and Ramirez interrupts. He reaches into the next locker and pulls out a can of beer featuring the Dodgers' logo.

"I need something for between innings," he says, and he takes it to his own locker so he can retell the joke later to a new audience.

Back to Wolf, who says "silently he's pitching pretty darn well" with no one seemingly taking notice, and Ramirez is back looking for another laugh. This time he's carrying a huge bottle of champagne.

"I'm going to open this the next time I hit a home run," he says.

Casey Blake overhears and says, "at least it will be well-aged."

Funny, and funnier yet given the hint of truth attached, Ramirez, a.k.a. Baseball's Superman a year ago, hitting only two home runs this month and hitting .284 since being suspended.

"Next month I hit .400 and maybe we don't win the championship, is that good?" he says. "We're winning. It's fun watching [Andre] Ethier and [Matt] Kemp; they deserve all the credit. They have learned so much from last year."

The other day it was Russell Martin hitting a grand slam to win it for the Dodgers, Ramirez stopping by Martin's locker the next day as if he wanted to know more about it.

Martin takes the bait and starts to explain about the change he made in his hitting approach.

"Then he tells me," Martin says with a grin, "what I did yesterday doesn't mean a thing today. And he's right.

"Just like it doesn't matter that he's hit more than 500 homers in his career," counters Martin with delight, and knowing it will be repeated to Ramirez.

A year ago he changed the dynamics inside the clubhouse, in an odd way now he's the great stabilizer -- no one knowing what he will do next -- so everyone remains loose at all times.

Ramirez goes 0 for 3 on Saturday but knocks Wolf's interview out of the paper.

It looks as if he's struggling, but he doesn't look as if he's struggling, still working the clubhouse like a lounge-act comedian.

Why not? He's not doing much else these days, six for 30 in his last eight games and a .200 batting average -- swinging too hard according to Larry Bowa and Joe Torre.

"Take it from me," Ramirez says, "I'm not swinging too hard."

He's being too selective, some say, and he says, "I am. Good hitters are more selective."

Obviously, he's just not the same since his suspension, the door open for the obvious suggestion he will never be the same now that he's off the juice, but why write Plaschke's column for him? (Go ahead and fill in your own punch line.)

"I don't want to be on another list," Ramirez says, trying to wipe the pine tar that's creeping a little too high on his bat, self-deprecating humor as much a part of who he is as his crazy hair.

Later, he really is on the list, the list of players picked at random by Major League Baseball to give a urine sample after the game. "You want to go for me?" he says, and had it been Bud Selig standing beside him, he would have asked the same question.

He never seems to have a care about anything, even downplaying the serious manner in which he approaches hitting.

Spend any time around him, though, and he could not be any more sensitive, the root of all that went wrong in Boston. And yet he wants everyone to believe it all just rolls off his back.

"I'm great," he insists.

The suspension, the subsequent banned-substance revelation and the embarrassment, he's just not right.

"No, don't try and put that in my head," he says.

Why not admit it?

"No, no," he says, although he has only 25 RBIs in his last 44 games, four of those coming in the same game.

"I'm like the Energizer bunny and just keep going on and on."

I'm not buying it. Torre disagrees too. He says, "it looks like he's forcing it," and although he notes Ramirez remains the same in the clubhouse, he senses Ramirez is "just not comfortable out there" on the field sometimes.

"No, no," Ramirez says, "no matter what I'm doing, I'll take it as long as we're winning. As long as you know you're trying, not out all night drinking and sleeping good, that's all you can do. And I am sleeping good."

Later Blake is talking about the home run he hit in the Dodgers' 2-0 win over the Cubs, and Ramirez is right there to poke fun at himself again.

"I hit one foul," he says, these days as good as it gets, and if he wants to disagree, all he has to do is prove it.

"One day at time," he says, as carefree as ever.

"That's life."



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